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Brothers Liquor appeals to Council

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Tuesday January 15, 2002

The City Council will hold a public hearing tonight on Brothers Liquors, deemed by the Zoning Adjustments Board to be a nuisance to its South Berkeley neighborhood. The ZAB placed a number of restrictions on the business, but the owners, appealing the conditions placed on the business, claim the restrictions will ruin the store. 

Neighbors say Brothers Liquors has been a hub for illegal activity, including drug dealing, prostitution and public drunkenness. On Oct. 25, the ZAB agreed with them and declared the business at 3039 Shattuck Ave. a public nuisance. On Nov. 5, it imposed 11 operating restrictions on it. 

“I would say the restrictions are very reasonable given the history of code violations at the site,” said Senior Code Enforcement Officer Victoria Johnson. 

Prior to voting, the ZAB heard multiple testimonials, mostly from a neighborhood group called PAIN, or People Against Insanity in the Neighborhood, which described regular drug activity, public drunkenness, prostitution, vandalism and disturbances of the peace.  

The manager and operator of the liquor store, Monsoor Ghanem, is appealing the ZAB restrictions claiming they were imposed without due process, and that they are designed to make his business not economically feasible to operate. Ghanem is the son of owner Abdo Aldafari, who purchased the store in 1991. 

Attached to the appeal Ghanem submitted to the planning department was a petition signed by 400 neighbors or patrons who support the current management and policies of the store. 

Because of the appeal, the operating restrictions have not gone into effect  

According to a report by the Department of Planning and Development, the city attorney stands by the ZAB’s action and recommended the council reject Ghanem’s appeal and activate the restrictions. 

After tonight’s public hearing, the council could take three actions, according to the staff report. It can uphold the restrictions, remove the restrictions altogether or order the business closed. The council usually waits until the meeting following a public hearing to take action. 

The operating restrictions included a mandatory store closure at 9 p.m. and the posting of a city-approved security guard. Another requirement is a ZAB review every three months for next 18 months. If the ZAB determines the police have been called to the store four times in any 30-day period for verified illegal activity, a public hearing would be triggered, which would probably result in additional restrictions or the forced closure of the liquor store.  

According to the appeal submitted by Ghanem’s lawyer, Thomas Swihart of Berkeley-based Thomas Swihart & Associates, the early closing and the security guard requirement would threaten Ghanem’s ability to stay in business. 

“The condition that will deal a fatal blow to that business is the requirement that Brothers close every night (including weekend nights) at 9 p.m.,” Swihart wrote.  

Swihart claims that Ghanem would lose up to 70 percent of his liquor profits because the majority of liquor sales occur after 9 p.m. In addition, Swihart said that the estimated $74,000 it would cost to have a security guard posted on site during all hours of operation would be financially punitive. 

Contacted by phone, Ghanem said he preferred not to comment because of the pending appeal and referred all questions to Swihart who did not return calls to the Daily Planet on Monday.  

According to the report, problems have continued at the store since ZAB’s declaration of public nuisance.