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Council Orders Closure of Dwight Way Liquor By Richard Brenneman

Friday February 24, 2006

Berkeley City Councilmembers voted unanimously Tuesday to order the closure of Dwight Way Liquors, ending a decade-long and often confusing regulatory battle. 

The vote was 8-0-1, with Councilmember Darryl Moore, whose council district includes the store, unable to participate because his domestic partner operates a business next door to the troubled store. 

“I’m very happy,” said Richard King, an architect and neighbor who has been working for the store’s closure for nearly five years. 

David Bryden, the attorney who said he represented the owners of the liquor store at 2440 Sacramento St., near the intersection with Dwight Way, had little to say after the vote beyond, “I’m disappointed.” 

Asked if the owners would file an appeal, Bryden said, “Mr. Saleh will make a decision whether he wants to go to court or not.” 

But just who owns the store remained a question that city officials spent a long time trying to answer, ultimately without definitive results. 

While the records of the state department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) list only one owner, Bryden told councilmembers the store was owned by a partnership. 

Gregory Daniel, the city code enforcement officer who has been working on the case for more than a year, said that if the store was owned by a partnership, then the owners were violating state licensing law because only one name—Abdulaziz Saleh Saleh—appears on the license. 

State law, he said, requires that the true owners—all of them—appear on the document. 

ZAB members also tried to find out who else owned the store, but they had no luck either—though Bryden said it was because they hadn’t made “a formal request.” 

When Councilmember Dona Spring suggested that no such document existed, Bryden replied, “There exists a written partnership agreement between Mr. Saleh and Mr. Nagi. I’m sure it could be produced.” 

Nagi is Nasr Mosleh Nagi, who held the liquor license at the store from 1995 through November 1999, when it was transferred to Abdulsalam Mohamed Jobah after the store was cited for sale to a minor and failure to remove graffiti. The license was then transferred to Saleh on May 2004, following its suspension by the ABC for sales to a minor. 

ABC recorded three violations of Saleh’s license between April 16, 2005 and Jan. 8, each for violation of conditions that the agency had imposed on the license as a result of violations by the previous owners. Berkeley Police recorded 12 incidents of violations on one of the conditions—sale of single beer and malt liquor bottles—between August 2004 and August 2005. 

“In each case, Mr. Saleh himself made (the) sale,” noted a report by Daniel. 

Berkeley police reported 34 calls at the store between May 2004 and August 2005, including three for battery and two for alcohol poisoning.  

ZAB made the nuisance finding on Oct. 27, 2005. 

Bryden said he was willing to concede that “your staff initially responded in an appropriate way to legitimate concerns residents in that area” have raised, but said “we feel we should have been given an opportunity to abate” because the store is properly licensed “and the sole source of income to a handful of people.” 

“I have no sympathy for these gentlemen,” said Councilmember Betty Olds, “especially because one of them spit on a couple of people who testified” before the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB), which voted for the public nuisance finding the council upheld Tuesday. 

“It’s a good thing I don’t live down there because I couldn’t stand it. I’d either be dead or . . .” 

“I want them to stop today,” said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli. 

“It’s been going on way too long,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “They’ve had an opportunity to clean up their act . . . we have to send a message that this is not tolerated in Berkeley.” 

Upholding ZAB “is the right thing to do,” said Dona Spring, who noted that after the store’s license had been suspended for selling to a minor, “an undercover officer went in the store and the owner cracked off the lock of the liquor cabinet and sold to him.” 

While Olds criticized ABC for allowing the store to operate so long, Daniel and Police Chief Douglas N. Hambleton were quick to praise the ABC agents who had worked with the city to develop evidence against errant liquor stores. 

“For the last year and a half, Berkeley Police has been working very closely with ABC,” said Daniel. 

“ABC has a limited number of agents and they rely to a great extent on local law enforcement,” said Hambleton. He pointed to three recent ABC enforcement grants totaling $180,000 the city has received from the agency for targeted enforcement programs. 

While the audience was dominated by neighbors who held aloft signs protesting the store, only three spoke at the hearing, including King. All asked the council to uphold ZAB’s finding, as did Marie Bowman, who spoke on behalf of the Berkeley Alliance of Neighborhood Associations (BANA). 

Bowman praised the city-ABC efforts, and said the store has “a city-wide impact as a public nuisance.” She faulted the owners for failing to respond to the city’s questions, and declared that “shuffling of licenses is not acceptable.” 

Neighbors have reported finding bottles and drink paraphernalia in their yards and other intrusions directly related to the store. The signs they held up bore the slashed circle over phrases like “Dwight Way Liquors,” “Brawls in Our Streets” and “Urination in Our Yards.””