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Popular children’s spot in controversy

MONTROSE — Glendale resident Amiee Klem was irate when she was first informed that city code inspectors were forcing Kids Funtown, an indoor playground in Montrose, to close.

She sent a letter to Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian, urging him to correct what was surely a misguided code enforcement snafu.

Kids Funtown, Klem said, is a fantastic and safe facility that local children have come to love.

But after learning that the facility may have been endangering the children that play there by skirting fire and building safety codes, Klem and a group of mothers who sent similar notes to city officials, are re-directing their collective concern back to Kids Funtown itself.

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A popular site for children’s birthday parties and drop-in play sessions since 2005, Kids Funtown was tagged by city fire officials in January for a list of fire and building safety-related code violations, including an invalid zoning use certificate, city officials said.

In order to meet state fire and building codes, the business would need to, among other requirements, install a sprinkler system, add fire extinguishers, flame-retardant drapes and emergency lighting, Glendale Fire Marshall Dave Woods said.

Annette Nasif, a member of a local chapter of Moms Offering Moms Support, scoffed at the requirements, which she said seemed too extensive for the 2,700-square-foot Kids Funtown.

“I felt perfectly safe in there,” Nasif said. “I know they have an exit out the back as well as windows all around. I can’t imagine you’d be trapped in there. If there’s a fire, everyone’s going to get out, so I’m certainly disappointed with the decision.”

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While the business’ violations are specifically tied to state codes, they stem from the fact that Kids Funtown has been operating with an invalid zoning use certificate, Woods said.

The city issued the business a use certificate to operate a toy store in 2005, not an indoor playground, Woods said.

“When we went up there, what we discovered is that it was not a toy store at all,” he said.

“It was Kids Funtown . . . in the building code, as it’s regulated, a toy store is retail and retail has different code requirements than a place of public assembly.”

The business’ change of use from a retail store to an indoor playground triggers more stringent municipal and state code requirements that apply to facilities that accommodate higher density uses, said Stuart Tom, the city’s top building and safety official.

Much like theaters, places of worship and banquet halls, Kids Funtown is geared toward a much higher density service than retail and office operations, Tom said. In addition to stricter fire safety requirements, that also means the business, which currently has one unisex restroom, would have to add additional toilet facilities per state mandated plumbing codes, he said.

Kids Funtown owner Alyse Aratoon balked at the notion that her business should be held to the same standards as banquet halls. In order to correct her violations, Aratoon said she would have to spend up to $60,000.

Fliers recently posted in the store lamented the city’s enforcement attempts and encouraged customers to contact Najarian to complain about the action.

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“Thanks to the City of Glendale, Kids Funtown will be closing,” the flier read. “. . . . The city recently imposed a new licensing requirement for all indoor playgrounds. In order for Funtown to get the proper licensing . . . the City is requiring ridiculous and expensive improvements to be made.”

Alarmed by the likely loss of a cherished local youth recreation facility, a few Kids Funtown customers sent e-mails to city officials, but in the past few days, some letter writers are wishing they could un-send their notes.

“I feel like I need to write a letter of apology,” said Susan Jekarl, who learned from another local mother about the business’ invalid use certificate only after sending an e-mail to the mayor. “You go in there and you assume they have all the right licenses, but I think those fliers are misrepresenting the problem.”

Klem echoed the sentiment.

“I felt sad that we were going to lose them but I also was hurt that they would put our kids in danger and to ask us to go to bat for them and fight for them when they weren’t completely honest with the city when they asked for a permit . . . it basically vilified the city and really the city is looking out for the best interest of the public.”


 RYAN VAILLANCOURT covers business, politics and the foothills. He may be reached at (818) 637-3215 or by e-mail at ryan.vaillancourt@latimes.com.


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