City Heights residents are never happy about alcohol permits being approved in their neighborhood, but one has sparked a whole new level of pushback.
In September, the city said a proposed 7-11 on University Avenue could buy an existing license from a liquor store down the street, and it slapped so many restrictions on the permit that a city official called them unprecedented.
And because the permit is being transferred – as opposed to a new one being issued – it wouldn’t increase the number of liquor licenses in the area.
Yet the move has nonetheless sparked a massive backlash. Both the outgoing and incoming City Council members representing City Heights oppose it. Hundreds of residents spoke out against it at a public meeting. And a local store owner poured thousands of dollars into appealing the city’s decision.
The ordeal sheds light on the blurry line between community concerns and business interests in battles over alcohol permits.
After at least two attempts to overturn the permit approval, the opposition is trying one more time with the city’s planning commission, which will hear the matter on Dec. 1. City staff has recommended that the appeal be denied.
Support Independent Journalism Today
To answer Chris' question, the ABC does not have the power to revoke a license. It's your personal property when purchased. Even when you find a license that's listed as 'Revoked' on the ABC website, that means the ABC suspended the license and gave the owner time to find a buyer. Why do census tracts remain overconcentrated? Because when the laws passed that set limits, there were already many areas that had too many licenses. The ABC's policy is to take that number...in this case, there were probably four existing licenses when the law passed. The ABC will continue to grant new licenses as long as the total number doesn't go up. They do NOT deny license applications with a goal of reaching the actual legal limit. Regardless of the law, the policy is that if there were four licenses when the limit went into effect, they won't deny licenses as long as the number stays at four. And of course there are always loopholes.
If the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has said that the census tract where the 7-11 would be located should only have two licenses, then why does it have four? If the answer is that they are constrained in some way from revoking permits, then why would it not make sense for the community to oppose a transfer to a larger liquor store that will presumably. be selling more liquor? To me, the obvious conflict of interest of the competitors is a sideshow, but one the community could use to their advantage, if they wish.
It would be really interesting to see some investigative reporting about the difference between target numbers of liquor stores per census tract and variations that are permitted (same problem in PB). Why are these variances permitted and who at the ABC makes the decision?
@Chris Brewster , the limits on alcohol licenses within a certain area (census tract) were established in the 1990s. The ABC's position is to, in effect, grandfather in the number of licenses, rather than actually abide by the statutory limit on licenses. If there were 4 licenses in an area when the law went into effect, the ABC will allow 4 to remain, even if the law says only 2 should exist. The ABC will not deny a license or a license transfer in order to reduce the number of licenses to the level proscribed by law. That's not my opinion; it's what we've been told by the ABC.
However, a city or county can use its land use powers to place conditions on an alcohol license; the problem is that instead of putting conditions on the Conditional Use Permit, those conditions are placed on the ABC license. That defeats the purpose of the CUP, and the conditions can be removed after 12 months by petitioning the ABC (and paying a $100 fee).
That's why community residents often fight to prevent a license from being issued in the first place. Once it's there, it's there virtually forever, with no workable way to control an irresponsible operator, should the license change hands again.
If San Diego required all of its neighborhoods to be self-sufficient in tax revenue versus city spending, would the residents of City Heights fight so hard to keep taxpaying businesses out, or would they want their potholes fixed?
@Derek Hofmann , interesting concept. If the city required communities to be self-sufficient, no more licenses would be issued in most areas. That's because the communities with an abundance of alcohol outlets also have an abundance of crime (generally). So the police department spends an undue amount of resources in those communities. But if all the bars in PB were spinning out so much revenue for the city, what's the problem? The bars in PB are NOT spinning out diddly squat. We've asked the city clerk to verify how much tax money from PB ends up in city coffers, and they didn't understand the question. When pressed, they came up with $40,000. The PD spends more than that on a busy holiday weekend in PB, much less all year long.
The Community Planners Committee voted unanimously to ask the city to examine this issue, and specifically have the Independent Budget Analyst do a cost-benefit analysis of the hospitality industry. How much does it cost to assign x number of police officers to PB, or the Gaslamp or East Village, just to keep the drunks in line? Seems like a valid question. Not one city councilmember is interested. Why not? Because political opponents will claim they're anti-business....and no politician is going to risk losing one...single...campaign contribution from a bar owner. Follow the money....
Here are the communities with the most violent crime (murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults) this past year (Jan-Nov, from the SDPD website. Consider how many of these are the areas where tourists go.
East Village 290
Core Columbia (downtown) 164
Logan Heights 157
North Park 127
Colina del Sol 121
San Ysidro .108
Citywide, the average community had 39 violent crimes.