Tuesday, January 22

Fighting for your right to party in Westwood Village proves difficult

Strict rules have limited nightlife since '90s, but with two new community councils, things could change


Devin Kelly / Daily Bruin

At Baxter’s restaurant and bar, 9 p.m. on a Friday meant shooing out the minors, installing bouncers at the door and opening up the dance floor.

But for Tanya Perez, then 21, the dancing really started when the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right” blasted from the stereo next to the DJ in the booth.

“That song would come on and get everybody on the dance floor,” said Perez, a 1988 UCLA alumna.

In the late ’70s, Bruins got down at a four-story disco on Gayley Avenue called Dillons. On Westwood Boulevard, live music could be found at Alice’s Restaurant and at Yesterday’s across the street.

But in 2010, dancing seems to be as scarce and taboo in Westwood Village as the USC logo.

“We’re not allowed to have it,” said George Workman, the manager at Westwood Brewing Company.

Dancing and live music are not strictly illegal in Westwood, but to local businesses, the set of strict regulations makes it seem that way.

Only three restaurants in Westwood Village ““ Tengu, Italian Express and The Regency Club ““ carry a cafe entertainment permit, according to the Los Angeles Office of Finance. The cafe entertainment permit is required for any kind of live entertainment in Los Angeles, including karaoke.

Business owners must wade through an alphabet soup of public entities to get one.

Westwood Village also requires a business that offers live music or dancing to obtain a conditional use permit if it wishes to serve alcohol. Permit requests are subject to debate in a public hearing, after which a city zoning official decides whether to approve the permit.

The process dates back to the 1991 Westwood Specific Plan, which established the conditional use permit to rein in the crowds.

But with two new community councils formed in the past year, a renewed effort is underway to bring the crowds back. And the possibility of a reinvigorated nightlife is on the table.

Brent Gaisford, a second-year economics student and a representative on the Westwood Neighborhood Council, said his mission in the next two years will be leading that initiative.

“I haven’t talked to club promoters yet, but the general vision is a club in Westwood,” Gaisford said.

He sees revitalized nighttime offerings as a bridge to better shopping. One idea: turning Glendon Avenue into a nightlife street.

Westwood built its entertainment capital around its movie screens, said Steve Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council. Even in its heyday, the city was not considered an L.A. dance and music mecca.

With all the restrictions, no new applications for dance permits in Westwood have come across the desk of local police commissioners.

“I’ve been here over a year, and I don’t remember any new dance halls from the Westwood area,” said Charles Hearn, commanding officer for the Los Angeles Police Department Commission Investigation Division.

Homeowners associations have historically balked at the word “nightclub,” citing safety and lawfulness.

“We would love to see nightlife in Westwood,” said Sandy Brown, longtime president of the Holmby-Westwood Property Owners Association. “(But) what ends up happening is … they fold for reasons of not following the law.”

In 1998, for example, the Board of Zoning Appeals denied Duet restaurant and nightclub a conditional use dance permit on the grounds that it had violated local regulations before.

In August of that year, the Los Angeles Times reported that the club had been cited four times for allowing dancing without a permit.

“It turned into a real problem location,” LAPD officer Todd Schmitz said.

A more recent showdown took place in 2004 with the Cuban restaurant Sofrito vying to move into a vacant location on Weyburn.

But it never unpacked its bags because it could not obtain a liquor license. Law enforcement officials and local residents took issue with the restaurant’s plans to serve liquor in its basement, fearing that the venue could turn into a front for a boozy nightclub.

Vincent Wong, assistant director of UCLA Government and Community Relations, said everything boils down to profit.

“The question becomes, can you earn money off a dance club when you’ve got primarily students, half of whom can’t purchase alcohol?” he said. “Westwood isn’t really the place.”

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