Nearly a dozen concerned residents showed up at the Manhattan Beach City Chambers on Feb. 19 to complain about one particular neighbor: Shade Hotel, the face of Metlox Plaza.
One tearful resident, Cheryl Lynn, told the City Council that since moving back three years ago to her residence on the 1100 block of Admore Avenue, she has suffered sleep loss due to the excessive noise from Shade that “wafts up the hill through [her] closed bedroom window.”
“I just can’t get to sleep after a long day in the middle of the week,” Lynn said. “I even wear earplugs and yet the thumping of the bass will get into the house.”
Joan Mueller, who lives on the 1200 block of Admore Avenue, said her guest bedroom, where her grandchildren and guests often spend the night, directly faces Shade.
“When the windows are open, it’s wild,” Mueller said. “I’m here to ask for help.”
This is not the first time Shade’s neighbors have sought help from the city.
In 1997, the city sought to revitalize the old Metlox Pottery factory site, located on North Valley Drive in the downtown commercial zone.
Pacific Elementary teacher Stephanie Hubbard and her husband Nate Hubbard, who since 1988 have resided on the 1300 block of Admore Avenue, attended nearly every public meeting between 1998 and 2001, during which time the city was seeking community input to determine what would grace the neighborhood plaza.
In April 2004, construction commenced for Shade, then the city’s only luxury boutique hotel, and in September 2005, it opened its doors.
“Literally when it opened, I was going upstairs to my bedroom and I thought I’d left the TV on because it sounded like there were people talking in my bedroom,” Hubbard said.
Shade is owned by the Zislis Group, which has three other businesses in Manhattan Beach: Rock ‘N Fish, Circa and The Strand House. A second location for Shade is in the works, scheduled to open next year in Redondo Beach.
Three months prior to Shade’s opening, the city approved Zislis’ request to amend the original Conditional Use Permit (CUP), allowing a larger maximum occupancy of 99 people for special events and expanded liquor service for the general public.
In 2009, Zislis applied for another amendment to the 2005 CUP. He sought to expand the hotel’s food service, extend hours of operation from 11 p.m. to midnight on Fridays, Saturdays and holidays and increase, again, the maximum capacity for special events to 125 without administrative approval.
When the neighborhood learned of this, residents staunchly—and vocally—opposed the change, Stephanie Hubbard recalled.
“A lot of people went to City Council and spoke about how horrible the noise was,” Hubbard said. “It really reached an impact.”
Zislis was willing to compromise. He began conferring with Stephanie Hubbard’s husband, Nate Hubbard, the de facto neighborhood liaison, and after a series of meetings, they came up with a deal to appease both the neighborhood and Shade: Zislis would get those extended hours and the other privileges he applied for, if he installed several noise mitigating measures. That included an enclosure of the patio, a front entrance vestibule and a moveable wall to separate the interior courtyard from the lobby bar.
“The privileges within this Use Permit for extension of hours of operation shall only be granted after the installation of these mitigation measures, implementation of the improvements and modifications to the operations of the facility,” the resolution reads. “After completion of these measures, the Community Development Director, in cooperation with the Noise consultant, shall determine if the measures are effective and meeting the objective noise criteria and mitigation standards described in the previously submitted noise reports.”
“The privileges and rights within this Use permit shall not be effective unless the objective noise criteria and dBA reductions…are achieved.”
Under these listed conditions, City Council approved the amended CUP in September 2010.
In the Shade
As it turns out, the 2010 CUP was never implemented.
“It just couldn’t be done,” Zislis told Easy Reader.
He explained that when he took the blueprint of the proposed enclosed patio to city officials, they said he had to remove the balcony windows from the guestrooms directly above the patio to comply with the fire safety code.
“It put me in a position where, of course I’m not going to take the balconies off my guestrooms,” Zislis said. “The neighbors said they wanted it enclosed, and I said if it’ll make you happy I’ll enclose it. Then you find out there are code reasons why you can’t.”
Zislis said Shade is currently operating under and abiding by the 2005 CUP, which dictates 11 p.m. close daily for the lobby Zinc bar and outside terrace; 10 p.m. daily for the roof deck; and 11 p.m. Thursdays to Sundays and midnight Fridays and Saturdays for special events in the courtyard.
Shade’s neighbors beg to differ. It seems that the confusion among residents stems from their observation of Shade operating at later hours without city interference while their side of the deal has yet to be met.
