In a victory for skid row advocates, the city has rejected beer and wine sales at a restaurant on the ground floor of an apartment complex that houses recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
The Skid Row Housing Trust, which runs the 106-unit New Genesis Apartments at 5th and Main streets, had argued the permit was crucial to the financial health of the complex.
The apartments are rented to artists and low-income people as well as the homeless, who receive counseling and substance abuse treatment on the site. The units opened in 2012 in a rapidly changing part of downtown that now includes boutiques and bistros amid shelters and mental health providers.
Associate Zoning Administrator Maya Zaitzevsky ruled Thursday that the beer and wine permit "would be detrimental to the welfare of the New Genesis residents that suffer from alcohol addiction."
Zaitzevsky said the decision could be reversed if the gourmet meatball restaurant, previously a food truck called Great Balls on Tires, wins the support of "affected" residents. The decision may also be appealed.
Skid Row Housing Trust officials were not immediately available for comment.
General Jeff Page, a skid row representative on the downtown neighborhood council, called it a victory for residents.
"You didn't hear from the missions and the social service providers who are supposed to be acting in our best interests," he said. "This legitimizes the skid row resident's voice."
Kevin Michael Key of United Coalition East, a skid row community group, said the decision was a "call for more diversity of uses" as downtown evolves into a high-end dining and entertainment district.
"What would be the problem with a Homeboy or Homegirl Cafe, or a Chinese buffet?" Key asked. "I like that downtown has a mixture of residents and a mixture of incomes."
In denying the permit, Zaitzevsky cited high crime rates, particularly for drug sales and use, and an "undue concentration" of liquor licenses on or near skid row.
The housing trust's request for a full liquor license was turned down a year ago.
Housing Trust officials, supported by business and city leaders including Councilman Jose Huizar, had argued the restaurant operator, Clint Peralta, was an innovator offering affordable cuisine. They said they preferred not to open a chain restaurant, and believed the glass-walled eatery's well-lighted exterior would keep the building safer at night.
They also said the "vast majority" of New Genesis residents favored the proposal.
Key, however, said he found it an "irony" that some people argued allowing beer and wine on-site would not challenge formerly homeless alcoholics' sobriety because they "were not the restaurant's target audience."
Opponents also argued that other affordable housing projects with establishments that serve alcohol did not receive millions of dollars in government funds to provide supportive housing for homeless people.