September 25, 2020 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Judge Allows Taxi Franchise to Proceed: Racially tinged lawsuit may be the city’s first

Although a temporary restraining order technically remains in place following an Armenian taxicab association’s lawsuit against the City of Santa Monica, a Los Angeles County judge is allowing City officials to proceed with implementing their new franchise system for taxi cabs.

Judge Robert O’Brien has set a Jan. 19 hearing date for the lawsuit, which pits the City against an association that counts more than 300 cab drivers of Armenian descent among its members.

Santa Monica’s City Council approved the implementation of a taxicab franchise system in November 2010 to reduce the number of companies operating in the city from 44 to five: Bell Cab Company, Independent Taxi Owners Association, the Yellow Cab Company, Metro Cab Company, and Taxi Taxi.

In December 2010, the council also voted to increase the number of allowable taxicabs in the city from 250 to 300 for the five approved companies. Thirteen additional cabs each were allocated to the Santa Monica-based Metro Cab Company and Taxi Taxi, while eight additional cabs were approved for each of the remaining companies.

In the court documents filed Dec. 21, attorney Tamar Arminak of the high-profile law firm Geragos and Geragos argues that the City’s action were in violation of the drivers’ constitutional rights and civil code. By denying the group’s members permits to work in the city through the new franchise system, Arminak argues discrimination took place and that Armenian taxicab drivers lost money in preparation for the franchise application.

The race and ethnicity dimension of the lawsuit doesn’t have a precedent in Santa Monica in recent memory, according to a City official.

“I am not aware of any recent lawsuits where there have been claims of racial discrimination,” said Meishya Young, deputy City attorney. “The City remains optimistic. We’re more comfortable in our legal position [and] feel everything was handled appropriately.”

In their 20-page complaint, Arminak and the cab drivers explain that prior to the City’s recent adoption of a franchising system, 35 of 44 taxicab companies operating in Santa Monica were Armenian-owned and operated. With the franchise system opening up, five of the 13 applications came from Armenian companies, yet none were granted a franchise permit.

Thus, the central argument of the case is that the companies were “effectively run out of the city,” according to the complaint. Santa Monica officials announced the five franchises in June 2010.

The complaint further states that the City’s actions set the Armenian cab drivers back financially.

“Most of the Armenian taxi drivers updated their vehicles, updated their dispatch systems, hired legal counsel and effected other changes to their businesses in order to ensure that they would be granted licenses by the City,” the document stated.

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