When it comes to flipping a 10,000-square-foot mansion on a prime piece of Santa Monica real estate, a simple open house with hors d’oeuvres and soothing background music has apparently become blase.
In what city staff calls “a new kind of commercial activity for Santa Monica,” the designer who purchased a golf-course adjacent property has re-purposed it for parties and formed the House of Rock LLC to help market the estate.
Since hundreds of guests started streaming in and out of the home in September, residents on affluent La Mesa Drive have complained about everything from noise and lights, to traffic congestion and safety — and even naked partygoers sleeping off a long night in their cars.
On Tuesday, the City Council will decide whether to pass an emergency ordinance that could bar such festivities.
“These are the kinds of events that take place in a hotel ballroom, not in a single-family home,” said Christopher Harding, a Santa Monica attorney representing two neighbors. “The disruption factor has been pretty extraordinary. This is a commercial-events venue that is operating on a quiet neighborhood street.”
But Benjamin M. Reznik, an attorney for Greg Briles and Elaine Culotti, principal owners of the property, emphasized that neither marketing a home nor running charitable events qualify as commercial activity. City code enforcement personnel who have investigated House of Rock events say the company has not violated any city ordinances, he said.
“This is a sledgehammer approach to a nonexistent problem,” Reznik said. “You’re creating a law that infringes on every citizen’s 1st Amendment right to free association.”
If adopted as drafted, the city’s emergency ordinance would prohibit residential property owners from hosting more than 150 people at one time for the purpose of selling a home. Violators could be slapped with a misdemeanor — which could carry a $1,000 fine, six months in jail, or both — or an infraction, which could bring a fine of up to $250.
Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom and several residents said community members want to make sure the ordinance is narrowly tailored to avoid targeting political fundraisers, bar mitzvahs or other smaller-scale parties.
“But at some point you cross into commercial activity and it appears to me that the House of Rock has crossed over that line,” Bloom said. “This is a good opportunity for the city to create some standards.”
Reznik said Culotti purchased the property in October 2010, undertaking an ambitious redesign. Many of the rooms are hard-wired with microphone panels, fiber-optic cables and other musical innovations. A professional recording studio is also built into the home, with ceilings soundproofed in cotton and silk. When the house goes on the market at the end of the month, Reznik said, it will be listed for more than $20 million.
High-end designers and furniture purveyors also donated their services for the parties in return for exposure and sales opportunities, according to the city’s staff report. Event attendees and others taking virtual tours can purchase the furnishings online, the report said. The report also quotes Culotti calling the marketing scheme “a crafty way” to sell the house.
“Legal staff concurs with one member of the public, who observed … that people tend to push the limits and experiment (for their own benefit),” the report said. “Staff agrees that the marketing scheme for the House of Rock exemplifies that proposition.”
Still, the charity events will continue into December. Three have taken place, and five more are scheduled, Reznik said. The most recent event last week involved about 350 guests and featured a musical performance and a silent auction supporting City of Hope’s “Songs of Hope,” charity officials said.
But it was the two events in September that drove dozens of people to an Oct. 2 City Council meeting in protest.
Dick Newman, who lives across the street from the House of Rock, said that the events clogged the street with catering trucks, Hummers and vans while spotlights illuminated the sky.
“People could not get in their driveways,” Newman, 77, said. “Had there been any kind of emergency, it would have been chaos.”
Reznik said he would sue the city if the ordinance is adopted and enforced.