In an attempt to spruce up the downtown Lancaster business district, city officials have taken a step to ban pawnshops, liquor stores, tattoo parlors and pool halls from the civic center.
The City Council voted 4 to 0 Monday night to tentatively approve a proposed amendment to the city zoning ordinance that would exclude businesses that don't fit in with the city's redevelopment plan.
Also included among the banned operations are check cashing firms, bail bond services, fortunetellers, video game arcades, bowling alleys and skating rinks.
The amendment is scheduled to return for final approval April 5. If it passes, banned businesses now located in the area will be allowed to remain, but no new ones will be allowed to open.
"When you love your community, you don't want to get a proliferation of these kinds of businesses," Councilman Arnie Rodio said. "We don't want to see five pawnshops, six video arcades all on the same street."
Pointing to the deterioration of what was once the San Fernando Valley's main street, he said: "Look at Van Nuys Boulevard now. We want pawnshops, we want all these services, but in the right location, not all on Lancaster Boulevard. We're trying to make the boulevard a nice place."
Lancaster's central business district covers a nine-block area, bounded by 10th Street West, Sierra Highway, Kettering Street and Milling Street.
Downtown Lancaster was once the city's shopping center, with a variety of retail outlets, including a J.C. Penney store. But during the last few years, a combination of factors, including the economy and the opening of the Antelope Valley Mall, contributed to its decline.
The city built the $10-million Lancaster Performing Arts Center in the area in 1991, and has plans to build a county library and a $25-million sheriff's station on the boulevard.
But while city officials say they want to make the downtown area a cultural and financial center, business people and residents say they are going about it the wrong way.
George Theophanis, a former council member who was representing a pawnshop owner, said it was contradictory for the city to prohibit bail bond offices in the area on the grounds they would draw criminals, when the sheriff's station the city approved would do the same thing.
"Can you imagine a culture center with a jail in the middle of it?" Theophanis asked.
After hearing the objections of Pamela Strong, the owner of a second-hand clothing shop called The Consignment Store on Lancaster Boulevard, the council made an exception for businesses such as hers.
"I take issue with being clumped in with the second-hand stores," Strong said. "I consider mine an upscale, trendy business. If you ask your wives, I'm sure some of them are customers."
All four council members agreed to place "consignment stores which sell second-hand items" in a special category that will be allowed on a case-by-case basis if approved by the city planning director.
An owner of a bail bonds company, Bob Herman, told the council he wants to relocate to Lancaster Boulevard when the new sheriff's station is built. His office is currently on 10th Street West and Avenue J, across from the sheriff's jail facility. There are two other bail bond businesses near the sheriff's station.
"I can understand your concern about ne'er-do-wells," Herman said. "But people don't loiter in my office. We are a lending institution that operates 24 hours a day. This is their constitutional right, and what better place to be located than next to the county jail facility?"
Councilman Rodio said that the zoning amendments mirror the city's attempts to clean up other blighted areas.
"We're not doing anything on the boulevard we aren't doing in the whole city of Lancaster," Rodio said.
But others said the council is unfair.
"I'm bringing business to the city of Lancaster," Strong said. "I won a battle, but there are others who are being treated badly. The City Council doesn't give a damn what the public wants."