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Coalition Puts Pressure on Liquor Stores : Crime: Pico-Union and Westlake residents target outlets that sell alcohol to minors and intoxicated patrons and allow loitering on premises.

June 18, 1995|LESLIE BERESTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As part of a snowballing campaign against liquor outlets in Pico-Union and Westlake, parents, health care activists and neighborhood groups are protesting plans by a mini-market to move within one block of an elementary school.

The movement is inspired by the success of community activists in South-Central Los Angeles who have stopped more than 100 liquor stores that were destroyed in the 1992 riots from reopening. Pico-Union and Westlake residents are steadily mounting their own opposition to more than 200 liquor stores in their neighborhood.

About 40 parents of students at Magnolia Avenue School have petitioned the city to prevent the Rancho Market, now three blocks away at 1339 Venice Blvd., from retaining its beer and wine license in its new location.

"We see some terrible spectacles in front of these stores," said Dolores Perez, a mother of three Magnolia Avenue students who says there are three liquor stores near her home. "People are drunk, urinating on walls, insulting women. Sometimes my kids ask, 'Mommy, that man is drinking, huh? Is that bad?' I tell them, 'Yes, it is.' "

A variety of community groups have come to the aid of the parents, including the Clinica Monsignor Oscar A. Romero. The Westlake free clinic's anti-substance abuse task force has spent the past few months planning a campaign to clean up area liquor outlets. It has targeted stores that sell liquor and tobacco to minors, sell liquor to intoxicated patrons or allow loitering on their properties.

The parents' group was created in March by the L.A. Alliance for a Drug Free Community, a federally funded program that sets up substance-abuse prevention groups among parents in schools throughout the city.

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With the assistance of the alliance, the clinic and others, the Magnolia Avenue parents submitted their petition, along with the results of a neighborhood survey they conducted, to the city's planning department last Friday.

"If we're successful with one store, we could set a precedent," said Bert Saavedra, a community organizer with the alliance. "Maybe there could be a domino effect, like in South-Central."

John Perica, a zoning administrator who will review the case, said he might block the license transfer if parents prove to him there is enough opposition in the neighborhood. Or, he said, parents could compromise and agree to restrictions such as shorter hours and lighting or fencing around the store.

Perica said the store, which has been in the neighborhood for 17 years, has a fairly clean record with police and the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control. This will weigh into his decision, which can be appealed by both the parents and the owner.

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Rancho Market owner Keshur Ram, a former high school teacher in his native India, hopes to open the store by mid-July. He says he will employ a security guard outside the store during business hours, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and does not plan to sell single-serving containers of alcohol.

"Beer and wine is not my main business, but if I do not sell it, customers will go to other stores to buy it," said Ram, who estimates he would lose 10% to 15% of his business without liquor sales.

But the parents say they will only be satisfied with a ban on liquor sales.

"It's the same if he sells six-packs, because people can share them," said Maria Garcia, a mother of three. "And security guards will only protect his market from robberies, not the children on the street."

Ram's fear that he will lose sales without a liquor license is a big concern for mini-market owners, said Gena Jin, executive director of the Korean American Grocers' Assn., which represents a large number of liquor store and mini-market owners in South-Central and other parts of the city.

"People always seem to point to liquor stores as problems," she said. "No one pays attention to the positive side. These small markets are crucial to the community because many of these people live far from the nearest supermarket."

But inner-city residents opposed to liquor stores point to the results of a USC study published in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health that noted a correlation between the number of liquor stores and an area's rate of violent crime.

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Police Department statistics show that 14,667 violent crimes--including homicides, assaults, robberies and rapes--were reported for 1994 in Councilman Mike Hernandez's 1st District, which encompasses Pico-Union and Westlake. The Rampart Division, which patrols the area, has a high rate of violent crime compared to other precincts in the city.

Members of Pico-Union en Accion (In Action), Clinica Romero's drug and alcohol abuse prevention task force, recently unveiled a campaign to involve residents in cleaning up stores they feel contribute to crime, public drunkenness and other social ills.

Their goals are smaller than those of activists in South-Central, where residents successfully lobbied the city to impose strict conditions for rebuilding about 150 liquor stores destroyed in the riots. The restrictions prevented most from reopening.

But few stores were damaged in Pico-Union and Westlake, so residents must settle for operating restrictions on most of the liquor outlets.

The clinic's campaign, which grew out of suggestions gathered in a community forum in April, calls for community volunteers to monitor area stores for violations of state and city guidelines. Organizers plan to take their documentation to the city and demand that such stores be cleaned up or shut down.

"We want to bring the community out of its apathy and get people to adopt a more proactive approach," said Gladis Sibrian, a community organizer for the clinic.

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