WILMINGTON — Amid fervent protest from several community leaders, Los Angeles officials have approved a permit requested by four law enforcement officers to open a teen-age nightclub in east Wilmington.
The Board of Zoning Appeals this week unanimously overturned a decision issued Dec. 4 by Associate Zoning Administrator Charles V. Cadwallader that denied a conditional-use permit needed to open the Wilmington operation. The dance club, to be called the Star Zone, would feature live entertainment for young people 16 to 20. It would not sell alcohol.
In reversing Cadwallader's decision, members of the zoning board said that while the Wilmington facility--situated in a largely undeveloped heavy-manufacturing area--might not be the best site, citywide opposition to teen clubs has made the process of finding suitable locations for them increasingly difficult.
Nowhere to Go
"If not here, (then) where?" asked Board member John W. Mack. "People decry anti-social behavior among youth but provide nowhere for them to go. This is another case of people wanting to be liberal by remote control: Do it, but not in my area."
Said member James D. Leewong, "Teens have rights too. Like adults, they need outlets. Teens ought to stake out a place on the moon because then no one will complain."
Board members said that the backgrounds of the four law enforcement officers who will own the facility--all of whom have more than 10 years experience for the Los Angeles Unified School District Police--played an important role in their decision to grant a permit for the operation.
"They have impressed me tremendously with their civic-mindedness and altruism," said Commissioner Joseph D. Mandel.
The four officers--Arthur Darden, Tom Gorzynski, Mark Marckwardt and Lee Stewart--told zoning board members that the night club is their first business venture and they have embarked on it mostly in an effort to provide a safe environment for teen-agers to socialize.
Every Step Possible
"We know of drug and gang problems because of the work we do with schools," said Darden, who arranged the officers' business partnership and has been seeking an appropriate site in the South Bay for the last year. "We wanted to provide a place for teens that was alcohol-free and drug-free. We have taken every step possible to eliminate the kind of gang activity and drug activity that we were told might come to the club."
The owners say they will hire 10 experienced security officers to monitor activities at the club and in its parking lot. They say they plan to prohibit gang attire and loitering in vicinity of the club, while conducting searches for alcohol, drugs and weapons before admitting patrons. No one is to re-enter after leaving the night club, they say, unless they pay another estimated $5 to $6 cover charge.
Despite the officers' assurances of a safe operation, community opposition to the club has been mounting since plans were first made public in September. And, ironically perhaps, some of the local opposition has come from Wilmington-area law enforcement officials.
"We're opposing it because of the possibility of a drain on our manpower," said Sgt. Bill Antkiewicz of the Los Angeles Police Department's Harbor Division. "If you look at all the problems cropping up at the Odyssey (a Westside teen night club close to a residential area), you realize we might have similar problems here--from things like disturbing the peace to major crime."
While the Police Department has been steadfast in its opposition to the facility, the most vocal opposition has been voiced by Wilmington community leaders.
"We in Wilmington--we that work with youth--feel that this is going to be making a new problem for Wilmington that never existed before," said Ernie Paculba, a community youth advocate for 28 years and member of the Wilmington Citizens Advisory Committee for Council District 15. "With the potential establishment of that operation, there is going to be an increase in youth incidents and a drain on our resources in police patrol."
Said Connie Calderon, who runs the Wilmington Teen Center, "We already have problems in Wilmington trying to keep kids out of trouble. A dance club will only breed more of those kind of problems. These security people say they can control the environment and they are used to dealing with young adults, yet there are still drugs and problems in all the schools they work in."
Community leaders also said that the night club may foster more confrontations between Wilmington and Long Beach youths because of its location at the border of the two communities.
Natural Gathering Point
"Because of its location, it's going to be a natural point for increasing the possibility of inter-city conflicts," said Paculba, who added that Wilmington and Long Beach youths have been engaged in a longstanding rivalry, some of which is gang related.