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Law Would Cork Alcohol Sales at New Gas Stations

Times Staff Writer

A San Diego City Council committee on Wednesday ordered the drafting of a citywide zoning ordinance to control the proliferation of bars, convenience stores and gasoline stations selling liquor, beer or wine.

The proposed ordinance, which will be presented to the City Council on May 12, would require special conditions for new neighborhood liquor stores and convenience stores, such as 7-Elevens.

In addition, the legislation would ban outright the sale of alcoholic beverages at all future gasoline stations, such as Arco’s A.M.-P.M. Mini Marts.

A unanimous Public Services and Safety Committee ordered the city attorney’s office and the Planning Department to draft the ordinance. In doing so, the committee expanded on a Planning Department suggestion that the city test such new restrictions in Southeast San Diego.

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Many Southeast residents have complained about the growing number of liquor stores and bars in their neighborhood which, they say, have led to problems of crime, loitering and harassment.

“Going to the store is a challenge,” said Lloyd Ellis, of Bayview Baptist Church. “If you are a youth, you can’t go with at least being harassed and verbally abused” by people, many of them drunk, who loiter outside the store.

Councilman William Jones, who represents the Southeast area, helped galvanize the discontent, leading to Wednesday’s parade of neighborhood residents telling the committee that their area needs tougher conditional-use permit procedures.

But it quickly became clear that other committee members, complaining about similar alcohol-related problems in their districts, wanted the concept expanded citywide.

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As tentatively outlined, the new zoning ordinance would outlaw new businesses--except restaurants--from selling alcoholic beverages unless they received a special permit from the city. Such a permit could attach a variety of conditions on individual stores, such as regulating when beer and wine are sold, prohibiting the sale of small quantities of alcohol and the hiring of security guards, as an example.

The process of issuing a conditional-use permit includes consideration of such things as the neighborhood in which a store is situated, how close it is to schools and churches and the area’s crime rate.

Peter Case, San Diego district administrator for the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Department, said that the proposed ordinance would “give (the city) a direct input on who gets a license.”

The ABC grants licenses to sell alcohol on six conditions. One of those conditions prevents the issuance of a license if “it would be contrary to a valid zoning ordinance.” Case said the proposed San Diego ordinance would prevent his department from issuing a new license or transferring an old one unless the applicant agreed to abide by the special operating conditions imposed by the city.

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At the insistence of Councilwoman Abbie Wolfsheimer, the committee voted to include a section in the ordinance that would abolish the sale of beer and wine at future gasoline stations, a trend that has swept California in the last few years.

Saying she wanted to put a halt to the “filling up of both tanks at one stop,” Wolfsheimer said such practices should be banned totally.

Bob Reynolds, director of the county’s alcohol program, told the committee that a study of San Diego County by his agency shows that such gasoline-and-alcohol minimarkets sell three times more beer and wine than would be expected given their proportional share of the marketplace. A spokesman for Arco disputed such findings, saying there was no evidence linking drunk driving and alcohol sales at minimarkets.

On another front, the committee voted to take a stand against bills pending in the Legislature--pushed by a coalition of gas station and convenience store operators--that would prohibit local governments from attaching special conditional-use permits.

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Councilman Jones also wants the city to do something about the existing liquor stores, bars and minimarkets that are nuisances in their neighborhoods but wouldn’t be covered by the proposed ordinance.

Jones asked the city attorney’s office to find out whether the city can impose strict operating conditions on such establishments through its business licensing procedures.


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