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College Pub With Beer, Wine Doesn’t Have a Prayer at Carson City Hall

Times Staff Writer

Student leaders and administrators at Cal State Dominguez Hills had hoped that an on-campus pub serving beer and wine would liven up a lackluster social atmosphere at this school where nearly all of the 7,300 students commute to class.

“There’s got to be more than going to class, taking notes and walking back to the parking lot,” student Steve Silbiger said in an interview at the school’s cafeteria.

But Monday, after a group of ministers and residents packed council chambers and inveighed against the evils of alcohol, the City Council unanimously reversed a Planning Commission decision permitting the school’s contract food service to serve beer and wine. The move threw plans for the pub into disarray.

A student survey conducted last year showed that sentiment overwhelmingly favored the pub, and reaction at the school, where the average age of students is 29, ranged from resignation to outrage.

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Graduate Student Angered

“A travesty!” sputtered Kevin Eisenberg, a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District and a graduate student in school administration.

“I’m 31 years old. I am perfectly capable of having a single beer after a hard day of work and a hard day at school.”

Eisenberg said it was unfair that religious tenets, which he does not share, had “dictated” the decision.

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“It’s pathetic. I’m told all the ministers stood up and went, ‘Hallelujah!’ ” said Dennis Fusi, director of the Cal State Dominguez Hills Foundation, which oversees the food service operation.

Some were resentful that the council action means Cal State Dominguez Hills will remain one of the three state university campuses that does not sell beer and wine.

“That is pretty childish,” said Zan Colazas, 34, a graduate student in school administration. “Other colleges have it.”

“I’ve worked in student services for 10 years. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Linda DiMeglio, director of the food service at the university.

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Plans for the pub, which would be next to the cafeteria, included an amateur hour for student comics, live bands, maybe even poetry readings.

The council vote against it came after a standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 vigorously applauded speakers opposing beer and wine. Members of the Carson-Wilmington Ministerial Assn., an organization of 20 churches, helped organize opposition, a spokesman said.

Opposed to Alcohol

For some opponents, it was not the pub on campus that was objectionable but the mere fact of another outlet for consumption of alcohol.

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The Rev. Coy Black, a self-described former alcoholic and pastor of the Carson Pentecostal Church, said if the city had an opportunity to close down “a place that is open, we should do so.” He said later in an interview that his church opposes consumption of alcohol.

Several said the pub would contribute to accidents since so many of the students are commuters.

The Rev. Russell Gabler, pastor of the Carson Bible Church and chairman of the ministerial organization, said the pub was not compatible with the educational purpose of the university.

No Students at Meeting

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No Cal State students or administrators came to the hearing. Fusi said he didn’t bother because he had been told before the meeting that the council would vote against the pub.

No one from the public or the city staff, including Planning Director Patricia Nemeth, who had made the original recommendation to permit beer and wine, spoke in favor of the pub. There was no council discussion before the 3-0 vote against the pub. (One council seat is vacant, and Mayor Sylvia Muise, whose mother died last Sunday, was absent.)

Mayor Pro Tem Tom Mills said in an interview that he does not drink as a matter of religious conviction but denied that he was attempting to impose his views on students.

He said he voted against the pub to be consistent with “what we are trying to do from a viewpoint of drugs and alcohol. The desire is to see those elements not affect the well-being of the city.”

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Religion Not a Factor

Council member Kay Calas said she was not swayed by the religious convictions of those opposing the pub, but voted against it because she was troubled by the idea of alcoholic entertainment at a state university.

“I don’t know why that bothers me,” she said.

Council member Vera Robles DeWitt would say only that she voted against the pub after hearing “all the input” at the council meeting.

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After the vote, J. P. Hunter, general manager for special markets of Service America Corp., the firm that runs the college food service, said he was uncertain what would happen next.

College Sold Alcohol

The school used to hold regular “pub” nights where beer and wine were served, but discontinued them recently because of burgeoning insurance costs. Planning Director Patricia Nemeth said that when the school itself sold alcohol, it was exempt from city zoning requirements as a state institution.

When Service America took over the food contract from another company in September, the administration, which had been lobbied by the student government to provide a pub, asked the company to run one and assume the insurance burden.

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Nemeth’s interpretation of the city code--which was the issue appealed to the council--was that the pub was permitted because it would be part of a food operation, because the code allows restaurants in commercial zones to serve beer and wine and because other localities have permitted pubs at state universities.

She said the university could return to running a beer and wine operation itself without the city’s approval, but running the pub as part of a private operation would bring it under the zoning requirements.

Issue Being Reviewed

Fusi said the university is reviewing the situation and is determined to explore ways to bring a pub to the campus. “To me, it is an administrative screw-up by the city. . . . We will have to check with our legal counsel,” he said.

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After the vote, Nemeth said the council was within its rights to decide that privately run food operations in a university zone need not receive automatic approval for beer and wine.

On campus, the sale of beer and wine has been the subject of recent controversy, despite the survey last year that showed a large majority supported it.

A series of letters in “The Dominguez Weekly,” the student newspaper, argued the matter.

On Dec. 11, student senator Maureen Murray, who acknowledged in an interview that she is opposed to the consumption of alcohol “as a Christian,” proposed that the senate adopt a resolution against the sale of beer and wine.

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Her motion died for lack of a second.

In an unscientific poll Monday of 55 students coming through the cafeteria checkout counter, sentiment was just about evenly divided for and against the sale of beer and wine on campus: 28 favored it, 24 opposed it and three didn’t care.


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