Lee West, who was accused of operating an illegal restaurant at his exclusive auto dealership, was ordered Monday night to close the Jaguar Diner until he can show that he meets city land-use requirements.
The Newport Beach City Council unanimously made the decision after a two-hour debate that was requested by Dr. Jan Vandersloot, who had disputed the city Planning Commission’s restaurant approval about six weeks ago.
Vandersloot, who said that he had not expected to prevail, wanted the restaurant closed because city-required studies to assess the cafe’s impact on traffic in the area were not conducted. He contended that West had put the cart before the horse by building the cafe first and getting city approval second.
“The people of Newport Beach should know what is happening,” Vandersloot said. “This diner operated illegally last spring. This scofflaw is now getting away scot-free.”
West declined to comment after the city council’s vote. But his attorney, Richard Dear, said that his client never intended to flaunt the law and had met all the requirements for permits and parking.
“We want to comply with the city ordinances and operate as a good citizen,” Dear said. “There have been some mistakes made, but it’s not our intent to violate the law.”
Members of the public who addressed the council generally criticized West’s operation--Newport Imports, 3000 West Coast Highway, which sells Jaguars, Ferraris, Aston-Martins, Lotuses and Range Rovers--saying that he should have received permits. A few people spoke on his behalf, however, saying that they welcomed any improvement to businesses on the city’s Mariner’s Mile.
When West submitted plans for a new dealership two years ago, the city approved them, along with what was characterized as a cafeteria for his employees. Shortly afterward, West changed his mind about the cafeteria and installed a diner for customers.
Word soon leaked out, and the city said no, citing a lack of parking and increased traffic around the dealership. Nevertheless, West opened the diner without proper permits in May. The city sued but did not pursue the case.
Vandersloot said Monday night that the “city has been fooled and has bought the argument that West’s diner was simply a conversion from an employee cafeteria. But it has been plain from the beginning that it was always going to be a restaurant.”
He cited the minutes of the Oct. 24, 1988, Planning Commission meeting, at which a permit was denied. In the minutes, the commissioners noted that a restaurant, not a cafeteria for employees, was going in, listing the amount being spent and the presence of Ruby’s Restaurant as a partner. The minutes also said West was told that no restaurant permit had been issued.
Vandersloot also called for a traffic impact study by the city.
West previously commissioned his own traffic study, which turned out to be favorable to his side. He is also trying to buy property next to the dealership to make room for parking--all of which would bring him into compliance with the Municipal Code.