Ruling that a club with dancing and drinking would be a detriment to the residential neighborhood, a Los Angeles city zoning official has denied a request by an Argentine group to open a private social center in Atwater.
An angry spokesman for the Argentine Assn. of Los Angeles Inc., which bought a building at 3160 Glendale Blvd. for the center, claimed that the denial was based on discrimination against Latinos. He said the association will appeal the ruling.
Ed Fernandez, an association director, said: "The people in the United States say they try to help people from all over the world. But that is not true. We are respectable people, but the community is discriminating against us."
Hundreds of area residents and businessmen, backed by Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs, vehemently opposed the center, saying it would create noise and increase crime and parking congestion in their neighborhood. They deny the charges of discrimination, pointing out that the area has a large Latino population.
What might have been a typical local zoning squabble took on international ramifications earlier this month when the Republic of Argentina's consul in Los Angeles asked state and city officials to intercede on behalf of his countrymen's plan to open the club.
The zoning official assigned to the issue said he was not pressured, although he acknowledges that several officials, including a representative of Mayor Tom Bradley, asked him about the case.
"I was contacted by many different agencies and officials, all wanting to know the status of my report. I wouldn't say that there was pressure, really, just a lot of controversy," said Louis Muto, associate zoning administrator.
In a five-page letter explaining his rejection of a conditional-use variance, Muto said inadequate parking at public and private lots would force club visitors to park on residential streets, disrupting the neighborhood.
Muto also said liquor outlets already proliferate in the neighborhood. He said permitting the club, even though it is private, would conflict with the intent of the Northeast Los Angeles district plan, which designates the area for neighborhood-oriented businesses and offices.
350 Patrons Expected
The association is seeking a variance that would permit up to 350 patrons to dance and drink Fridays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. However, club members said there would be only occasional functions, for members and guests only, at which beer and wine would be served. They said events generally would end about midnight.
The association has been without a social hall since it was forced to move out of its clubhouse in Burbank last spring to make room for a redevelopment project.
Ed Waite, president of the Atwater Homeowners Assn., said residents oppose the social club because "it goes against the good of the community." He added, "There is no animosity against the Argentines. If it were my brother who proposed this, I'd fight it."
Fernandez, however, said he is angry enough to consider relinquishing his American citizenship. "When I became a citizen of the United States, they told me that I have the same rights as any American citizen. But that is not true when some people listen to only one side of the issue," he said.
The association has until Jan. 2 to file an appeal with the city Board of Zoning Appeals. The decision eventually may be taken before the City Council.