by: Concerned Residents of 320 Sunset and Save Venice
Gjusta has been lauded by foodie blogs and magazines around the country but what these publications don’t tell you about are the dozens of violations Gjusta has racked up since opening. In fact, the violations are so rampant that the City of Los Angeles has two lawsuits pending against them. But due to the byzantine bureaucracy of Los Angeles these lawsuits may not be enough to put Venice residents at ease.
For 15 months now, Fran Camaj has been operating Gjusta in direct violation of its Certificate of Occupancy which is solely for a “Take out Bakery- No seating.” This business which neighbors deem a nuisance has been illegally running as a sit down full service restaurant, usurping valuable parking, and creating constant dangerous traffic scenarios in the residential neighborhood.
With a full commercial kitchen equipment serving fish, beef, and fowl, but only having a permit for bakery equipment and bakery retail take out with no seating or eating on the premises, many residents have dubbed Gjusta “The Fakery.”
“Trendy food goers may like Gjusta’s food, but when they hear the back-story, it doesn’t taste so good.”
Apparently Gjusta owner, Camaj, lied to Venice residents. He originally stated he was only going to operate a bakery. This was a lie which the community perceived from the gate given his reputation with his other Venice restaurant Gjelina on Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Gjusta has also manipulated the L.A. City process in order to set up and operate it’s illegal restaurant. Gjusta has been cited by the Department of Building and Safety several times yet has refused to comply. To add insult to injury, Gjusta is now asking the City of Los Angeles to reward its illegal behavior by approving a full alcohol license and permitting them to “officially” operate a bar and restaurant just 13 feet from family/ residential homes. Apparently Gjusta’s owner Camaj thinks he can do whatever he wants with zero consequences. So far, he’s been right.
Shockingly, on August 11, 2015, despite all of the above and Camaj’s poor track record as a bad neighbor at Gjelina’s for 8 years (150+ page lawsuit filed by residents living near Gjelina’s), Los Angeles Zoning Administrator (ZA) Maya Zaitzevsky granted Camaj his “change of use” from “bakery-take out only” (something it’s never been) to a late night restaurant with full line of alcohol. Mind you this is 13 feet from residents’ homes. However, this “change of use” approval doesn’t mean that Gjusta is lawfully able to operate, they are NOT. When a project is under appeal, it is not allowed to operate until the entire appeal process is complete. Gjusta bar/restaurant is currently being appealed by the local community.
60 Venice community neighbors showed up to the Nov 13, 2014 Zoning hearing in opposition. They provided LA Zoning and City Council with hundreds of multiple-page, detailed letters with photos exhibiting violations. The State Alcohol Beverage Control ( ABC) were also provided similar documentation. ABC told Concerned Neighbors of 320 Sunset (CNS) that usually with so much opposition, an applicant withdraws their application. On May 6, 2015, Gjusta did just that.
Gjusta then asked patrons to fill out postcards requesting that they wanted a restaurant with alcohol which they then sent those postcards to the City. It seems that a batch of postcards mostly from out of the area (London, Laguna Beach, Topanga, Chicago, Irvine) carry more weight than comprehensive detailed opposition letters from actual Venice residents. To think the City of LA wants to add alcohol to this already proven community nuisance mix is ridiculous.
Venetians appealed this decision and their hearing was scheduled for November 18, 2015. At this hearing Camaj was granted a continuance and in essence, has been allowed to continue operating outside of the law. This is a bad and dangerous precedent that has been set for the Venice community for future cases.
The West LA Area Planning Commission appeal hearing scheduled for January 20th, 2016 was postponed and will now be heard March 2, 2016 at 4:30pm at the Henry Medina -West LA Parking Enforcement Facility. The granted continuance is to enable public comment on the Revised MND (environmental report) which is still in circulation until February 8, 2016 and which you can find here.
“It is a very important step in the public’s right to be heard,” says Ilana Marosi. “This appeal can override the Zoning decision and reverse it. We must push for that, as it is the right thing for the community. We must request that the Area Planning Commission uphold our appeal and enforce a “BAKERY ONLY” operation at 320 Sunset.”
“This appeal can override the Zoning decision and reverse it. We must push for that, as it is the right thing for the community. We must request that the Area Planning Commission uphold our appeal and enforce a “BAKERY ONLY” operation at 320 Sunset. A high-turnover restaurant with excessive vehicular traffic exiting through a one-car only alley (next to residents’ homes) does not belong in Oakwood’s family-friendly neighborhood. And they want to add alcohol into this mix?”
– Ilana Marosi , CNS
The approval of Gjusta’s alcohol permit by the Zoning Administrator is disturbing because as clearly outlined in Alcohol and Beverage Control’s (ABC) guidelines, alcohol service should be a minimum of 100 feet from residential homes— Gjusta’s is only 13 ft. Many in the Venice Beach community concerned about the inundation of alcohol licenses in their neighborhood have called for a moratorium on alcohol licenses.
Sarah Blanch, a representative for the Institute of Public Safety said at the 1st April 2015, 259 Hampton Drive appeal, that research shows unequivocally, time and again, that there is absolutely a correlation between the number of bars, restaurants and stores selling alcohol and a whole range of community harms, including crime, drinking and driving, littering, loitering, and excessive noise.
ABC’s current recommendation for this census tract (2733) is 3 onsite alcohol outlets. There are currently 14 onsite alcohol licenses. There is critical mass when it comes to what a community can bear. ABC is is supposed to be there to protect the livability of our communities and their recommendations should not be overlooked. Santa Monica, with a similar high density of alcohol licenses to Venice, is ranked in the highest quartile in LA County’s alcohol related crashes.
At the 259 Hampton appeal in April last year, LAPD’s Captain Brian Johnson recommended denial of the liquor license since this area of Venice’s has an undue concentration of alcohol licenses. “Undue” meaning where and area has an over-concentration of alcohol and high crime rate. This is a serious consideration for the neighborhood. Pacific Division Vice Unit Sgt. Robin Richards and Sarah Blanch of the Westside Impact Project also recommended denial of alcohol at the 259 Hampton hearing. Denial of alcohol was upheld at the 259 Hampton location, and should be upheld here at Gjusta for the same reasons.
Call: Councilman Bonin: 213-473-701
Donate: Help us ensure the best legal representation! Make a donation at: https://www.gofundme.com/helpsavevenice
Stay in Touch: [email protected]
Comment: on the revised MND (environmental report) which is still in circulation until February 8, 2016 and which you can find here.
Join Us: Come in person and speak out for our community on March 2, 2016 at 4:30pm: Henry Medina West LA Parking Enforcement Facility, 2nd floor, 11214 West Exposition Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, 90064
Bring any evidence and/or records of your complaints / violations to LADBS, LAPD, Noise, Fire Department or others to the hearing. Include dates and contacts/photos. Both here and at Camaj’s other operations (Gjelina/GTA).
Please bring at least one neighbor/friend who can be there in solidarity. We need bodies in the room – that speaks volumes. Even if you cannot speak, please be there in person on the night. Many voices make a big impact!
Thank You and tell them:
“No alcohol at Gjusta – 13 feet from residents’ homes! Our residential neighborhood cannot sustain such a gross intensification of operation which causes extreme traffic hazards and increases the dangers associated with alcohol.”
More articles regarding Gjusta at The Venice Beachhead