Liquor Permit Denied at Site of 1991 Killing

Times Staff Writer

A city administrator Friday denied a zoning permit to sell beer and wine at a South Los Angeles site where a black teenager was killed in 1991 by a Korean American grocer.

In his ruling on Numero Uno Market, zoning administrator R. Nicolas Brown cited the high crime and concentration of existing liquor stores in the area as major factors.

Brown's decision did not indicate how much weight he placed on the site's link to the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins. But his decision quotes a letter from the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment, which said:

"Permitting the sale of alcohol at the site where a child was murdered [adds] insult to injury and would be indicative of very poor judgment."

Soon Ja Du, the grocer, was convicted of manslaughter and given probation without jail time. Observers said the incident, along with the beating of motorist Rodney King, inflamed racial tensions that exploded in the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Du's store, Empire Liquor, closed shortly after the shooting. Numero Uno opened for business in the late 1990s without liquor sales at the same site in the 9100 block of South Figueroa Street.

Numero Uno's general manager, Joe Ramos, declined to comment about the decision or whether the market would appeal.

Ramos has said that the store, which sells fresh meat and produce in an area underserved by supermarkets, wants to accommodate customers who want to buy beer and wine. The lack of alcohol sales, he said, puts the store at a competitive disadvantage with other, more distant grocery stores.

The market, part of a nine-store chain based in Los Angeles, has until Feb. 14 to file an appeal to the South Los Angeles area planning commission. Otherwise, the decision stands.

The state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control requires businesses to win city approval before they can obtain liquor licenses.

Community groups that had opposed alcohol sales at the store were jubilant.

"I'm thrilled," said Sheilagh Polk, a member of the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment.

"Finally, it's being understood that the people who live in South Los Angeles have a right to determine what kind of economic development they do and do not want in their community."

Polk said that the decision also "restates our message that the South Los Angeles community has built a rock-solid consensus that there are too many liquor stores in South L.A."

The decision will allow Numero Uno to "go on to be a productive business in the community and serve its residents in a beneficial way," said Polk, noting that some shoppers would have stopped going to the market if it sold alcohol.

Some community groups voiced opposition to beer and wine sales at the Numero Uno store, saying that alcohol sales generally attract loitering, public drunkenness, prostitution, drug-dealing and violent crimes.

Sandra E. Cox, who runs a mental health facility across the street from Numero Uno and worries about the return of public drunkenness in her area, said the decision was "fantastic."

"This will help our clients move forward," said Cox, noting that many of them have a history of alcohol abuse.

An aide to Councilman Bernard C. Parks said "grocery stores do say they are at a competitive disadvantage" when they cannot sell beer and wine.

"The resulting negative impact of those liquor stores with bad operators are impacting new stores that want to provide good operations," said David Roberts, who deals with economic development issues for Parks.

Parks has said he would not oppose Numero Uno's application, if the market met certain conditions. They include buying a liquor license from an existing business to avoid a net increase in alcohol outlets.

Administrator Brown said the presentation of crime statistics in the market's neighborhood by the Los Angeles Police Department was "the most conclusive justification for denial" he received.

The LAPD's presentation showed high levels of arrests for public drunkenness, loitering and prostitution on South Figueroa, crimes associated with the sale of alcoholic beverages, Officer Adrian Koval said.

Furthermore, Brown said, the market is near liquor stores that already cause crime and other problems.

Brown's decision said that Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control guidelines allow three liquor licenses to the census tract involved but that four already exist, exceeding guidelines for "undue concentration" of liquor outlets.

But Phyllis Crippen of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said there are three liquor licenses in that district, while four are allowed.

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