In the first test of a city law restricting the spread of liquor stores in residential areas, the Los Angeles City Council rejected on Tuesday the appeal of a Watts pharmacist seeking to sell alcoholic beverages from his community drugstore.
The pharmacist, Walter T. Prevost, had sought to overturn Planning Commission denial of a conditional-use permit that would have allowed him to seek a state liquor license.
Prevost had argued that he could not compete with neighborhood chain stores that are allowed to sell alcohol unless he too was permitted to sell liquor.
The council, on a 13-1 vote, rebuffed his appeal and refused to grant an exception to new city laws that make it tougher to open liquor stores in single-family residential neighborhoods or around churches, schools and hospitals.
The new laws were enacted in response to complaints about the proliferation of liquor stores. The battle for the laws was led by the South-Central Organizing Committee, a grass-roots community group that views liquor stores as hangouts for undesirables and links them to the spread of crime.
One of the new laws requires anyone in South-Central Los Angeles seeking to sell alcoholic beverages to obtain a permit from the city Planning Commission. That measure, passed last year, was followed by a second law that applies to the entire city but allows city zoning administrators to grant permits.
Permits can be denied if the business is considered too close to other liquor establishments. It can also be rejected if the business is ruled to be too close to single-family residences, hospitals, schools or parks.
Prevost's request for an exemption was the first before the council since the new laws passed. Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores warned that granting the appeal of the Watts pharmacist would mean the council would be "sending a message to the community that we adopted an ordinance when we felt we were getting political pressure, but when it comes down to brass tacks, we really didn't mean business."
Flores, who represents the Compton Avenue district where the pharmacy is located, had argued that the business is too close to schools and residences.
About 75 neighborhood residents, local priests and members of the South-Central Organizing Committee showed up to complain about harassment of schoolchildren, muggings and other problems that they said were alcohol-related and to protest the additional liquor outlet.
"We don't want it. We don't need it," said Maria Velasquez, who lives a block from the Watts pharmacy.
In championing Prevost's cause, Councilman Robert Farrell pointed out that the commission had previously approved conditional-use permits allowing two chain stores in the nearby Watts Shopping Center to sell liquor. Farrell said that those permits--for a Sav-on Drug Store and a Boys Market--will lead to a loss of business for local merchants like Prevost.
After winning support only from Farrell, the pharmacist told a reporter that large businesses--such as Sav-on and Boys Market--hold an unfair advantage over smaller businessmen such as himself: namely, political clout.
"The question is whether it's fair to give them a competitive edge because they are large corporations and because they have political muscle," Prevost said.