By John Earl
Surf City Voice
A commissioner sent the civil harassment case of Pirozzi vs. Kramer back to the drawing board on Friday after a tentative agreement between the two parties was reached during mediation that same day.
Alessandro Pirozzi, who owns Cucina Alessa, a downtown Italian restaurant, had requested a restraining order against Kim Kramer, the leader of the Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Association (HBDRA), after Kramer allegedly harassed him and threatened to “beat the living hell” out of one of his employees.
The hearing took place at the West Justice Center in Westminster in the morning. The two parties went into court ordered mediation based on the likelihood that a mutually acceptable agreement could be worked out between them.
Commissioner Glenn Mondo first explained the rather high standards that must be met before he could issue a restraining order on Pirozzi’s behalf.
There must be a “clear and convincing” threat of violence based on a pattern of conduct—one incident is not enough—and there must have been a lot of emotional stress suffered by the plaintiff. Also, the defendant’s conduct must be intentional and with no legitimate reason behind it or protection for it under the Constitution.
Obliquely referring to the general debate over alcohol licenses in the downtown area, Mondo said that the court cannot resolve other issues that Kramer and Pirozzi may differ on. But he noted that there was no need for Kramer to go into a local restaurant to ask for the owner’s occupancy permit, which Kramer did—an inquiry he could take to the police instead.
In an interview prior to the hearing, Pirozzi told the Voice that Kramer called him daily and entered his restaurant on Super Bowl Sunday with a clip board in hand and asking out loud, in front of customers, where the restaurant’s Certificate of Occupancy was located. Pirozzi then escorted Kramer out of the restaurant.
In a written response sent by e-mail before the hearing, Kramer, who refused to answer questions in person or on the phone, told the Voice that he did walk into Cucina Alessa to inquire about its occupancy permit but was “totally unobsrtructive (sic) during my entire time at the restaurant.”
After several hours of mediation the two parties presented the court with an agreement stipulating that both parties avoid each other and that the terms of the agreement be kept confidential. Kramer’s attorney, Joshua Stein, asked the Commissioner Mondo to sign the agreement and seal it, but first wanted to have spectators, including reporters, removed from the court room.
Mondo refused and said that any agreement signed by the court would be a public record. Only by each party signing off on renegotiated terms can the agreement be kept confidential. Mondo ordered Kramer and Pirozzi to return to court on March 25, noting that progress toward a final agreement seems to have been made.
Pirozzi had alleged that Kramer started harassing him after finding out that he wanted to serve beer and wine to guests eating outside on the sidewalk next to the restaurant. Pirozzi says he currently has permits to serve alcohol inside until 1 a.m., but he has never sold it past 11 p.m. “because we don’t want an incident” and he doesn’t want to attract a “party” crowd.
Pirozzi still hasn’t applied to serve beer and wine outdoors, but says that he got thumbs up from Chief of Police Kenneth Small. “The Chief said ‘For me, I don’t think it is any problem.’” Chief Small did not return a Voice request for verification by press time. [UPDATE: On March 16, day after publication of this story, Chief Kenneth Small confirmed that he had spoken with Pirozzi who asked about extending his ABC license (with no distinction made between beer and wine vs. distilled sprits) to outdoors and that Small told him he had no problem with the restaurant serving alcohol–including distilled spirits–outside, but that Pirozzi would have to go through the CUP entitlement process and that there was no guaranteed outcome.]
Pirozzi said that Kramer tried to pressure him to serve only wine outside, explaining that “beer is degrading, not something fine like wine,” and offered to make him a spokesperson for HBRDA if he agreed—but warned Pirozzi that the group would oppose him if he did not agree.
Kramer started out politely, he said, but then indicated “the God Father kind of thing: You do it my way or you’re against me, kind of thing,” Priozzi told the Voice. “He said, ‘Well, this is what I have to offer and it’s a very good offer and you should take it because if you don’t take it then we don’t want to support you. We’re going to come against you.’”
Kramer’s version of what happened is different. “I suggested that he restrict his outdoor alcohol to beer and wine service only, excluding hard liquor” and denied that he offered to make Pirozzi a HBRDA spokesperson in return for agreeing to his (Kramer’s) terms.
