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Settlement allows poultry plant to remain in Rosemead

Chinese American Live Poultry wins permission to install a ventilation system and expand its parking lot after claiming racial and religious bias.

September 01, 2012|By Corina Knoll, Los Angeles Times
  • Dana Phu lights incense at the end of the business day at Chinese American Live Poultry in Rosemead.
Dana Phu lights incense at the end of the business day at Chinese American… (Francine Orr, Los Angeles…)

In a city that touts itself as today's small-town America with a beautification campaign complete with "curb appeal" awards, a slaughterhouse would seem an ill fit.

But for two decades, Chinese American Live Poultry has offered freshly killed birds on Garvey Avenue in Rosemead and, after a contentious fight with city leaders, there it will remain.

The slaughterhouse and the city have agreed to settle a federal lawsuit, clearing the way for Chinese American Live Poultry to continue serving chicken with head and feet intact — the kind of fare that has its mostly Asian clientele lining up at sunrise during holidays.

Quan and Dana Phu filed the suit in March after the city voted to shut down the business, citing residents' complaints of odor and traffic congestion. The Phus accused city officials of racial and religious discrimination, and argued that the company provided an essential service to a predominantly Asian community that desires whole birds for family meals. Many Buddhists, the lawsuit said, also use the poultry as offerings to ancestors when praying.

A middle-class bedroom community of 54,000, Rosemead has been transformed by an influx of Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants in the last decade and is now more than 60% Asian. But the city has had difficulty reconciling its demographic shift.

In 2005, the city was sued by the Department of Justice for failing to provide voter information in Chinese, Vietnamese and Spanish as required by law. A few years later, a council member proposed a law that would require city recreation classes — some geared toward Chinese speakers — be conducted in or translated into English.

Many of the city's Asian residents are not civically engaged and 35% are not naturalized and cannot vote, adding to the fractured climate. Their cultures and customs, some believe, are ignored when it comes to City Hall.

Probably the most successful business on Garvey Avenue — a tired corridor of auto repair shops and mom-and-pop strip malls — the slaughterhouse angered residents who complained of its unbearable stench. One council member pledged during her campaign to shut down the business, sending out postcards that made reference to "avian flu."

The Phus had made multiple requests for permission to renovate the shabby facade and install ventilation to vanquish the odor. But city officials refused because of an ordinance that banished slaughterhouses. Chinese American Live Poultry had been allowed to continue operating but barred from making any changes. If the city allowed an upgrade, officials said, it would mean changing the ordinance, opening the door for more slaughterhouses.

The settlement lets Chinese American Live Poultry install an air ventilation system to cut down on the odor, modify a parking lot to add additional spaces for cars and install new signs to improve the business' appearance. The Phus had previously won a preliminary injunction to stay open during litigation.

"We're really happy — actually we're more than happy," said Dana Phu, 42. "We've been fighting this for a long time and finally we came to the conclusion we had been asking for all these years."

"Our customers said they should have done this a long time ago," she added.

Mayor Sandra Armenta said she was pleased with the settlement because it would save taxpayers money by dropping a lawsuit in which "there was a big probability we couldn't win."

"The city being discriminatory was never an issue, the issue was land use," Armenta said. "With this agreement, I'm ecstatic to know that allowing them to make the changes will address all the different concerns of our residents but still not allow other slaughterhouses to come into Rosemead."

The Phus have until early November to submit their plans, documents and fees for property improvements.

corina.knoll@latimes.com

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