Catch, West Hollywood’s latest go-to restaurant for celebrities and those who love them, caught some heat last night at a meeting of the city’s Planning Commission.
Local residents showed up to complain about noise from the roof-top restaurant on the northwest corner of Melrose Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard and about traffic problems on the streets below.
The complaints were voiced in a six-month review of the restaurant, which opened in September 2016. The commissioners chastised the restaurant for not fixing the problems quickly, while the restaurant’s owner explained his efforts to correct them.
Since its opening Catch has become one of the busiest restaurants in town. Owner Mark Birnbaum explained that the 10,000 square-foot restaurant, open seven days a week, has 240 employees and serves approximately 1,000 people a night. It also has drawn criticism on Yelp from people who claim that their online reservations have been abruptly cancelled so that Catch could seat celebrities and that the staff is arrogant. In an op-ed on WEHOville, one customer called out the restaurant for what she saw as discrimination against her because she is a black transgender woman.
Complaints about noise and traffic by residents in the nearby West Hollywood West neighborhood began shortly after the restaurant opened. Jeff Aubel, the city’s code compliance manager, did not provide figures last night on the number of noise complaints the city has received since the opening. However, Aubel reported the city has only received five complaints since the beginning of this year.
Several residents, including Richard Geisbret, president of the West Hollywood West Residents Association, said the number of complaints has been low in recent months because residents no longer bother to call code enforcement, believing their complaints won’t be addressed. Several other residents said they have not called in recent months because they believe the restaurant and the city are working to correct the issues.
Of the five noise complaints this year, two warnings and one citation have been issued. That citation was written on May 27 when music from the restaurant could be heard at 1 a.m. in the backyard of a home on Rangely Avenue, one block south of the restaurant.
Birnbaum tried to dismiss the noise issues. “I am proud that we have only gotten five complaints in six months for a restaurant with an open air rooftop,” Birnbaum said.
However, the Planning Commission felt that was not acceptable.
“Eight months ago, there was not an issue in this location [because the restaurant was not there],” said Commissioner David Aghaei. “The fact that anyone is losing sleep, in my opinion, is not OK, because this wasn’t here eight months ago.”
Eduardo Citrinblum, who lives at 8713 Rangely Ave., which is directly across from the restaurant’s entrance, has experienced the most problems, saying he can hear music from the restaurant in his bedroom nightly.
“The noise from Catch has become the soundtrack of my life. Every single day of the week, every week of the year until 2 a.m.,” Citrinblum said. “The question is not whether or not Catch violates the noise ordinance, but why the city hasn’t done anything about it yet.”
Citrinblum said he used to text Birnbaum directly about noise problems rather than call the city’s code compliance office. However, he got fed up last weekend and phoned the city on May 27 and the noise citation was issued. Code compliance manager Aubel reported his officer could hear the music so clearly from Citrinblum’s backyard that she could identify the name of the song.
Birnbaum said Citrinblum’s noise problem is because there is a parking lot on Melrose backing up to his house, whereas his neighbors on either side have buildings on Melrose that deflect much of the sound. Consequently, the sound seems to be amplified and funneled into Citrinblum’s back yard.
Birnbaum reported the restaurant has seven-foot-tall glass noise walls and now turns the speakers on its outdoor patio off at 10 p.m. and never uses the speakers at the restaurant’s rooftop entrance. He said he plans to spend approximately $200,000 to completely enclose that rooftop entrance area in glass.
Those steps, however, do nothing to alleviate noise coming from the valet area on the street and from shared ride services like Uber and Lyft dropping off patrons. Birnbaum suggested that sometimes cars play their music loud as they arrive or leave and that is often what residents are hearing late at night.
Birnbaum said he has hired a special bouncer to act as a “shush man,” as he phrased it, to remind people on the street to be quiet and respect the adjacent residential area.
As for traffic, the restaurant takes over eight of the diagonal metered spaces along Melrose to create a special lane for cars for valet parking. In addition to the valets, Catch employs people nightly to direct traffic into and out of the valet lanes to keep traffic moving on Melrose. Catch pays a fee to the city for each of the metered spaces it takes up for the valet lane.
Commissioner John Altschul said that the two times he has eaten at the restaurant, the valet situation was “a mess.” Commissioner Donald DeLuccio echoed that sentiment, saying the valet operation was “chaotic.”
