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Valley Perspective : Liquor Permits Not Granted Fairly

Harriet K. Bilford is an attorney in Van Nuys

On March 6, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously affirmed the granting of a liquor license for a Ralphs market--no discussion and no questions asked. Later that day, the council unanimously approved a liquor license for an Albertson’s market. Again, not a problem and no surprises, as the council typically will approve a major corporation’s application for a conditional-use permit to sell alcohol.

On March 13--exactly one week later--there was a totally opposite disposition to a similar application. However, the applicant in this case differed in one apparently obvious and crucial way--he was an immigrant who owned his own small market. I sat as a silent observer at this meeting via L.A. CityView (Channel 35) cable TV.

Abdul Hamid Rasool and many people testifying on his behalf urged the council not to affirm the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee’s recommendation overturning the earlier granting of his permit.

Rasool spoke with great emotion of having come to this country from Afghanistan 10 years ago to flee the Russian invasion. He said he works two jobs and, like many of us, can’t seem to make ends meet. “We are talking about the law here,” he said of his request to sell beer and wine in his mom-and-pop store, EZ Market in Van Nuys. He added that just because he is a Muslim, he is “not a bad person.” A petition signed by more than 300 area residents supporting the permit, and commendations and support from others (including the local middle school) didn’t seem to affect council members. Rasool practically pleaded with them to give him just a six-month trial period. If there were any problems, he said, then they could revoke the permit.

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The council, with much discussion about crime in the neighborhood (as is typical when a small business seeks such a permit), unanimously rejected Abdul Hamid Rasool’s request to sell beer and wine in his store. One council member briefly commented that it was a “difficult decision,” that they were “erring on the side of caution,” and, adding salt to the wound, suggested that perhaps the owner should sell disposable diapers instead! Laughter could be heard among council members and the audience in the council chambers. However, this clearly is not a laughing matter.

Similarly, on April 9, Ramin Messian, the owner of a Shakey’s Pizza in Westwood, testified that he would go out of business if the city denied his request for “a conditional-use exception” for the sale of alcoholic beverages. Also on the agenda that day was Sakhawat Ulliah’s appeal of a decision denying him a conditional-use permit to sell alcohol at his small market in Tujunga. The PLUM Committee denied Messian’s and Ulliah’s appeals, and on April 17, the council unanimously affirmed the committee’s decisions.

Yet on April 16, despite the arguments of a coalition of the Homeowners of Encino and the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., the same PLUM Committee granted the Sherman Oaks Galleria eight alcohol conditional-use permits (“Galleria Renovation Plan Modified to Win Approval,” April 17). As expected, the decision was affirmed by the full council April 24. Again, another large, wealthy corporation prevailed while the small, struggling immigrant business owners lost.

I would be very interested in seeing the results of a study as to the number of liquor permits granted to large corporations in the same neighborhoods where small business owners (like Rasool, Messian and Ulliah) are being denied similar requests.

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I am in no way suggesting that we need more liquor licenses, but I am submitting that all of us do need an impartial City Council that treats all applications in the same evenhanded way . . . regardless of who the applicant is, or how large or small the business might be.


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