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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Due Process Is Slow Process When Dealing With Nuisances

Defining a business as a nuisance isn’t difficult when police are called to the premises on a weekly basis or when a venue’s customers continually engage in illegal activities.


However, the definition can get murky when the business is permitted by local agencies but disliked by neighbors.


“Everyone has their own opinion on what a nuisance business is,” said Nancy Hoffman, president of the Mid-Valley Chamber of Commerce. “But is it someone’s morals or ethics that says it’s a nuisance or is it a nuisance because it’s harboring crime?”


In Los Angeles, non-profits or even operations run by the city can be considered nuisances, said Daniel Green, a zoning administrator with the L.A. City Planning Department.


For example, a city-run center for recovering drug addicts that opened last year near Skid Row has been criticized by neighbors for attracting illegal activity.


To give business owners the benefit of the doubt before taking action against them, the city has in place a lengthy process for defining a nuisance business. Residents, businesses, police officers or council members can ask the Planning Department and the Department of Building and Safety to investigate complaints.


If enough evidence exists, a zoning administrator will call a public hearing and notify neighbors by mail.


The hearings are held in municipal buildings in the seven area planning districts in a process is much like a court hearing with the zoning administrator acting as judge.


The city’s eight zoning administrators, who rotate between regions, each hear a total of about 150 cases annually, and of those 30 or 40 cases are nuisance complaints, Green said. Almost all are appealed to the City Council, he said, though only one or two nuisance businesses each year have their permits revoked.


All sides are allowed to submit evidence, which can include everything from police reports to surveillance videos, and refute the testimony of others.


If the zoning administrator decides the business is causing a public nuisance conditions may be placed on it, including requirements to hire security guards, install surveillance cameras or limit the hours of operation.


The business owner can appeal these directives to the City Council, which has the authority to veto them although it rarely does.


The business owner returns before the zoning administrator in several months to prove that required changes have been made and respond to follow-up input from neighbors and police. If the behavior persists or the owner has failed to make the changes, the zoning administrator can revoke the business’ conditional use permit. This decision can also be appealed to the City Council.


After that, the business is supposed to close or face misdemeanor citations for violating the municipal code. The entire process can take several years to work its way through the system and the appeals process.


The ultimate problem: businesses that open shops without ever applying for permits in the first place. “If there’s no permit to revoke,” Green said, “there’s not much else we can do.”

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