Hermosa Beach lost a valuable corporate citizen this weekend, when the weight of over-reaching bureaucracy finally forced Dave Lowe’s Establishment to close its doors.
The Establishment had been serving cocktails and great local bar food to residents for a decade. Despite being an ideal neighbor, the near constant business interference from city staff, a couple council people and a largely anti-business planning commission finally won out. While Hermosa Beach remains largely single and renting – we make up nearly 60 percent of the community demographic – local government has become increasingly browbeat by the vocal minority of residents who rail against the vibrant social community and the businesses that serve it.
There are many problems with this “war on bars,” which spills over to include restaurants, cafes and other businesses. Rumors hint that even neighborhood favorites like Gumtree and Silvio’s have expressed a yearning for the more business friendly climates of Redondo and Manhattan. Granny’s Deli and other retailers were forced to endure long council meetings to lobby against metering in 15 minute parking zones their customers rely on and In recent years, two local entrepreneurs didn’t even bother to look at HB. Instead immensely successful King Harbor Brewing Company and The Slip Bar & Grill opened in Redondo Beach.
What will replace the businesses the city drives away?
In the case of The Establishment’s spot, it’s hard to tell who will win the Hermosa lottery. Whoever it is, their likely to be the antithesis of Lowe’s locals spot with his long-time support for beach-based charities and civic groups. Instead, we are likely to end up with a homogenized out-of-town, out-of-touch, over-priced corporate concept bar.
First, real estate speculators as landlords.
The Establishment property’s absentee landlord Mark Bolour, of Bolour Associates, is also the developer of the much-maligned attempt to build a towering glass hotel on the historic Mermaid location at Pier & Strand. Bolour has little interest, beyond lip-service, in connecting with local residents or restaurateurs. When he took over The Mermaid location, he quickly saddled it with the out of town Killer Shrimp management combo. While the individual servers, bar staff and managers at the Mermaid are awesome, their Marina Del Rey corporate management has proven to be hostile to local needs. It seems likely that Bolour will continue the same disconnected approach to shoehorning in a highest absentee bidder to his new vacancy.
Second, the City.
The regulatory hammer is heavy, blunt and unwieldly but its greatest force is that of exhaustion. In the case of Lowe and Establishment, as so many other local restaurateurs will attest, the repeated and uneven application of trivial but burdensome regulations took a massive toll in time and money.
After activists tricked residents into seating Nanette Barragan, who recently resigned under a cloud of controversy, on council, the attacks on restaurants and bars reached a crescendo. Despite Council Members Carolyn Petty, Pete Tucker and Michael Divirgilio’s attempts to leaven in some common sense, Barragan and others used city meetings as an inquisition, belittling and berating local residents and business owners from the dais.
It has been common for local restaurateurs to spend hundreds of hours at council meetings defending their businesses, employees and the majority of residents that enjoy the vibrant beach and social culture. Under council pressure, primarily led by the now jettisoned Barragan but often with the support of other council members, bars and restaurants have been faced with a ridiculous level of micro-management.
Last year the council considered such trivia as setting limits on the size, style, design of hostess stands (shopping mall anyone?), where space heaters should be placed and why customers were allowed to shuffle their feet in defiance of no dancing restrictions. They did set time limits on when businesses can form lines, against police department advice, to manage larger crowds. The pressure ended up forcing American Junkie to dump their awesome ping-pong table and cancel drink promotions like beer towers. Despite a tight budget, the city also hired a code enforcement officer who hit Silvio’s with a $500 ticket for people standing outside their location during the World Cup celebration and shut down Hennessey’s popular rooftop comedy night.
In the end, it’s just a fact that small business owners are already putting in long hours and juggling tiny profit margins without the city’s interference. Only corporate chain restaurants have the staff time and deep pockets to constantly kiss the ring of council and commission members who demand obedience over partnership.
It is well past time for the city to stop demonizing the majority of residents and quit micro-managing local businesses. There is an election coming on November 3rd that gives us an opportunity to protect the eclectic, energetic, funky beach we love. The question is, do you want to live in a shopping mall or a community?