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Outside of Tehran, Los Angeles has the largest Iranian population of any city in the world. One of the city’s largest Persian communities is based on the Westside and includes a large contingent of Jews, many of whom fled Iran during the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
The Iranian American Jewish community, in turn, bases a good deal of its operations at a center that adjoins Hollywood Temple Beth El, which hosts school classes, seminars, and a variety of Jewish lifecycle events — weddings, brit milahs (brisses), bat mitzvahs, bar mitzvahs, and memorial services.
However, the complex, which is owned by the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) is located in a residential neighborhood at the corner of Crescent Heights Boulevard and Fountain Avenue, and for the last several years residents have complained about noise from delivery trucks and celebrations that can last deep into the night.
Earlier this year, the West Hollywood Business License Commission (BLC) placed limits on the operation of the facility, including the hours it could operate, which Iranian Jews say could threaten their community’s cohesion.
“This is a very tight community, the Iranian Jewish community,” said Moti Gur. “This center is really important. People pray in the temple, and they have local events. It’s the glue that keeps this community together.”
Iranian Jewish weddings do not start until sunset, and Shahla Z. Javnan, president of the IAJF, said the closing times the BLC has imposed — 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and midnight on Friday and Saturday — would make it difficult to hold these events at the center.
“There wouldn’t be time,” Javnan said. “By the time the ceremony was over, people would have to start walking home. There wouldn’t be any celebration. People would start going elsewhere, and a lot of them would get hurt, because we are a non-profit and we offer very reasonable rates. A lot of people wouldn’t be able to afford a big wedding at a fancy hotel, and would not be able to have the events they were dreaming about their whole lives.”
Javnan said the IAJF acquired the facilities about 20 years ago, and before that, many Iranian Jews had smaller events in their homes.
Local residents, however, say noise, traffic, and parking shortages caused by the center have becomes problems only during the past several years. Some residents say there are events six nights a week. The IAJF said they hold about 100 events a year.
“It’s only been bad for the last three or four years,” said Grafton Tanquary, a resident who has lived in the area for 40 years. “I never heard complaints, because people tended to walk to the temple, and leave at a reasonable hour. But the event halls are the issue. They’re intended to be the center of the Iranian-American community in Southern California. I think that’s great, I think everyone should have something like that, but not in a residential area.”
The IAJF had appealed the BLC’s decision to the West Hollywood City Council, which was scheduled to hear the issue on Tuesday night. Before the public hearing, however, the IAJF withdrew their appeal, claiming they did not need the “eating license” that had been restricted, because they do not host events open to the public, only private ceremonies for members of the congregation.
However, a staff report to the city council disputes this claim, citing section of West Hollywood municipal code that defines “public eating place”, and concluding, “Staff believes that the IAJC [Iranian American Jewish Center] facilities fall within this definition”
It remains unclear what action the city may take. Jeff Aubel, the commercial code compliance manager for the Department of Public Works, said there would be a meeting within the department to discuss the situation and he was not able to comment.
Michael Lewis, a consultant who is working with the IAJF on the case, said the center has already implemented a number of policy changes to address resident concerns. The center sets closing times for its events, has directed food vendors to park in different places, and has submitted plans to put up a parking structure.
“The neighbors have indicated those steps are working great,” Lewis said.
Tanquary agreed that the changes the center had helped with noise and parking congestion. Still, he insisted the city had to impose limits.
“They have changed their practice over the last couple weeks, it’s been great,” Tanquary said. “But last night, there was a party, and people were leaving at three a.m. The city has to put down some kind of limits anyway. There are strong indications that the center is not going to give up. I’m sure this is going to be in court for years.”
Javnan, however, hopes it will not come to a court case.
“It’s very important to us to be good neighbors,” she said. “We’re doing everything in our power to do that. We want to keep doing whatever we can to alleviate our neighbors’ concerns, but we hope they let us keep our hours.”
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