The L.A. Department of City Planning held a virtual public hearing July 7 regarding the proposed convenience store at the Shell station, corner of Sunset and Via de la Paz.
CTN had asked the planning department about the status of the four-year-old case because the Design Review Board determination had been made in January 2017 and a public hearing was held in August 2017.
In a July 7 email, a planning department media spokesperson wrote, “This case was taken under advisement for an extended period, and as a result, the Zoning Administrator originally assigned to it did not issue a written determination.
“A new Zoning Administrator has since been assigned to the case, which is being considered for a new environmental analysis that may be more appropriate,” the spokesperson wrote. “That is why the case is being reheard now.”
Charlie Rausch, the new ZA, explained on Zoom at the beginning of the meeting that this was the second public hearing, and the reason was the previous administrator retired eight months ago before a decision was rendered.
“There is a change in the environmental clearance to a categorical exemption,” Rausch said. “Because this is a controversial case, I wanted to hear directly from the public.”
He noted that there were more than 70 items in the case file. “I have the notes from the previous hearing,” Rausch said, “but I want to hear from you. If you have submitted letters, I have read them. My job is to listen. I will not put a time limit on public comment.”
True to his word, Rausch listened to everyone who wanted to comment, and after two hours for just this one item, he said he would pay a site visit and the file would stay open two months until September 7, if anyone wants to add a letter or a comment.
Owner Saeed Kohonoff purchased the corner station after selling his Mobil station (a block away) to Caruso Affiliated.
In January 2017, he went before the Design Review Board and defended his plan to demolish the existing service bay (1,900 sq.ft.) and replace it with a 2,748-sq.ft. mini-mart that would be located against the adjoining Ritrovo restaurant building. The project design and location was approved by the DRB.
The first to speak at Wednesday’s hearing was Saeed Kohonoff’s representative Neill Brower of Jeff Mangels Butler & Mitchell.
Brower stated that the gas pumps would stay where they are, and the new 2,440 sq.ft. convenience store (a smaller building than originally proposed) would be built adjacent to the professional services building (Ritrovo has not reopened following a kitchen fire). The actual interior store space would be 850 feet, with trash containers enclosed inside. Currently the big trash bins are in the alley facing the condominiums.
The store hours would coincide with the current station hours (6 a.m. to 11 p.m.) and a conditional use permit will be sought to sell wine and beer from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Security cameras would be installed, and a security guard would be on site from 5 p.m. to closing. The store would use a state-of-the-art electronic age verification.
“The project is consistent with the specific plan and with zoning,” said Brower, who noted that a traffic impact study has been done.
Attorney Thomas Donovan, who represents the Via de la Paz Association (the condo building behind the station), once again made an objection to the hearing because the file was closed in 2017.
He questioned the traffic study because it was done six years ago, but Brower pointed out that these studies require traffic miles—not congestion—and that has not changed.
Donovan said that “selling alcohol is going to have a horrible effect on the residents.”
John Murdoch, who is representing Dr. Shaun Malek, the owner of the building adjacent to the Shell station, argued that the convenience store should not be right next to his client’s building because of easement issues.
Murdoch and Malek argued that placing the building adjacent “takes away an egress we have had for 30 years.”
“Does this property affect adjacent property?” Murdoch asked. “It does. There is no general welfare or convenience offered with this project. It takes away the service bays and replaces them with alcohol. The categorical exemption is not applicable.”
After listening to the lawyers and principals, Rausch then listened to public comment.
Many Palisadians argued against selling alcohol at this particular location, noting that there is an overconcentration of places that do—Gelson’s across the street, and particularly in Palisades Village. Additionally, two other grocery stores and CVS also sell booze in a three-block radius.
Those objecting to selling alcohol also pointed out the number of schools within the radius of the Shell station and the fact that many teens riding public transportation (buses) get off at that corner.
Additionally, to many who commented, a convenience store selling alcohol would be an enticement to the homeless.
“This is a bad place for a minimart and a worse place for a minimart with alcohol,” one resident said.
A Palisadian told Rausch about the motorcycle riders that ride through town on Sunset every Wednesday and Saturday night before congregating down on PCH. “They don’t need another stop,” he said.
One person defended the owner, noting that the area is zoned for commercial, and the owner has a right to have a store. “Liking or not liking a commercial property is not a reason to deny this,” he said. “If you don’t want commercial property, you should close down everything on Sunset.”
He pointed out that a convenience store had just been approved across the street at the 76 station and that competition should be allowed, by allowing Kohonoff to open his.
Kohonoff spoke and said that alcohol would be behind locked doors and that a cashier would have to serve the customer. He said he has a similar station in Koreatown (3325 6th Street) and people could see how it works.
He said that there was no prescriptive easement and that Malek’s tenants who have been parking in the area between Malek’s building and his station would have to use the alley.
“This project would enhance the community 100 percent,” Kohonoff said.
Jessica Rogers, president of the Pacific Palisades Residents Association said, “We have been following this for four years. The residents are not against a gas station, and not against competition. Our mission is safety of our residents.”
She, too, worried about the sale of alcohol, the bus riders and the lack of law enforcement in Pacific Palisades. “We strongly oppose alcohol sales and there’s no reason for a CEQA exemption.”
Kohonoff’s attorney Brower was allowed to answer concerns. “We have made changes, we have shrunk the hours—this is a parade of the horribles,” he said, while noting that Malek has an easement in the alley, but the current space that would be occupied by the convenience store is not a prescriptive easement. “That is going to be his problem to solve.”
The Ritrovo restaurant fire in November 2019 was also cited as a reason not to build the convenience store right next to Malek’s building.
Brower responded, “The convenience store is only a half to two-thirds of the façade of his building, and there is fire department access.”
ZA Rausch said he would make a determination after September 7 and then added, “Most likely whatever I decide will be appealed to the West L.A. Planning Commission.”