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LITTLE TOKYO : Dance Hall Permit Decision Delayed

March 14, 1993|IRIS YOKOI

A zoning administrator took testimony but postponed his decision on whether to revoke the dance hall permit of LaLagune, a 2nd Street nightclub that has been the source of complaints from local merchants.

Associate Zoning Administrator James Crisp said he would wait to see what action the Police Commission takes on a similar review of the business. At the end of a hearing Monday, Crisp urged club owner James Tso to meet with local merchants and police officers in the interim to work out conflicts.

LaLagune, 320 E. 2nd St., has come under scrutiny by zoning, police and state Alcoholic Beverage Control officials because of neighbors' complaints that the club has drawn hundreds of rowdy teen-agers to the area over the past 1 1/2 years.

The merchants claim that unruly club-goers litter the area around LaLagune with beer bottles, urinate in mailbox slots and etch graffiti on the windows of nearby businesses. Restaurant owners say loitering teen-agers scare away customers.

Meanwhile, city authorities say the club has been the site of arrests and citations since March, 1991. The Police Commission staff has charged the club with 24 counts of overcrowding, serving alcohol to minors and other city and state code violations.

The Police Commission proceedings have stalled over a request by Tso's attorney, Robert Leff, to review specific investigation documents that commission staff contends he has no right to see.

Tso purchased the second-floor restaurant facility in the fall of 1990 with plans to turn it into an upscale Chinese restaurant with dancing at night. But Tso said because of slow business, he cut back the restaurant hours and added late-night dance parties on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

At Monday's hearing, police officers and business owners told Crisp that Little Tokyo was peaceful until LaLagune opened its dance club. Five police officers testified that they've noticed an upswing in graffiti and the number of minors and gang members loitering and drinking in the area.

The officers added that the lack of menus, posted hours of operation and a visible dining area indicate LaLagune is run solely as a nightclub, not a restaurant, as Tso claims.

But Tso said he does serve dinner, mostly to large groups that book private parties. And he said he tried to address community concerns by hiring extra security guards and directing his busboys to clean up litter, even that which is on other property.

Tso, who formerly owned a nightclub in the Beverly Center for five years, said he is the victim of police harassment and community prejudice.

Leff accused neighboring business owners of being upset about the club customers' ethnic mix and said many of the police charges are unfounded.

"We haven't had any incidents recently there," Leff said. "There are other people who are far more dangerous to society."

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