SANTA MONICA, CA–Taxi drivers and their families were joined by ANCA and AYF activists for an evening rally outside of a Santa Monica City Council meeting on Tuesday. Demonstrators held placards and marched in a picket line against a proposal which would effectively ban Armenian companies from doing business in the city.
“As a grassroots advocacy organization, the Armenian National Committee is naturally concerned with addressing any issues of potential discrimination against any group of Armenian Americans,” said Nora Hovsepian, an ANCA –WR Board Member and Santa Monica resident who entered the City Council meeting as the rally went on outside. “It is for this reason that we have taken the lead in challenging the City of Santa Monica’s apparent intentional exclusion of Armenian owned or operated taxi cab companies from its award of taxi franchises.”
Tuesday’s action comes after the City Council adopted an ordinance in 2009 establishing a franchise-based system for the regulation of taxicabs in the city. Following the submission of proposals from 13 companies, a committee of City staff recommended this past June that only five be allowed to receive a franchise, none of which are Armenian-owned or operated. Several local businesses which have long served Santa Monica could be affected.
“The initial ordinance and the study commissioned by the City advised that up to 8 companies be allowed to operate here,” said Elen Poghosyan of VIP Yellow Cab. “We don’t understand why, in these tough economic times, officials are now trying to cut that number down to five and push local business out onto the street, especially Armenian ones.”
Observers and cab drivers have criticized the City’s refusal to reveal each company’s itemized evaluation score and have argued that there are inconsistencies between the criteria announced and the selection for the recommendation. Companies have also maintained that the Armenian companies are being specifically denied the franchise, despite being locally-based, financially viable, and reputable businesses with years of service in Santa Monica.
“There is clearly an issue of transparency and fairness that needs to be addressed,” said Serouj Aprahamian, Executive Director of the AYF-Western US. “We can’t sit back and let an inexplicable political decision suddenly drive over 250 Armenian workers and their families into unemployment.”
Following the demonstration, members of the AYF, ANCA and the taxi companies entered the chambers of the City Council meeting. They were approached by Assistant City Manager, Elaine Polachek, who spoke with them outside regarding the issue. After explaining that public hearings would be held on the matter in November and revealing upcoming dates where the issue will be on the Council’s agenda, Polachek assured the concerned parties that the Council Members have yet to make up their mind about the recommendation. She said they are aware of the outcry and criticisms, and interested in hearing the other side in order to come to a fair conclusion.
Both the ANCA and AYF maintained that they will continue to stay vigilant on the matter. “We are sending a clear and unequivocal message to all public entities that we will not allow discrimination against our people to go unchecked,” said Hovsepian. “We will stand up in protection of our collective rights to fair and equal treatment under the law.”
For more information or to find out how to get involved, contact the ANCA-WR office at (818) 500-1918 or visit www.AYFwest.org.