While many community members view the Liquor Bank as a nuisance, other community members see this issue as a form of gentrification.
By Jason Lewis
Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills residents, the local neighborhood council, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers, and Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson’s office urged the city’s Department of City Planning to revoke the Liquor Bank’s permit to sell alcohol at a recent hearing.
The people who spoke out against the Liquor Bank, which is located on the southwest corner of Crenshaw Blvd. and Stocker St., at the February hearing at City Hall all had similar stories. Many of them spoke about first-hand experiences of witnessing people loitering in the parking lot; selling goods in the parking lot and around the Liquor Bank; drinking in the parking lot and adjacent areas; urinating in public; and drug use.
“When I drive into the location, I see illegal vending and sales, sales of t-shirts, music being played, and the security guard dancing and laughing and talking with the people who are selling their merchandise in the parking lot,” LAPD Detective Dana Harris said. “Even when we’re talking with the actual business owner, a gentleman drives up his vehicle and parks in the handicap spot with no regard, as if he does that all the time. That’s not just a problem that I witnessed that time, I’ve witnessed that each time that I am able to go to the Liquor Bank. I see patrons coming in and making money hands over fist, as if it’s their business. Each time I see a different violation.”
“The biggest problems are the gangs, the narcotics, illegal vending, the drinking, also ADW (assault with a deadly weapon) shots fired,” LAPD officer Orlando Levingston said.
Levingston said that over the past year, there have been 18 calls for service at the location, and that over a two year period, there have been 701 calls and 247 crime reports at that intersection.
Michael Gonzalez, the attorney for the owner of the Liquor Bank, pointed out that the reports do not link the calls and crime reports to the store, and that the issues are out of the store owner’s control.
“We have a bus stop immediately near by,” he said. “I believe that one of the issues that was potentially creating a problem was the vending that occurred along the side of the building (which is not a part of the property).
“A part of the issue is that my client’s security guards are not sworn police officers. They are not allowed to remove somebody from the public right-of-way. They can simply request that they move. But that is a public right-of-way, it is not private property. We are not allowed to eject people from that area. We certainly can ask them to leave, but that’s as far as we can take that.”
During inspections, Officer Levingston said that he observed people smoking marijuana, and opening alcohol containers in the parking lot. He said that he did not witness the security guard advising the people to stop drinking or to leave the premises.
Levingston met with the owner, who was not present at the hearing, in November of 2015, July of 2016, and January of this year. He observed similar issues each time.
Officer Michael Dickes said that the LAPD is in favor of revocation of the liquor license. Lynell Washington, Planning Director for Council District 8, said that Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson was also in favor of revocation.
Carl Morgan of the Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Council, which services the Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw, and Leimert Park areas, said that the council voted in November of 2015 to support the revocation of the Liquor Banks’ permit.
“The Liquor Bank has been, in a nutshell, a cancer to our neighborhood,” he said.
Community members have witnessed similar unlawful acts to those that LAPD officers have.
“I personally saw a female, lift up her dress, and urinate in front of a security guard, facing the Stocker corridor, moving toward Crenshaw Blvd. The security guard made no effort to intervene,” said Dr. Roberta Jones Booker, who has lived in the area since 1963.
Associate Zoning Administrator Aleta D. James has allowed the Liquor Bank to keep their license until April 10, when another hearing will be held. That hearing is open to the public.
“What I would like to do is to agree to allow the applicant the opportunity to meet with the Los Angeles Police Department to see about a security plan, and to see about restricting these hours even further, perhaps to 8 p.m.,” she said.
This issue has caused social media debates, where some people feel that removing the Liquor Bank is a part of gentrification. Some black people have speculated that revoking the store’s liquor license is to help change the demographics of the area.
Gentrification may not be the issue at hand. Three out of the five LAPD officers who spoke at the hearing were black, as well as the representatives from the local neighborhood council and the representative from the councilman’s office, and the two long-time residents who spoke out against the Liquor Bank. Also, Morgan pointed out that the neighborhood council was not against establishments selling alcohol. He said that there were several places close to that intersection that had permits to sell alcohol, but they were not protesting against those stores or restaurants because those establishments were not causing problems in the community
It was pointed out that the owner of the Liquor Bank does not own the building, so if the owner loses the liquor license, it does not mean that the building will be torn down.
For more information about the April 10 hearing, contact the Department of City Planning at (213) 202-5403.