Sobering victory

Sobering victory

Judge rules in city’s favor in nuisance liquor store case 

By André Coleman 09/20/2012

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During his 10-year battle against nuisance liquor stores, Pasadena City Councilman Victor Gordo has driven his car around Orange Grove Boulevard and Summit Avenue in Northwest Pasadena every week to check on the activity in the parking lot at Super Liquor & Market, which the city has deemed a “nuisance.” 
 
Neighbors living close by claim the liquor store is a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes, which residents say bring down the quality of life in the area.
 
“I drive that neighborhood two or three times a week for the sole purpose of gauging if the situation is improving,” Gordo told the Weekly. “It ebbs and flows. Some days things look a little better, and some days the situation is not very good. It appears the same individuals are causing the same problems, being sold alcohol by the same operator.”
Gordo and the city won a major victory against the store two weeks ago, when a Superior Court judge upheld four city-imposed operating conditions designed to increase public safety around the store and hold the store owner accountable for its impacts on the community.
 
On Aug. 28, Judge James Chalfant ruled that the owners of Super Liquor & Market — Kum Man Jhae and Kun Chin Jhae — must abide by the city’s restrictions and hire a security guard, pick up litter around the store and label alcoholic beverages and bags with the store’s name. Under these conditions, the store can only sell alcohol between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. 
 
“This is quite a victory,” Gordo said. “It means a couple of things. It validates the ordinance, and it sends a message to all irresponsible operators in the city that the city is serious about compliance surrounding liquor stores and they should comply or be prepared to have conditions imposed on them.”
 
Super Liquor is one of a half-dozen liquor stores on Orange Grove Boulevard between Los Robles and Lincoln avenues. In 2009, the city imposed 15 operating conditions on Super Liquor, including prohibiting the store from selling fortified malt liquor and customers from drinking in the parking lot.
 
The operating conditions were imposed on Super Liquor after a two-year investigation by the state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC), resulting in a 15-day suspension of the store’s business license. The agency determined that the owners needed to seek a conditional license and honor existing conditions imposed by the ABC. That year, the city imposed its own operating conditions — which mirrored those laid down by the ABC.
Daniel Kessler, the attorney
 
for the storeowners, claims the city is trying to make a scapegoat out of his clients for the crime in the area.
The couple filed the lawsuit attempting to get the city to lift the four restrictions, claiming they hurt their business, as similar businesses in the area — such as Andy’s Liquor Store, located across the street from Super Liquor — are not bound by the same conditions.
 
“We are currently assessing if we will be appealing the court’s decision,” Kessler told the Weekly. “[The owners] remain committed to being a solid citizen in the community. There have been zero code enforcement or police complaints in the past three years, which is the primary reason we have sought modification of the conditions.”
But city officials say there have been continuing calls for service at that location. From February 2010 to September 2011 there were 190 calls for service from residents living around the location to Pasadena police, as well as 58 complaints about disorderly conduct and 35 complaints of public drunkenness.
 
Owners of Andy’s Liquor told the Weekly last year they’d voluntarily stopped selling 16-ounce containers of malt liquor. Milt’s Liquor — located at Orange Grove Boulevard and Los Robles Avenue — no longer sells any brands of malt Liquor due to city-imposed conditions it faced in 2009.
 
According to the Jhaes’ lawsuit, those conditions are not as severe as those imposed upon Super Liquor. For one thing, Milt’s is not required to hire a security guard or label its inventory. The lawsuit failed, however, to mention that Milt’s also cannot stock or sell single containers of malt liquor.  
 
“The overconcentration of liquor stores has contributed to the negative quality of life of residents and businesses on the Orange Grove corridor. For the court to uphold all these restrictions proves we have city governance that knows what it is doing,” said community activist Ishmael Trone. “This is a good day for the community. This a major building block to improving that neighborhood.”
 
Residents, police and city officials have fought for years to clean up the area around Orange Grove Boulevard near Summit Avenue, which has been a crime-ridden area for years due to the abundance of liquor stores, drug dealers and gang members operating in and out of the nearby Community Arms housing project next door to Super Liquor.
 
The issues regarding the liquor store became public in 2002, when neighbor Jim MacQuarrie and his wife photographed a prostitute servicing a customer in their backyard while drinking malt liquor purchased from the store. 
 
Their complaints forced the city to pass the deemed approved ordinance, which requires local liquor stores that began operating before city permits were issued to follow a set of city-imposed standards.
 
“If they would conduct themselves as responsible business owners and good neighbors, the operating restrictions would be unnecessary,” MacQuarrie told the Weekly. “Now if we can just get the same conditions applied to Andy’s Liquor Store and a few others, the neighborhood will see some serious improvement.”
 
The city’s fight against nuisance stores has been opposed by powerful restaurant lobbyists in Sacramento bent on resisting state control over liquor stores. In 2005, that group successfully lobbied to take the teeth out of legislation carried by former Sen. Jack Scott that would have transferred enforcement and policymaking decisions from the state’s authority to cities.
 
“It is surprising that the operator forced the city’s hand in court, when all he had to do was comply and run a more responsible operation,” Gordo said. “That is all we are interested in.” 

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