Problems also come with Uber and Lyft waiting to pick up patrons. Because the shared ride services often double park while waiting for people to come out of the restaurant, they can block traffic. Consequently, the city has set aside an additional four metered spaces on the north side of Melrose where Uber cars can wait for pickups. Catch also is paying a parking enforcement officer from the city to write tickets on weekends when the Uber drivers don’t get in and out quickly.
The city plans to create an Uber/Lyft drop-off zone on the south side of the street across from the restaurant, so those cars do not block traffic going east on Melrose. Altschul suggested the restaurant needed to employ a crossing guard to make sure people don’t dash out in front of traffic as they cross Melrose.
Birnbaum emphasized that he has no way of controlling the Uber and Lyft drivers, noting that 80% of the patrons who arrive after 11 p.m. come by Uber.
Commissioner Lynn Hoopingarner suggested that Birnbaum have his “shush man” report noisy and disrespectful Uber drivers to the company by sending in photos of their license plates. She said that once Uber drivers get a few bad reports, they should get the message that Catch is a place where people must be quiet.
Commissioners questioned why the valet station was on Melrose rather than San Vicente, but that corner of San Vicente is a red zone. The commission instructed city staffers to investigate why that is a red zone, where parking is not allowed, and see if it is possible to move the valet station there. Birnbaum said even if Catch could move the valet station to San Vicente, Uber and Lyft drivers would still go to Melrose because that is where the restaurant’s entrance is located.
The unusual way Catch came into existence still irks some residents, several of whom were among those complaining on Thursday night about the noise. The building, owned by developer Jason Illoulian’s Faring (formerly known as Faring Capital), was originally approved as a showroom only.
Resident Peri Tiway, who lives on Rangely beside Citrinbloom, testified on Thursday night that Faring representatives assured her during the building’s initial approval process that the rooftop was not intended for “public assembly,” and that it would be for employee use only.
However, when construction on the building was almost complete, Faring representatives applied to add a restaurant on the roof. That request was approved by city staffers over the counter without any notice provided to residents and without Planning Commission review. Birnbaum said he was not involved in getting the rooftop approved for restaurant use. Because of that quiet approval, the city changed its policy and now requires that any rooftop restaurant or lounge area go before the Planning Commission for full review before being approved.
However, the ability to serve alcohol in the restaurant was approved by the Planning Commission at a public hearing. The Planning Commission approved a request for full alcohol at the establishment in June 2015 with a vote of 5 to 1 (the chair was absent). There was no appeal of the approval by the commission to the City Council.
Now that Catch is in business and doing so well, some residents also expressed fear that other noisy restaurants will open on Melrose, further disturbing the quiet residential streets adjacent.
“There are a lot of positive things about Catch restaurant, but the negative impacts are all on us, the neighbors,” said Tiway.
Birnbaum said he would continue to work to correct issues.
“I want to apologize that it is not 100% perfect,” Birnbaum said. “I don’t know that we will ever be 100% perfect, and I don’t think I’ve told Eduardo [Citrinblum] or anyone that I’ve ever spoken to that it will never ever be an issue.”
Commissioner Altschul said “I agree you’re making progress, but I think you can do it a little faster.”
Although Catch was not scheduled to come back for another review until it had been open for 12 months, the commission voted unanimously that it should be reviewed again in three months because of the problems. In the meantime, the commission also urged residents to call code enforcement if they have complaints.
“I’m also annoyed that anyone feels they are not being heard,” Aghaei said. “I would strongly encourage you, please, if you’re having an issue, call the city. That’s what we’re here for. That’s what staff is here for. Don’t hesitate to call. They will take your complaint seriously.”
IN OTHER BUSINESS, DETROIT STREET CONDO PROJECT APPROVED
The Commission last night approved a three-story, five-unit townhouse condominium project with underground parking located at 1221 N. Detroit St., just south of Fountain Avenue. Approved on a 6-1 vote (Commissioner Rogerio Carvalheiro voted against it), the building will replace two single-family homes that are currently vacant. Designed by Los Angeles-based TCS Architects, the building is owned by 1221 N. Detroit LLC, an entity of FMB Capital Inc., a real estate development company headed by Ilan Kenig.
The commission last night also unanimously approved changes to the zoning code to make it easier to have live-work units on Beverly Boulevard. However, it postponed approving a similar zoning change to create live-work units on Fairfax Avenue, pending more information from city staffers.
The commission delayed a hearing regarding billboards on the Sunset Strip until its June 15 meeting. The commission also voted to reconsider plans regarding putting art work on construction fences, an idea that it had rejected at its April 6 meeting. The construction fence art work will come back for discussion at a meeting in July.