Alcohol and the Community

It is easy enough to find beer and wine in California--at liquor stores, grocery stores, convenience stores and mini-markets in some gasoline stations. Too easy, by the reckoning of residents of 40 communities and three counties that have restricted the sales at gasoline stations.

Those communities would lose the authority to impose local controls if SB 2522, a bill sponsored by Sen. Ken Maddy (R-Fresno), is approved by the California Legislature. The measure would require that all retailers of food, beer and wine be treated equally under local laws. Restrictions on gas-station mini-marts could be no different from those on other retailers. The Senate Committee on Governmental Organization is scheduled to hear the bill today.

The bill should fail. You can find statistics to back up arguments for and against the sale of beer and wine at gasoline stations, but that is not the point at issue here. People have a right to shape, or try to shape, the character of their communities, whether it be the working-class neighborhoods of South-Central Los Angeles or the affluent areas of Newport Beach in Orange County. They should keep the right to decide whether someone can buy a beer on every other corner or at the same place where he buys gas. Most communities want to cut down on drunk driving. Some are persuaded by statistics showing that large numbers of people who buy alcohol with their gasoline drink the alcohol immediately. Others are not. But these are questions to be answered close to home, not in Sacramento.

Off-sale beer and wine licenses are the easiest liquor licenses to get in California. The licenses cost only $100, and the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control does not limit the number, although broader liquor licenses are limited to one for every 2,500 persons on a countywide basis.

Communities that want ground rules on sales of beer and wine should have the right to impose them. For that reason, SB 2522 should be rejected.

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