I don’t recall ever seeing the Enterprise Zone used as a political tool in this way before:
Plans to reopen a long-closed liquor store in Gardena were greeted with hostility this week by city officials concerned about an oversaturation of alcohol retailers in town.
Though no vote was taken because Mayor Paul Tanaka was absent, the message was clear to the store’s new owner: Go somewhere else.
The store, in a retail strip on the city’s western edge at 15524 Crenshaw Blvd., still displays the signs of its former owner — Boulevard Liquor & Keg — which closed two years ago. The potential new owner, King’s Market, is leasing the property but will not buy it without a liquor license.
Though the new business would perk up the empty, blighted property that sits between a restaurant and a martial arts studio, the council said there are already 12 liquor stores within one mile of it.
“You have a college across the street. You have two churches there. I just don’t see the need,” Councilman Steve Bradford said. “You can buy liquor on any corner in this city or in any other city so — another liquor store? A convenience store, yes, maybe.”
With Tanaka away, the council decided to wait until the April 14 meeting to vote on the application for a conditional-
use permit for the business.
Like Bradford, Councilwoman Rachel Johnson said a liquor store would not be a positive addition to the neighborhood.
“It’s not that we’re not business-friendly,” Johnson said. “We want what’s best for the residents who surround this business.”
But a representative of the applicants said the city should have told them up front — before they spent about $60,000 in rent, city fees and improvement to the property — that the council would not approve any business that planned to sell liquor.
“If the answer is `no’ from the beginning, we should’ve known that five months ago,” said Robert Fedor, a land use consultant representing the owners. “What we’re looking for is to be treated fairly. If a gun store wants to open up in that location, that’s OK, right? If the answer is just not-in-my-backyard, that’s, I think, illegal.
“Why, in this economy, would you want to keep a shuttered storefront? I’m not thrilled about bringing more alcohol to the world but, right now (businesses) have to sell beer or wine to keep their doors open.”
Cities have wide latitude in approving or denying conditional-use permits.
“Councils have great discretion in whether or not to grant a conditional-use permit,” Redondo Beach City Attorney Mike Webb said. “The standard on review would be whether or not they abused their discretion.”
Gardena’s Municipal Code allows the council to issue or deny permits for many reasons, including proximity to homes, schools, churches and parks, and compatibility with nearby businesses.
The state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said the area is not oversaturated with liquor stores according to its criteria, but it will not grant a liquor license unless the city approves a conditional-use permit.
Fedor said he feels the owners of King’s Market were treated so unfairly that he will send a letter to the state Department of Housing and Community Development, recommending that it not approve Gardena’s application for state tax credits through the enterprise-zone program.
The council on Tuesday approved the city’s enterprise-zone application, which seeks financial help to revitalize the city’s economically depressed areas.
“You can’t just say, `No because we don’t want it,”‘ Fedor said. “This (liquor store) has been there forever. We’re asking for a year probation — that’s pretty humble and honest. I had the rug pulled out from under my feet.”