Los Angeles city officials have proposed a law to speed redevelopment of most buildings destroyed in last week's rioting, while permitting increased scrutiny and regulation of controversial businesses such as liquor stores.
Older liquor stores, many of which burned in the riots, were built before the requirement mandating public hearings about their impact on neighborhoods. The proposed ordinance would require owners planning to rebuild to abide by the regulations in place.
The ordinance would have no power to halt rebuilding altogether, as has been advocated by many community leaders in South Los Angeles, who see the stores as magnets for blight and social ills.
Thursday's discussion of the proposed ordinance before the city Planning Commission was the first concrete opportunity for residents of the devastated sections of the city to advocate redevelopment as a tool for remaking the face of their neighborhoods.
The proposal will be discussed again today in a public hearing before the Planning Commission, which will vote on it Monday. In addition to regulating liquor store reconstruction, it would also:
* Waive public hearings on non-controversial reconstruction projects, such as supermarkets.
* Defer or waive fees for city departments to process plans.
* Permit businesses to rebuild structures of the same size and style as those destroyed, if the uses are not controversial.
* Allow temporary use of land that has become vacant as a result of the rioting. Under this provision, store owners could reopen in trailers or temporary structures.
City Planning Director Con Howe also announced that planning officials will be available to answer questions about reconstruction at five field offices starting today.
"This (proposed ordinance) is to make it possible for preferred businesses such as grocery stores and gas stations to come back as quickly as possible," said Planning Commissioner Fernando Torres-Gil, "not so that other businesses, such as liquor stores, can be rebuilt" without scrutiny.
Several leaders said the proposed restrictions on liquor stores do not go far enough.
"There is just no justification at all for having a liquor store on every corner," said Councilwoman Rita Walters. "They trade on human misery and they are just a blight on the community.
"My preference would be that none of them be rebuilt," Walters added, although she said she realizes that such a prohibition would be problematic because it would intrude on the owners' property rights.
Walters said she will bring a proposal to the City Council asking that all avenues be pursued to have other businesses replace the liquor stores.
The demand for change was echoed by several speakers who addressed the Planning Commission.
Typical was student Cherryne Lue-Sang, 19, who said: "If you are going to put back the buildings, put them back. But don't put back the liquor stores. We don't need more malt liquor. We need more community resource centers."
Assistant City Atty. Tony Alperin said the state holds the authority over liquor licenses.
Officials at the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said they have no complaint about the city's proposed ordinance, but noted that they cannot prevent liquor store owners from rebuilding either. "We looked at the statutes and it is pretty clear that they can rebuild at the same location," said Carl Falletta, the agency's assistant director for Southern California.
Falletta said 65 liquor stores have been reported destroyed in the unrest, with more reports being filed every day.
Before stores can be rebuilt, state law also permits liquor establishments to set up temporary operations within 500 feet of their previous locations. "That is sure to be a bone of contention," Falletta said. "There is going to be pressure from people to get back on their feet as quickly as possible. But there are also people in the community who don't want them to open at all.
"There are going to be problems."
Liquor store owners did not speak at Thursday's hearing. But the head of the Southern California Korean-American Grocers Assn., which represents many grocers who sell liquor, said the organization is not likely to oppose new regulations.
"I think increasing security measures, controlling hours or setting up lights--while they are an additional financial burden, they are points that are well taken," said Annie Cho, executive director of the group. "As long as everyone is playing with the same rules."
Other business people said their main concern is cutting through the City Hall bureaucracy. Architect Michael Lanaim told the Planning Commission that he is drawing plans to replace the La Curacao department store on Olympic Boulevard.
"Normally it takes almost a year to get through plan check," Lanaim said. "If it takes that long this time, we won't have a business left."