Tropico Perspective: Get tough on banquet halls

When the Adams Hill Neighborhood Assn. elected to appeal the conditional-use permit city Zoning Administrator Edith Fuentes drafted and granted to the Moonlight Family Restaurant, we knew we were fighting a much bigger battle than the fate of just one neighborhood business. A casual look from the reporting of the outcome of the appeal made it seem that we had lost the battle or that the outcome wasn't ideal.

That wasn't the case.

The Moonlight restaurant has been the site of a stream of restaurants masquerading as banquet halls for years, and preventing another one from getting a liquor license wasn't going to change anything. Glendale is one of only two cities in Southern California that does not require a business license to operate, and the conditional-use permit is the only mechanism the city has to regulate business activities and try to keep them on the straight and narrow.

This wasn't about a particular operator, the kind of restaurant it was and certainly not the ethnicity of the owner. We wanted to give this guy a shot, even though he walked into a space with a lot of baggage attached. Our target was the conditional-use permit.

The problem we had with the permit was that it did nothing to provide the tools needed by the city to adequately investigate or carry out effective enforcement action. All of the enforcement actions brought against earlier operators were the result of building code violations. We needed the zoning administrator to write a conditional-use permit that would actually work, one that gave the tools the Neighborhood Services division needed to actually enforce legal activity.

More importantly, if successful, the inclusions in the revised permit could be a template to better bring operators like the Montrose Collection, Mynx and the Mix into compliance with the law.

We were vindicated at the Planning Commission meeting when it approved virtually every recommendation we made for changes to the initial permit.

Were we a little unhappy about having to spend north of $750 to have those tools included in the conditional-use permit, even though we provided the framework in advance of the granting of the permit when it was free? Of course we were, but having them become the standard for this location ensures that this operator and the next one would actually have a restaurant as opposed to a sham banquet hall.

Or so we thought.

It appears that the operators of the Moonlight couldn't care less about the restrictions of the permit, operating as a restaurant or even getting a liquor license. On July 2 and 3, they hosted two more private parties, and this time the alcohol was flowing.

Perhaps this was a swan song for an operator bent on giving up the fight, a last jab at the community that wanted to give him a chance. In any event, the owner's actions will have consequences now. No more goodwill, no more benefits of the doubt, no more promises — it's time to padlock the doors.

It's time for the city to abandon its "don't ask, don't tell," blind, pro-business-at-any-cost strategy and get serious about how it regulates business in Glendale. The one provision not included in the revised conditional-use permit was the ability to review daily sales receipts upon request by a competent city agency. It's hard to go back and dig through the trash for bottles or ferret out a private party after the fact, but including it in the next one would give the city a fighting chance.

Perhaps the professional boxers can return the favor and lend a pair of gloves to the City Council and get in the ring.

MICHAEL TEAHAN lives in the Adams Hill area of Glendale with a clear view of the Verdugo Mountains so he can keep an eye on things. He can be reached at michaelteahan@espressoresource.com.

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