When asked if he threatened to block Pirozzi from getting another permit if he didn’t accept the alleged deal, Kramer—true to form—gave an answer that might require a professor of semantics to understand. “The HBDRA has no method or means by which to block his permit,” he said. “In fact, there is no permit required as they already have an alcohol license. This is strictly a City decision which has already been made and approved. There was no attempt by HBDRA to block this with the city.”
According to Planning Commissioner Blair Farley, the police, planning and public works departments would have to sign off on expanding alcohol service to outdoors. In any case, the expansion can’t take place without the city’s approval.
“Generally in a situation where there is outdoor alcohol service the police and planning will require certain things like a wall to delineate the seating area from the sidewalk and access to and from the restaurant,” Farley informed the Voice. “If it is on a public sidewalk then Public Works would also have to sign off and create some kind of agreement.”
[UPDATE: In response to a Voice inquiry, City Assistant Planner Jill Arabe provided the following information: “Research of the property located at 520 Main Street, currently occupied by Cucina Alessa, confirms the approval of two entitlements: Conditional Use Permit No. 89-50 for the sale of alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption in conjunction with a restaurant use and Use Permit No. 92-65 for the establishment of outdoor dining along a portion of the public sidewalk. Based on Condition No. 3a of Use Permit No. 92-65, no alcohol shall be served outside the building. In order to delete the condition prohibiting alcohol outdoors and permit the establishment of alcohol service within the outdoor dining area, an Entitlement Plan Amendment shall be submitted, subject to approval by the Zoning Administrator. The process involves a public hearing and notice to surrounding owners and tenants within 500 ft. of the subject property. Furthermore, there may be a restriction on their Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) license in regards to the location for alcohol service for the restaurant. If the Entitlement Plan Amendment is requested, the additional request to amend their license with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control may also be necessary. To date, no Entitlement Plan Amendment has been submitted for the service of alcohol in the outdoor dining area.]
Cucina Alessa’s head waiter, Luigi Avalos, filed a police report against Kramer on Feb. 7, alleging that several weeks earlier Kramer had threatened to harm him after a disagreement over whether a parking structure should be built on the site of the Main St. Library located directly across the street. HBDRA opposed an attempt by the city to turn the library and the park area surrounding it into a cultural center for tourists.
Avalos told the police that Kramer and his wife would come into the restaurant “nearly daily, and sometimes twice a day.” During those visits, Avalos told police, “they often discussed current affairs regarding the development of Downtown Huntington Beach.” But after learning that Pirozzi wanted to modify the restaurant’s alcohol permit, Avalos claimed, Kramer’s questions became “more frequent and in an almost interrogatory manner, which disrupts Avalos as he works,” the report said.
On one occasion, Avalos alleged, he was approached by Kramer and his wife while he stood in front of the restaurant. “They began talking about the status of the Main Street Public Library. Avalos mentioned it would be nice to have a new parking structure where the current library is, which appeared to upset Kramer,” the report says.
“Kramer removed his sunglasses and asked Avalos, ‘What’s wrong with you? What time are you off,” the report continues. “Avalos asked Kramer why he wanted to know when he got off work, and Kramer responded, ‘So I can beat the living hell out of you.’”
Kramer told the Voice that Avalos’ accusations are “100 percent false” and that a week after the alleged threat Avalos saw him walking with his family across the street, stepped out of the restaurant “calling my name, waved and smiled and was very friendly as he always is.”
Avalos told the police that previously, other than “grabbing his shoulder in passing in attempt to gain attention,” that Kramer had never touched him in an unwanted manner. Avalos added that he didn’t want to prosecute Kramer, but wanted to document the incident in case something happened to him or the restaurant later, and he said that his report to the police would also be used to help obtain a restraining order against Kramer.
But that restraining order seems to be a thing of the past now, although it won’t become official until March 25. “As you know by now, we reached an agreement to drop the charge,” Pirozzi told the Voice by e-mail. “This is the max I can tell you because we signed an agreement that is confidential,” he added.
Pirozzi said he would prefer not to have any more media coverage of the disupte. “I want to move on with my life and business,” he said. “I will cook for you a good meal. That is what I am good about.”