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Groups Protest Market’s Bid to Sell Liquor in Pacoima

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Opening salvos were fired Tuesday in the latest episode of Pacoima’s battle of the bottle over whether the state should withhold new liquor sales licenses in an area beset by drunk driving and domestic crime.

Religious and community organizations objected at a state hearing to an alcoholic beverage sales license for a Food 4 Less supermarket that opened on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in November.

“We’re concerned about . . . proliferation of alcohol outlets in our community,” said Marianne Haver Hill, president of the Pacoima Coordinating Council, which has worked for three years to prevent the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control from issuing new licenses in the area.

More than two dozen residents and community activists, sporting handmade buttons that read “Keep Pacoima Safe,” attended the hearing at the David J. Gonzales Pacoima Recreation Center.

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Opponents contend that Pacoima already has too many establishments permitted to sell alcoholic beverages, which they say has fueled unruly and unsafe behavior in a community struggling with escalating gang violence. Critics say that police have dubbed Pacoima “the drunk-driving capital of Los Angeles County” and that the easy access to liquor has contributed to an alarming rise in the incidence of domestic violence.

“Every day of the week I encounter problems that are alcohol-related,” Father William Anton, a local priest, told Administrative Law Judge Leslie H. Greenfield.

Fred Snowden, vice president of urban affairs for Food 4 Less Supermarkets Inc., said the company is just as concerned over problems that might arise from the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Snowden said he has met with leaders of the opposition groups and, in addition to a list of conditions already attached by the ABC, which deal with sale hours and the quantities to be sold, Food 4 Less has drafted conditions that it would agree to abide by.

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These would include a ban on alcoholic beverage prices in advertisements and an agreement that the store will not sell liquor below cost--a sales tactic that opponents say is used by the company’s other outlets to make alcoholic beverages more accessible and force other sellers to lower their prices.

Fred Taylor, an outspoken critic of the license application, characterized the extra conditions as voluntary and therefore unenforceable. “You can’t make them stick to that,” he said.

Attorney John S. Caragozian said the company would agree to add the new provisions to the conditions imposed by the ABC.

Greenfield has 30 days to write his decision, which the ABC can adopt or reject. Opponents can appeal if the ABC grants the license, attorneys said.

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