Santa Monica Pushes Through Taxi Measure Excluding Armenian Companies

BY SHOGHAK KAZANDJIAN

SANTA MONICA, Calif.,–Despite protests and overwhelming grassroots opposition, the Santa Monica City council on November 9 voted to rubber stamp a flawed and dubious recommendation that would effectively prohibit the city’s five local Armenian-owned taxi companies from operating within its bounds.

The decision, reached at the close of a nearly five-hour-long public hearing broadcast on Santa Monica Public Radio, came after dozens of taxi drivers rallied outside City Hall to demand a fair process. It will impact some 300 families, leaving scores of Armenian-American cab owners and operators unemployed.

The rally, organized by the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) and the Armenian National Committee of America Western Region (ANCA-WR), sought to raise awareness of the issue and delay the vote until a more transparent study could be conducted of the franchise ordinance.

During the rally, taxi drivers and supporters held a picket line in protest of the process, crowding into the city hall chamber after an hour to participate in the public portion of the Council’s proceedings on the matter.

The City Council opened the session with a reading of a study conducted on the issue by a panel of staff representatives from various city departments. Following the staff recommendation, the Council opened the floor to public comments. More than 50 people spoke about the heated measure, signifying the high level of controversy surrounding the ordinance.

Speaking to the City Council, AYF Executive Director Serouj Aprahamian and ANCA-WR Board Member Nora Hovsepian underscored the community’s grave concern with the city’s exclusion of every Armenian-owned cab company.

“With one vote, the City Council of Santa Monica has knowingly kicked out all of its Armenian-owned and operated companies onto the street,” said Aprahamian, echoing the sentiment of dozens of Armenian cab drivers who pleaded with the City Council to reconsider their position.

“In these tough economic times, they unflinchingly moved forward with a decision that undercuts an entire community, without even bothering to question the flawed nature of what it is they were voting on,” Aprahamian said, adding that the AYF studied the city report and found major inconsistencies, concerns and considerably little local preference.

Arsen Hakinian, was among the many cab operators who spoke that night. He warned the Franchise ordinance would cause a “huge unemployment” crisis for the city’s taxi drivers, while bringing outside cabs into the city. Another opponent, representing the United Independent Taxi Company, described the franchise study as “not fair or representative of reality.”

“The city says it loves mom and pop stores but is moving to allow only 5 monster companies to operate,” said another concerned resident of the city.

For Vrej Alvandyan, the President of Beverly Hills Cab Co., the need to refranchise wasn’t the problem. Rather, he said, he couldn’t see the logic of the process. “We have had franchises here for decades,” he said. “The purpose of refranchising is to improve the quality of the fleet not destroy it.”

Despite the overwhelming opposition being communicated by a majority of the people speaking on the issue, the City Council moved forward with its vote without addressing the concerns raised.

The ordinance will take effect in January 2011 and will limit the number of cab companies allowed to operate in the city to only five, though thirteen submitted applications for a franchise. The companies granted rights are Bell Cab, Independent Taxi Owners Association, Metro Cab Company, Taxi! Taxi! and Yellow Cab franchises to operate within the city.

Thirteen different companies applied for the franchise rights. Of the five selected, three are not even local, while all five local Armenian-owned companies were denied franchises. The ruling is a cause for concern of discrimination among the now out-of-work cab drivers.

For the last several months, the City Council has been considering which taxicab companies will be allowed to operate within city limits. The issue had become a source of controversy and protest, especially among Armenian taxi companies who criticized the selection process as being discriminatory and unfair.

“It is unfortunate that the city council has decided to move forward with their decision, despite our concerns and support towards the taxi drivers fighting this ordinance,” said Aleena Sivazlian, one of the AYF members who organized the rally. “This issue will not be forgotten or left alone. We will continue to fight the ordinance with whatever means are available to us.”

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9 Comments

  1. khachaturian seda said:

    It is time that we Armenians file a discriminatory suit against ,in this case, city of Santa Monica. We need to be aggressive, demanding, and most of all have a very good specialized lawyer to win the case. I do not think Santa Monica city would get away if the discrimination was tended toward blacks or another minority. Let our voices be heard through law suits. Enough to play victims of bullies. We need to stand up for any violation of discrimination.

  2. Tony said:

    I agree with khachaturian seda. It’s time to point out that the City of Santa Monica is out to discriminate against Armenian Minority. In my view, I see that some of The City Council members are corrupt people. They only accept the companes that donate to their causes and interests. I call these kind of people intolerant and racists.
    I’m wondering, can they force through, a same kind of measure that discriminates against a Latino or Black Taxi companies operating within the City of Santa Monica? I guess, the answer for that is Nope; the City will have it from them. They’ll see at their door Reverend Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Hispanic Politicians, all angry.

  3. Alex said:

    I’m with you Seda jan! They are specifically targeting Armenian businesses, and they want to help only 3 companies! This is smells like oligopoly!!! I know for a fact that they are illegal!!

  4. amb said:

    Here here to Seda’s suggestion.

    Lets remember the quote: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. We were ignored and tolerated and kind of patronized while we were a small minority with not much doing. Then they laughed at us when we got to be many, when our numbers went up “Look at those fat, chain smoking Armenians, etc…”, Now that we want economic and political power they are fighting us. We have to keep hitting back and we will be accepted finally and win.

  5. John K. said:

    I don’t know about the rules on city contracts, but I do know that for Federal contracts it only cost you 44 cents stamp to file a protest. When you protest a Federal contract, everything will be put on hold until the protest is reviewed and the problem is resolved.

  6. Norin Radd said:

    Only a well drawn out and costly lawsuit against the city counsel members, the city, and all associated parties of this matter will get results. The picketing was a good gesture, but certainly not one that stirred the pot enough to reach a fair conclusion.

    This is clearly a discriminatory move and should be treated a such. Unfortunately, this great country has reached a point of deprivation in which only a hit to offending parties’ wallets gets fair results, any sort of moral obligation went out the window of US civil government and society in the 1970s. So if everything is going to be about money, then hitting them in their wallet is where our community should begin targeting all of their grievances with these types of discriminatory decisions.

  7. John said:

    My recommendation is to boycott shops that produce sales tax revenue for the city.

  8. ArdeVast Atheian said:

    I am aghast by the arrogance that the City of Santa Monica has displayed towards its Armenian work force. We will not forget this their slap in the face. We will protest and we will hit back until such time that they realize that they can’t get away with walking over us as they would never dream of walking over other minorities which they wouldn’t dare step over.

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