The owner of Novo, Massimo Forti, was born in Florence, Italy. He played soccer and traveled internationally through his youth, also playing tournaments in the US. He immigrated to America in 1996 and became a fitness trainer, and he became fully naturalized in 2010. In 2011, he began phasing away from being a personal trainer and began scouting restaurant locations, opening Novo-Burbank in 2013 and Novo-Westlake Village in May 2019.
After keeping the restaurant closed for ten months, Massimo decided to reopen his Westlake restaurant and, in doing so, posted a statement to the community voicing his displeasure in the actions of the government. Many restaurants in California have had to close permanently. Those trying to stay afloat with limited capacity are down by as much as 65 percent versus last year’s sales. Since fully reopening in an attempt to save the business, Novo receives fines from the County of $500 almost daily.
In the most recent move, the City of Westlake Village (WLV) has sought to pull Novo’s “Conditional Use Permit” (CUP), which a restaurant must attain and maintain to have a liquor license. Additionally, inferences have been made by the city that Massimo could be arrested. There is no specific law that addresses the city’s grievance against Massimo; however, there is a legal exception under “Imminent Threat” that has been mentioned:
(Law Insider definition: Imminent Threat means the existence of any condition within, or affecting, a structure that, in the opinion of the authority having jurisdiction, would qualify such building or structure as dangerous to the extent that the life, health, property, or safety of the public, the structure’s occupants, or those performing necessary repair, stabilization or shoring work, are in immediate peril due to conditions affecting the building or structure. Potential hazards to persons using, or improvements within, the public right-of-way may not be construed to be “Imminent Threats” solely for that reason if the hazard can be mitigated by shoring, stabilization, barricades, or temporary fences.)
Massimo has been embroiled in this ongoing conflict ever since he decided to push back against governmental actions he felt were unjust.
The Conejo Guardian (CG) caught up with Massimo Forti of Novo for comment on the current state of his disagreement with the City of Westlake Village and Los Angeles County.
CG: What are your initial thoughts regarding the actions against Novo?
Massimo: “These laws have never been used in this way in the history of the United States. These bureaucrats don’t really know what they can or can’t legally do; they just listen to Newsom like he’s “The Oracle.” They’re breaking all these constitutional rights because nobody knows how to deal with the conflict. People are waking up to the abuses of their rights, but unless we get organized to have a voice and direct our focus, [the Government] is going to take over. They will take more of our rights.”
CG: You’ve garnered a considerable amount in fines. Any comment?
Massimo: “It’s about more than money; it’s about giving people a place to be with other people. Right now, everyone feels isolated. A lot of people see what’s going on, but if you raise your voice, you’ll get attacked and censored. [The Government] is keeping us from gathering. One flame in the wind is going to blow out, but if you put a lot of flames together, then the wind makes the fire bigger.”
CG: What inspired you to post such a bold statement on social media?
Massimo: “A video I saw of a restaurant owner, Anthony Roman of Basilico’s in Huntington Beach, who is pushing back against the government. I’m inspired by the truth out of concern for what is happening to the country. This goes beyond loss of income. Not allowing people to run a business … the things that are symptomatic of what is behind these actions, which are bigger and more important than my business. The closure of business is just a piece of the puzzle.”
CG: Piece of a puzzle?
Massimo: “They’re trying to change your life, your beliefs, your freedoms … it’s perpetrated over and over. Either you get used to it, or you realize more and more that you’re getting screwed. Either you get used to the pain, or you get sick of the pain. You take it for a month, two months, three months … you’re used to being a law-abiding citizen, so you let it pass. It’s like a headache. You think it will go away, but then day after day, you still have a splitting headache. After a month, you got to figure out what’s going on. What is causing this? I can’t be living with a headache for the rest of my life. Government testing the boundaries … how far they can go. This is a submission tryout. With this agenda … if they try to impose too much control too quickly, all the people will resist. So they must get there slowly; there has to be enough motivation for you to do it. It’s an old trick that has been used for centuries. They create a problem; they create fear, discomfort, dependency. Then they offer a solution, but the solution requires giving up your freedoms. So the government puts you in a position where you need help, the government says they’ll help you, but now you have to do what the government says.”
CG: Have you always been politically active?
Massimo: “For all my life, I have always been the least political person you’d ever meet. My view was they do what they need to do, I do what I need to do, all according to the rule of law. There is a system, which I accepted. Is it perfect? No, but nothing is perfect. Nobody is perfect. So with politics, I was like … whatever. If their actions were within the realm of acceptable, then okay. I simply respect everybody’s right to be what they want to be. I only expected to be allowed to have a decent life.
“I always draw the analogy of a restaurant. Occasionally an employee will take a little something they shouldn’t. It’s impossible to catch everything, but you can budget for minor losses. However, if someone takes the whole cash drawer or empties the fridge, then you say ‘wait a minute’ … you can’t allow for that.”
CG: What is your current view of politics in general?
Massimo: “Politicians before, they were taking a little bit here and there. Now what’s happening is they’re taking everything. That’s what forced me into politics. I don’t believe that different [politicians] are necessarily going to save us from this. I was forced to look at what was going on because it was just too big and in your face.
