EL CAJON COUNCIL MOVES FORWARD ON ORDINANCE TO RESTRICT ALCOHOL SALES

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By Janis Mork

February 28, 2013 (El Cajon)-At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, members voted unanimously to send a “deemed approved” ordinance to restrict single-serve alcohol sales to the Planning Commission.

City manager Doug Wlliford introduced the alcohol sales land use study session, advising Council members, “It’s a very complex issue.” A PowerPoint presentation included three speakers- Chief of Police Jim Redman, Planning Manager Manjeet Ranu, and City Attorney Morgan Foley.”

Police Chief Jim Redman was the first to speak. “The issue is crime, alcohol related arrests. Besides being homeless, they’re all alcoholics. In 2011, alcohol related arrests were at 8.3% in 2011 and 13.2% in 2012.”

Planning manager Manjeet Ranu spoke next. “There are two types of licenses-type 20 and type 21. In the city, there are 41 type 20 licenses and 28 type 21 licenses.”  He added that 73% are non-conforming according to the zoning code. Goals the City may consider in regulating reduction in overall crime are improving the quality of life and business environment and achieving that through local control.

“There are five different approaches in achieving the goals,” he added. They are:  1)  a deemed approved- retroactive conditional use permit [CUP], a land-use policy applied on a blanket-basis, 2) a voluntary program created and administered by alcohol outlet retailers which retailers self-police,  3) target  specific issues to avoid problems with future outlets, 4) revert to pre-2010 zoning code amendment and  remove the code section that allowed consideration of small accessory sales of beer and wine to be exempt from separation requirements; a small outlet could only locate near Parkway Westfield Mall. 5) Change nothing in the zoning code. Rely on the state ABC to police the most operational issues.

City Attorney Morgan Foley spoke next about the legal consideration. “There are 20 [deemed approved concepts] throughout the state of California. It eliminates large numbers of non-conforming outlets. California’s constitution gives power to regulate alcohol and would not allow us to ban sales,” he noted, but added, that doesn’t mean that public nuisances can’t be abated.  A city has the right to tell the vendors not to sell to certain types of people like an obvious drunk.  But he added, “We can’t force anybody to abide on any of those types of lists.”

Since Councilmember Gary Kendrick first addressed the issue with Council, he added in his input. “Over the last 30 years, the homeless problem and selling to kids has been getting worse and worse. We’re at the cusp of a booming problem of El Cajon. The homeless problem is the greatest threat to the economy of El Cajon.”

Williford agreed. “It is a big problem in the city. Almost all [of the homeless] are alcoholics. We get complaints from businesses and residents.”

Kendrick then stated, “We have a number of alternatives in front of us. I’m open to compromise. Do we do a deemed approve? Do we charge for a police officer? Do we ban the sale of small bottles that the homeless like? Do we ban the sale of malt liquor? The sixth and most extreme is do we ban the sale of single serving beers? These are on the table now.”

First up was Dana Stevens, executive director from Communities Against Substance Abuse. She had a PowerPoint presentation of over-concentrated and high crime stores including Ranch Liquor, Helix Liquor, Bob’s Bottle Shop, and many more. “This has been an issue for us for several years. We support an alternative to include a CUP for all licenses and to adopt a deemed-approved ordinance.”

Next was Richard Preuss, project manager for East County Community Change. “We have worked with business groups to make their businesses better. The biggest concern is public nuisances. [After doing a survey] a number of people said they don’t feel safe shopping after dark.”

He addresses some concerns the Council had about the possible approaches, addressed in the first PowerPoint.  ”ABC [the state Alcohol and Beverage Control Commission] doesn’t have resources to monitor liquor licenses. Local municipalities should monitor on and off-site alcohol sales, and can come up with an ordinance and set guidelines. They have the funding source, so the police can get involved. One other is voluntary compliance. One business we talked to said it didn’t work. #3 [target to specific issues to avoid problems of future outlets] doesn’t address of-site sales. We support you [the council] and a deemed-approved ordinance.”

Then, Rob Hall, El Cajon resident, spoke. “I walk around the neighborhood. Over a year ago, I took a small bag and picked up small bottles that can’t be recycled. I picked up six of them where the teenagers stand in the neighborhood. In two walks within two days, I filled two bottles. I found more fresh ones later. This is about teens getting drunk, the homeless drinking in public. I shop at Parkway Mall. I may live a block away, but I’ve invested in the city.”

Lorenzo Higley from CASA continued onto what Stevens said. “We’ve had voluntary training with local retailers. We worked with an executive director of the market association to end the sale of tobacco to teens. We found no change in the sale rates. That ordinance has dropped illegal sales from 42% to 1% or below in a six year period since you adopted the ordinance.”

Steven True, member of East County Transitional Living Program, spoke next.”I have worked in full-time ministry. I’m a supervisor of the clean and safe program. We interact with the homeless and pick up trash. Typically, 200 lbs of trash are in PBID [Project Based Improvement District]. So it’s bad. At public bus stops, there’s vomit and worse. We’ve cleaned it up. It’s because of alcohol. I was homeless for twenty years. I was drug user.”

When Pro Tempore Mayor Bill Wells asked True if he was also an alcoholic, True replied, “Yes. I have filed as a narcotic offender. I’m here today because someone made it hard for me to go another day.”

Wells was pleased.”Well, thank God you’re better.”

Another Council member added, “Amen!”

Kendrick asked True, “Should we ban small bottles and malt bottles?”

True  replied, "Yes.”

Kendrick also inquired, “What about fortified wine?”

True agreed. “Absolutely!”

Katherine Webb spoke. “I urge you to pass a deemed-approved ordinance along with prohibiting the different sales and to impose a fee, so the individuals making a fee from the alcohol solve the problem of alcohol.”

Council voted 5-0 vote to move the deemed-approved ordinance to the planning department. It will come back to the Council in two weeks.

Stevens spoke with ECM about the outcome and what happened at the rest of the meeting.

“It will take three months for the process to unfold. They voted to send the language of the ordinance and redefine the operating standards of El Cajon. First, an ordinance is drafted,” he explained. “Then, there’s a first reading; then, a second reading to the Council two weeks later. There may or may not be any changes. Once it passes, it will take 30 days to go into effect.

The Planning Department asked the Neighborhood Market Association to offer input. Mark Arabo President and CEO of the NMA “wanted no ordinance; they would prefer to self- regulate,” Stevens stated.

Arabo was the only person who spoke up against having an ordinance.

“The NMA will be meeting with the El Cajon PD, City staff, and city attorney to hopefully come up with objective, measure goals we all could focus on,” Arabo told ECM in an e-mail today. “I hope we all could work together with the city of El Cajon for a win-win for all.”

He added that the NMA will work with the City Attorney to “help them with community feedback. Our main objective will be public safety, bettering communities we do business in, and creating a solid partnership with the NMA and the City.  We admire and respect great community pillars like Daryl Priest and John Gibson and look forward to work with them to find a solution to make El Cajon a beautiful city.”

Arabo added that some retailers have retained attorneys “to make sure if a ordinance is pushed through, whatever type of ordinance is drafted that is abides by California law. We were very happy with the comments from the El Cajon City attorney today; he was honest, objective, and his advice of the council not having the legal capacity to ban certain types of liquor sizes is 100% accurate.”