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Santa Monica Cab Franchises Free to Roll  

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

January 20, 2011 -- Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant cleared the way Wednesday for the city to move forward with its taxi franchise ordinance.

Chalfant denied a preliminary restraining order that would have stopped the city's plan to limit the number of cabs on Santa Monica's streets.

Local Armenian-American taxi company owners and operators requested the restraining order because, they said, the city discriminated against them when it didn't award them franchises.

“We're pleased,” Deputy City Attorney Anthony Serritella told The Lookout Wednesday. “We think the court has reached the right decision.”

Chalfant didn't dismiss the case, so the plaintiffs are still free to pursue it, Serritella said. But no court dates are currently scheduled in the matter.

“They're free to proceed to trial,” he said, but “I don't think they have a case.”

Phone calls to the plaintiffs' attorney, Mark Geragos, were not returned Wednesday.

More than a year ago, the city council decided to limit the number of taxi companies working in Santa Monica to cut down on pollution and traffic.

The plan was to award franchises to a handful of the 44 cab companies clogging downtown streets, banning the rest.

Last November, the city council chose five franchisees from among the thirteen companies vying for the lucrative contracts.

None of the six companies owned and operated by Armenian-Americans that applied were chosen. Those companies employed up to 300 cabbies.

Calling city records of the selection “unintelligible,” representatives of the rejected companies accused the city of racial bias and “lack of transparency” in the application process.

The Armenian-American owned companies filed suit against the city under the rubric “The Taxi Drivers Association of Santa Monica,” and were granted an injunction in Los Angeles Superior Court in December that brought the city's plans to a screeching halt.

Days later, Judge Robert O'Brien modified his order, allowing the city to move forward with vehicle inspections and the administrative steps it needs to take before the taxis can hit the streets.

 

“We think the court has reached the right decision.” Deputy City Attorney Anthony Serritella

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