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Los Angeles protesters seek Villaraigosa's aid in fighting liquor store

March 27, 2009|Louis Sahagun

About 100 protesters gathered outside a liquor store at 39th Street and Western Avenue in Los Angeles on Thursday and called on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to help revoke its permit to sell alcohol.

Chanting, "We're fired up and can't take no more!" the demonstrators said Century Liquor, which is across the street from Martin Luther King Jr. Park and a new Los Angeles Library branch, undermines attempts to revitalize the hard-pressed community by contributing to the area's high crime rate.

A Times analysis of data from the Los Angeles Police Department's website shows crime is unusually high near the store.

The LAPD reported 120 major violent and property crimes since last June within four blocks of the store in any direction.

Based on the area's population, that is a rate two-thirds higher than in the broader neighborhood bounded roughly by Jefferson Boulevard, Arlington Avenue, the 110 Freeway and the southern city limit, the analysis showed.

"The conditions we are supposed to put up with are unacceptable," said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, executive director of the Community Coalition, which has been actively opposing the proliferation of liquor stores in South Los Angeles for nearly 20 years.

"This is a city emergency, and we want the city's mayor to help fix it," Harris-Dawson said.

The squat beige store, which has been selling produce, cigarettes, ice and cheap booze on the corner for nearly 40 years, is already under review by zoning authorities because of numerous complaints. Residents worry that the store and its customers are deterring people from using the $20-million library and the park complex.

Century Liquor co-owner Steve Park was unavailable for comment. But in recent weeks he has covered a large outdoor tequila advertisement with paint, and hired a security guard to monitor the parking lot and trash-strewn dirt alley behind the building.

But opponents want more. "All day long, people buy liquor then walk over and drink it in the park like it was a neighborhood bar," said Mike Urena, former president of the Northwest Area Neighborhood Council. "The time has come for this liquor store to go."

The coalition, which regards Century Liquor as one of the worst nuisance businesses in South Los Angeles, said it first brought the situation to Villaraigosa's attention in 2006.

The group reiterated its concerns in a meeting with the mayor's staff a week ago.

"We're working with them on this issue," said Jazmin Ortega, a Villaraigosa spokeswoman. "We're also encouraging them to work with the city councilman for that area," she said, referring to Bernard C. Parks.

The coalition maintains that Parks has not done enough to improve security in the area. On Thursday, Dennis Rodriguez, Parks' housing and environmental deputy, said: "We're 1,000% supportive of opening a dialogue with them. But a business has a right to operate if it is following the law."

The coalition's campaign against Century Liquor is part of its 18-month Neighborhood Transformation Project, an effort to reduce crime and violence in an area known as King Estates.

The project kicked off earlier this month with a goal of enhancing safety in the vicinity of the library, which faces the liquor store, motels, a substance abuse rehabilitation center, an auto repair shop and a suspected crack house.

"We don't have a problem with the store's owner," said Jung Hee Choi, spokeswoman for the coalition. "This is about reducing crime and violence in the neighborhood."

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louis.sahagun@latimes.com

Times staff writer Ben Welsh contributed to this report.

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