Just this past Sunday night, Stephanie Hubbard said she had to call the hotel about 25 minutes past midnight.
“If people are standing outside of Shade, the wind from the ocean blows the sound east,” she said. “Even if you’re not being terribly obnoxious and you’re just talking or laughing loudly, it’s very disruptive to the neighbors because the sound travels right into our houses.”
This also brings into question the official definition of closing time, Hubbard added. According to the 2010 resolution, “closed” means “music off and lights turned up in all public areas” with all areas vacated except for staff and registered guests in the lobby. In addition, “…on or before closing, staff shall collect all glasses, bottles, cans, and drinks, including from registered guests.”
The 2005 CUP does not include a definition.
Another question of legality is whether Zislis and the city are allowed to neglect the 2010 CUP. Laurie Jester, the city’s planning manager, said at the City Council meeting that it was Zislis’ prerogative.
“When anyone applies for a use permit, they have a certain time to implement that use permit. They are not required to,” Jester said. “… so they have not implemented the 2010 CUP approval, so they are not implementing the increased food service, later hours and provisions that allow them to have larger parties without director’s approval … If they choose not to implement it, they don’t have to.”
According to the 2010 CUP, the amendment was to become effective when the 90-day period for appeal had expired.
It also states that the amendment lapses three years after its date of approval unless implemented or extended, which means Zislis has the option to implement the CUP until this September.
Upon Jester’s statement, Councilman Nick Tell said he was also surprised by the news that the 2010 CUP Amendment was never implemented.
“There are no provisions in the code that requires us to notify neighbors,” Jester told council.
To make a noise complaint, Jester explained, residents call the code enforcement staff during the day and Manhattan Beach Police Department’s Watch Commander during off hours. She added that MBPD has fielded about eight noise complaints regarding Shade in the past year.
Jacqueline Harris, the city’s code enforcement officer, told Easy Reader that she is not involved with issues regarding Shade Hotel and referred the inquiry to MBPD.
MBPD Watch Commander Sgt. Matt Saboski, who said he has never personally responded to a Shade-related noise complaint, explained the usual protocol for noise complaints regarding bars or restaurants.
“You have to verify whether they’re operating under that CUP,” Sgt. Saboski said. “If they’re not, they could be cited.”
“We traditionally just go out there and whether it’s reasonable or unreasonable is what the officer deems when he goes out there. If they’re being loud and noisy, they could fall within Penal Code 415.”
California Penal Code 415, commonly referred to as “disturbing the peace” laws, deems unlawful the willful and malicious disturbance of another person by “loud and unreasonable noise.”
Zislis said he has never been cited for a sound violation.
Stephanie Hubbard said her husband calls the police repeatedly to complain about the noise from Shade.
Once, she remembered, an officer following up with their call came to the couple’s residence to let them know that the noise from Shade was within reason.
“Then my husband brought the policeman upstairs, and he was like, ‘Oh wow, it’s really noisy,’” she said.
That’s the tricky part, she explained. The noise could seem minimal from the street outside the hotel; however, the wind from the ocean carries the noise east and into the homes, she said.
“Whenever they say how many times people have called police, it’s just a few times. Part of it is, we’re worn down,” Hubbard said.
In response to another incident, Police Chief Eve Irvine wrote in an email that Zislis had not fulfilled the requirements of the 2010 CUP and was being enforced under the provisions of the original 2005 CUP.
Following the Feb. 29 City Council meeting, MBPD and city staff have asked to meet with him, Zislis said. Although he stands by his statement that Shade is not violating any condition under the 2005 CUP, he would gladly meet with the neighbors and figure out a way “legally” and “constructionally” to appease them, he said.
“My goal is for there to be very little to no impact on the neighborhood,” Zislis said. “I’ve had a lot of businesses here in Manhattan Beach and I’ve always been a great neighbor.”
Zislis noted that he believes the showdown at the council meeting was a “personal vendetta” against him by a certain individual who has previously sued him, and lost, five times. Several of the 10 residents who spoke on the topic do not live in the immediate neighborhood.
However, the testimonies shared by Shade’s neighbors remain very much real.
“The rules seem really murky to us and that’s the problem,” Hubbard said. “There’s just a lot of murkiness which works in Mr. Zislis’ favor and it doesn’t work for the neighborhood… People just cannot sleep.”