“They push and push until I cannot live a normal life. You affect my kids’ lives. You’re affecting my business. You are affecting my social life. You are affecting pretty much everything … my health. Every angle you turn, you feel like you’re chained up already. One day you’re a free man; within a few weeks, you’re a chained-up man. What you see is not just for a minute. It’s not just a distraction. It’s not getting better. So, who’s going to save us? At some point, you have to raise your voice and draw a line on the ground, mark your territory, and say ‘that’s it.’
“Things like this have been going on behind the scenes, but now they’re not behind the scenes … they are overtly done. But with the tricks that they use now, most people are blindsided. They use fear coupled with disingenuous behavior.
“It’s much harder to see a hit coming from a friend … you don’t expect it. People have this inherent trust in the Government. However, if you now believe that much of what is happening is not by accident, then you must believe that there are evil people in the government. At the end of the day, it’s always the few that control the many. How can 1 percent control 99 percent? Because no matter where you turn, they are inside the judicial system. They own the media. They control the money. They own the banks. The only ones with power to help us is us. We the people.”
CG: You say “We The People.” Can you expound on that? What message would you pass to your fellow small-business owners?
Massimo: “We need to help create awareness and give a sense of purpose and validity and empowerment to these lost patriots that are being attacked by the government and have a way to voice it. If just 50 percent of those feeling antagonized could collect their strength and have that strength focused. Because we’re just scattered, and we just talk. You need action, using every possible legal means.
“At the same time, stop this acquiescence … that is the most powerful tool. Because look what just three of us [restaurateurs] and a few other businesses have created: energy. Can you imagine if rather than five or six, we were fifty or a hundred? It’s all about energy. The more people see the light, the more they follow it. But if they don’t see it, so you have to show it. Those who have a light must get together. So from a light becomes a torch, from a torch becomes a fire, and then it becomes something you can see from miles down the road … and then, you can bring the light to those that are in the complete dark, because they’ve been sucked into the narrative and the manipulation. It’s the opposite virus. It’s the virus of awareness.”
The City of Westlake Village held a hearing (via Zoom) on February 10, which was after the CG interview. At the city hearing, WLV claimed that Novo represented a “Public Nuisance” according to Municipal Code WVMC 9.26.140, with a PowerPoint showing people dining in Novo. WLV City Manager stated WLV is “supportive of business in a variety of ways,” then followed by describing the “conflict between a local business and the public health mandate” as an “unfortunate situation.” Mayor Pro-Tem intimated his consternation regarding other businesses that haven’t reopened who are now upset that Novo has chosen to open back up after being closed for most of 2020.
Novo’s attorney responded, saying in part, “According to CA Government Code 37-100, No legislative body may pass an ordinance that conflicts with the Constitution, State or Federal. We are going to fight these unconstitutional acts. We are going to fight with due process … in a courtroom, not with a city hearing.” During “Public Comments,” Attorney Ronda Baldwin-Kennedy stated, “When an order is unconstitutional, it does not have to be enforced.” Baldwin-Kennedy is representing several businesses in Ventura County.
During open deliberations of WLV City Council, Councilman Ray Pearl said, “We are here because this restaurant owner chose to go-it-alone and put us in this position.”
After the meeting, Counselor James Lloyd rebutted, “That comment misses the mark on what the real issues are. That’s what is somewhat upsetting. You are not legally allowed to take property, and property is very broadly defined under both the California and US Constitutions. A permit that allows you to sell alcohol is property because that permit allows you to make profit, and profit is property. … You cannot take property from someone without due process of law.” Alluding to the Fifth Amendment rule, Lloyd added, “The government cannot take property without just compensation. If you want Massimo of Novo to close, then you must compensate him for his average daily sales.”
Councilman Ned E. Davis stated, “We’re basing this on a violation, not whether or not it’s Constitutional … that’s not at issue.”
To which Lloyd responded, “It is at issue. It’s always at issue. A councilman, an elected state official, even an appointed official of the state government has sworn an obligation to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of California … that should be where they turn first. In everything they do, they should ask themselves whether or not what they are doing is constitutional. Whether or not they are enforcing something that is unconstitutional.
“For any government official to say ‘this is about a violation, not about the Constitution,’ that shows such a degree of shortsightedness that it needs to be brought out and examined. Because you don’t represent yourself, you represent the people who elected you. If [the council] feels that the order from the Health Department usurps the Constitution, then they need to examine the order from the Health Department, and they haven’t. There isn’t any showing from the LA County Health Department that there was any COVID arising from the operation of Novo, nor was there any contact tracing connecting back to Novo.”
Lloyd segued into California actions, “When you look at what the State Secretary of HHS, Dr. Ghaly said, and I’m paraphrasing, but he intimated that they were more concerned about keeping people home than we were about any risk of exposure to the virus. They say this is an emergency … how long was the emergency for the Woolsey Fire? Was it eight months? Six months? Five months? No. It was less than a week. That’s what a state of emergency was designed for. Look, there’s a 98 percent recovery rate for the COVID virus … that’s in the numbers. You can’t deny that. I had COVID; I had it really bad. You can see my letter on the Budesonide website. It’s not approved by the FDA, but it worked for me. There are numerous testimonials, but none of these officials talk about that kind of thing, now do they.”
WLV City Council voted to postpone the CUP for two weeks after Counselor James Lloyd has had a chance to face the Los Angeles Health Department.
**Conejo Guardian reached out to the City of Westlake Village Counsel. As of the posting of this article, they have yet to reply. The Conejo Guardian extends an open invitation to all city and county officials for pre-written statements or interviews on any topic covered by our publication.