The city of Los Angeles took a hard line Tuesday against the proliferation of liquor stores in Pacoima when the City Council refused to allow a gas station to sell beer and wine, and a city zoning board imposed strict operating restrictions on three existing liquor stores.
An overabundance of liquor sales outlets, many of which police say sell to minors and drunks, has been the focus of recent criticism by Pacoima community groups. In response, the Los Angeles Police Department has targeted the stores and nearby street corners for a crackdown.
Many bars and liquor stores in the East San Fernando Valley community are “completely out of control” and have become hangouts for vandals and drug dealers, Councilman Ernani Bernardi told the council Tuesday.
Bernardi recommended that the council refuse to grant a permit allowing Mike Azzam to sell liquor at his Mobil gas station on San Fernando Mission Boulevard, upholding decisions by a city zoning administrator and the Board of Zoning Appeals. The council agreed unanimously, 10 to 0.
Azzam said the denial was unfair because two nearby gas stations sell liquor. “This will have a very bad effect on my business,” he said.
Later in the day, Bernardi testified at a Board of Zoning Appeals hearing in Van Nuys at which three liquor stores on probation for past problems appealed restrictions, ranging from limited hours of operation to a ban on sales of single cans of beer or mini-bottles of wine and wine coolers.
“One of the most vehement complaints I’ve received involved these three liquor stores,” Bernardi said. “This is a spotlight they should’ve been under for some time.”
The stores reviewed by the board were Leon’s Liquors, 10973 Glenoaks Blvd.; John’s Liquors, 13101 Van Nuys Blvd., and Pacoima Community Market, 13132 Van Nuys Blvd.
Los Angeles Police Officer Sandy Jo MacArthur, a vice squad member, testified that the three were the worst offenders. She said John’s and Community Market had been cited for selling alcohol to minors during a March sting operation. Police frequently make arrests at all three stores for such charges as public drunkenness, narcotics sales and prostitution, she said.
The board upheld most of the restrictions imposed by Associate Zoning Administrator Jon Perica after a Feb. 10 public hearing. Unless the store operators appeal to the City Council, they will have to abide by the rules for at least six months, beginning in about a month when the board’s decision becomes final.
Perica specified that the restrictions be reviewed in six months, at which time the board could continue them, add more or seek to have the state revoke the stores’ liquor permits.
Representatives of the stores said they believed that they were being unfairly singled out of the more than 90 bars, stores and restaurants that sell liquor in Pacoima.
“Why come to me and make me a scapegoat?” asked Farah Ammari, who has operated the Pacoima Community Market for 16 years. “Why start with a poor little guy like me? Start with a rich guy.”
Ammari said he would appeal the board’s decision. Attorney Joshua Kaplan said John’s Liquors probably would not appeal, and attorney Richard M. Ruger said owners of Leon’s Liquors had not yet decided what to do.
Members of the Pacoima Coordinating Council, the community group that has been working hardest against liquor sales violations in the area, had mixed feelings about Tuesday’s decisions.
Member Frederick Taylor said he had hoped that the board would be more lenient with Leon’s Liquors and John’s Liquors because operators of those two stores have tried to work with the community by voluntarily abiding by many of the restrictions.
“They’ve been very cooperative in trying to work toward the long-term solution,” he said. “What we wanted to be able to do was hold them up as a model. What if they decide not to work with us now?”