By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Update:The partners creating a new restaurant at Police Administration Building in downtown Los Angeles have won their challenge to city officials' order evicting them.
Sam Vagarshakian, a partner in L.A. Reflections, says that after a five-day trial, an L.A. Superior Court jury unanimously rejected the city's attempt to evict them. See original story below.After Los Angeles city officials took land that was supposed to be a park to build the $437 million LAPD headquarters, they promised that, in return, it wouldn't be a fortress. The Police Administration Building (PAB) would fit in and be an asset to downtown and its dwellers.
Having gobbled up potential park land, the PAB headquarters promised to include an acre of needed green space, as well as two adjacent buildings on the grounds aimed at the community: a 400-seat auditorium and a public restaurant. But now that City Hall has its beautiful PAB headquarters, filled with 2,100 police and top brass and hailed as an architectural gem, those promises are fading fast.
First the grass at PAB was accidentally wiped out by crowds attending a police fundraising event; that was followed by squabbling over who should restore the brown eyesore at the corner of Second and Main streets. The big lawn was saved, but neighborhood groups are working on a plan for volunteers to maintain it; word is the city doesn't have the money.
Now, L.A. Weekly has learned, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich is moving to evict from their nearly finished restaurant two Civic Center mall shopkeepers who worked for months, and spent nearly $1 million, creating a friendship-themed restaurant in a building on PAB's grounds that looks out on the lawn. Called L.A. Reflections, its menu was to be based on the cuisines of L.A.'s sister cities.
Would-be restaurateurs Sam Vagarshakian and Michael Simon tell the Weekly Trutanich's case is so weak that quiet talks have begun on a possible settlement. Vagarshakian and L.A. Reflections went to court Dec. 6 to fight eviction from their leased restaurant. But no settlement was reached and the legal battle continues.
Vagarshakian is appalled and baffled. "It's like somebody comes in and throws you out of your house," he says. "I don't know that I have words to describe how I feel after two years of work."
While City Councilwoman Jan Perry and top LAPD brass appeared supportive of the restaurant and wanted to sort through issues during its difficult planning and interior construction, Vagarshakian says, others seemed eager to throw up roadblocks. He singles out Police Administrator Thom Brennan of LAPD's Facilities Management Division and Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, director of asset management in the city's Department of General Services. Jones-Sawyer refused to comment and Brennan did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Within key city departments, he says, "There doesn't appear to be any communication."
Vagarshakian and Simon are not fly-by-night characters accustomed to eviction threats. For years both ran shops in the mall beneath the Civic Center, a favorite lunch spot for government workers and police. Vagarshakian, the CEO of L.A. Reflections, ran a cell-phone store. Simon's family jewelry store was the first tenant to open in the mall, decades ago.
But it hasn't exactly been brotherly love with City Hall since the pair won the restaurant lease in 2009. "We wanted something that would really reflect the diversity of the city and the Civic Center," Vagarshakian says. "That's where we got the name."
"My head started flying away — how they could think this after two or three years of work?" Vagarshakian asks. "I don't know a word in English to describe my reaction. It was crazy information that I got, that a city this big could have such a lack of information, such a lack of strategy, could have made such a miscalculation."
Wax referred questions to Trutanich spokesman Frank Mateljan, who declined comment.
The restaurateurs' tale is particularly jarring, coming just as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner aggressively mount a PR campaign pledging a new "openness" to businesses and efforts to "streamline" development and lure companies to a city thrashed by 14 percent unemployment.
Trutanich's lawsuit seeking to evict the men claims that L.A. Reflections is months behind in opening and accuses them of violating their lease — by serving alcohol without permits to people attending downtown's popular monthly Art Walk earlier this year.
But a judge in September had no problem with the two partners serving alcohol during Art Walk, a sidewalk cultural event that draws thousands of people downtown.
When the Los Angeles City Council chose this pair to develop the restaurant, they pointedly did not turn to someone like Wolfgang Puck. Nor did they choose experienced developers accustomed to bringing in projects on deadline
Instead, they chose a team that boasts roots in the Armenian-American community, is commited to charity and has experience in areas including catering and restaurant work.
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