MONTEREY PARK — A dispute over a liquor license for a small Chinese restaurant has flared into a City Council controversy over enforcement of liquor laws, an attack by the mayor on police priorities and charges by a councilman that his colleagues are guilty of favoritism.
The dispute involves licensing of the Star Ave. Restaurant, which is tucked into a rear corner of a small shopping center at 306 N. Garfield Ave., near a row of condominiums and apartments.
The restaurant used to have a license to sell beer and wine, but lost it Sept. 11. It is seeking permission to sell all alcoholic beverages.
In allowing the restaurant to open, the City Council overruled the Planning Commission and rejected the Police Department's advice. Recently, the city refused to go along with planning and police recommendations against issuing a full liquor license.
Police Capt. Joseph Santoro told councilmen recently that police have seen alcohol on tables in the restaurant after 2 a.m., that Asian gang members have frequented the establishment and that entertainment there has illegally included topless dancing. Santoro said the restaurant, even without a full liquor license, has required 200 hours of police attention since the beginning of this year.
But police opposition did not dissuade Mayor Cam Briglio and Councilmen Chris Houseman and G. Monty Manibog from voting Nov. 9 to amend the restaurant's conditional use permit to allow cocktails to be served in addition to the previously authorized beer and wine. The amended permit will not become effective until the restaurant's operations are monitored for 60 days. In addition, the restaurant must obtain a state license before it can sell all types of alcoholic beverages.
The council's 3-2 vote did not settle the controversy.
Instead, a group of residents, including Saul Leff and Phyllis Rabins, have begun organizing an effort to block the restaurant's application for a state liquor license. They said they have discovered that the restaurant has not been licensed to sell beer and wine since Sept. 11 and that its previous license did not reflect the establishment's real ownership.
Councilman Barry L. Hatch said the new information "startled the daylights out of me" and reinforced his belief that the council has shown favoritism toward the restaurant owner.
Hatch said the council paid little attention to a petition against the conditional use permit submitted by property owner James Monell and signed by 28 residents. Moreover, he said, the council ignored the police report alleging repeated violations of city regulations.
Hatch said he will ask the council to reconsider the conditional use permit because of the new information about the liquor license. He added that he will urge stepped-up enforcement of liquor laws throughout the city.
The state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said the only complaint it has received about the Star Ave. Restaurant came from the Monterey Park Police Department in March, when officers reported seeing alcohol on tables after 2 a.m.
Dale Rasmussen, district administrator, said his department issued a beer and wine license for the restaurant on April 21, 1986, to Linda Shum and that she surrendered the license on Sept. 11 of this year. Rasmussen said the license should have listed the names of all the restaurant's owners.
Owner From Beginning
The current owner, Ivan Liang, 30, an immigrant from Taiwan, said he has been an owner of the restaurant since its inception but was unaware that his name should have been on the liquor license. He said Shum is a former partner.
Rasmussen said the department can penalize license holders for concealing ownership but usually acts only if the hidden owner could not have qualified for a license. Liang said there is nothing in his background that would disqualify him.
Rasmussen said his department received a new application for a beer and wine license for the restaurant on Sept. 24 from Swil Inc., which is headed by Liang. Two nearby property owners have submitted letters protesting the application, he said.
The Star Ave. Restaurant cannot serve beer and wine again until the department acts on the application.
Even though his beer and wine license is pending, Liang said he also intends to seek a general on-sale license, which would allow him to sell all types of alcoholic beverages. But before applying to the state, he must arrange to buy one of the limited number of general on-sale licenses that are available on the open market. Rasmussen said such licenses in Los Angeles County are selling for $20,000 to $25,000.
Mayor Briglio defended both Liang and the restaurant.
Quiet, Harmless Place
Contrary to the picture painted by Capt. Santoro, he said, the Star Ave. Restaurant is a quiet, harmless place where residents gather for dinner or light refreshments and sing along with recorded music.