A room full of community organizations and stakeholders attended a Zoning Variance meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, March 13. Wolfgang Puck Catering is applying for a liquor license for special events to be held at the Griffith Observatory. The few supporting attendees included Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks Griffith Park Superintendent Vicki Israel, Puck attorneys and special events managers, and a local night club owner. Vicki Israel stated that it was important to “showcase” the Observatory after its $93 million renovation. Councilmember Tom LaBonge supported the use of alcohol at special events at the Observatory.
A majority of the attendees opposed the granting of the variance. Those who oppose the variance include the Los Feliz Improvement Association, the Los Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council, the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council, Los Feliz Estates Home Owners Association, the Oaks Home Owners Association, and the Los Feliz Village Business Improvement District, among others. The major objections were: lack of public input in the process; danger of drunk drivers; commercialization of Griffith Park; inappropriateness of special events; lack of parking; increased traffic and noise in the neighborhood; security; and the success of the Observatory for 70 years without alcohol.
Last year, the Los Angeles City Council granted a contract to Puck Catering to be the exclusive food and beverage concessionaire at the Observatory. However, there were no guidelines regarding special events or liquor in the contract. The Zoning Administrator was perturbed to hear that Rec and Parks did not have guidelines ready–they are “under review.”
Puck’s representatives compared their variance application to those granted to the Autry National Center, LA Zoo, Greek Theatre and other Griffith Park institutions. However, the majority of the neighborhood organizations and Park users present protested that those venues do not compare appropriately based on better road access, being on the flatter parts of the park and that their mission does not focus on astronomy education, including significant visitation by school children. As one dissenting speaker put it, the grant from Colonel Griffith was that the Observatory be the “people’s Observatory”, not a pay-to-play special event venue for corporate America. One of the provisions in the variance is that parts of the Observatory could be cordoned off for special events during regular hours denying access to the general public.
The Zoning Administrator ultimately ruled that he was reticent to approve this variance in the absence of any guidelines as to parking, access, hours, number of events, size of events, noise issues, etc.
Councilman Tom LaBonge proposed a 60-day delay until such time as Recreation and Parks can submit their guidelines for the events and until the community stakeholders can be integrated into the process. Councilman LaBonge proposed a committee be convened with neighborhood, city and public representatives to consider the appropriate number of events, their size, transportation, and other guidelines, prior to the granting of the liquor license. Public input will be taken until May 30.
A community meeting will be held on the guideline for catered events at the Observatory on March 29th (see Calendar on each page of this site). LFIA president Marian Dodge wrote a letter to the Zoning Administrator, outlining the association’s position on the proposed variance. Read it here.