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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023

Neighborhood Council Backs Zone Variance for Market

One vote from the Mid Town North Hollywood Neighborhood Council was all that separated Alexander Rodriguez and the El Cubano Food Bag Market from what he said would have been financial peril. Yet after a heated hour-plus debate, the neighborhood council voted to recommend that Rodriguez receive a zone variance to park the company’s storage truck in its parking lot. Amid the “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Charlotte’s Web,” tapestries that adorned the walls of North Hollywood’s Oxnard Street Elementary School, a crowd of approximately 50 people gathered for the neighborhood council’s monthly meeting. After poring over the council’s news and business, as well as approving a new member to join the council, the governing body of 15 prepared to hear Rodriguez’s appeal. The appeal stemmed from a citation that the market had received several weeks before. The citation instructed El Cubano that parking its 48-foot trailer truck in its parking lot was against the law, and that it would need a zone variance to be able to continue to park it there. In an effort to help persuade the Los Angeles Department of City Planning to grant the variance, Rodriguez, the general manager of El Cubano, petitioned the neighborhood council for help. In an eloquent and passionate ten minute appeal, the pinstriped suit-clad Rodriguez outlined the reasons why the council should grant him a variance. He mentioned the 30-year history of the business and how the market had never been cited before, as well as showing several photos of North Hollywood businesses that parked similar sized trucks on their property, yet had never needed a variance. Also employing a legal bent in his defense, Rodriguez analyzed the language of the Los Angeles City code that supposedly prohibited him from storing his vehicle on the property. Rodriguez argued that by virtue of moving the vehicle each day, it technically wasn’t “storing” the vehicle, and therefore the company should be granted a variance. Susan Ware, the district two representative for the council, was one of the most vociferous opponents to granting the variance. On several occasions throughout the meeting, the council member refuted Rodriguez’s arguments. “Some businesses have huge lots and some of them aren’t in residential areas,” Ware said, tacitly referring to the photos of the North Hollywood Smart & Final, Target, and Robinsons-May that Rodriguez had displayed in his defense. “The reason that those trucks are in those places are that no one had complained. I would like to note that variances rarely benefit the community. They only benefit the person asking. Keep that in mind. This will affect people in the Victory and Tujunga area.” But district three resident representative, Todd Martin, staked the opposing ground, repeatedly imploring the council to grant Rodriguez the variance. “I shop at the El Cubano market. It serves the low income population, their prices are lower than most markets and produce moves through rapidly, a fact evidenced by the store’s frequent runs in their truck to pick up produce,” Martin said. “Obviously, they need a place to store their truck and if all those other stores in the neighborhood are allowed to do so, why has El Cubano been singled out. I can’t understand how parking a truck can disturb anyone. I urge people to support granting them a variance.” When the time to vote came around, over a dozen people from the council and the audience had weighed in on the issue. Yet despite all the deliberation, the vote was fraught with tension, as the first round of voting produced a deadlock of seven yes votes, seven no votes, and five abstentions. But then a council member pointed out that council President Diann Corral had voted against the variance, despite being only allowed to vote in the case of a tie. The procedural error gave Rodriguez and El Cubano a narrow victory of seven yes votes to six no votes. In the aftermath of the decision, Rodriguez was ebullient. “I’m glad that the neighborhood council did what it was supposed to do. It effectively represented the residents and the businesses and showed that if they come together and have an open mind, the two can help each other,” Rodriguez. However, whether or not El Cubano will receive a zone variance still remains uncertain. Despite carrying significant weight, the council’s recommendation is still subject to the final say of the Los Angeles City Planning Department, a fact that Corral pointed out. “I know that some of the neighbors at the meeting weren’t happy with the decision and I assume that they’re writing letters to the zoning administrator. I think he will weigh those letters along with the council’s recommendation before making a final decision,” Corral said.

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