Lynwood’s Tough Liquor Ordinance Put on Hold After Merchants Protest
Enactment of a tough liquor ordinance scheduled to go into effect in 15 days has been delayed by the City Council, reacting to strong opposition from merchants and their supporters.
After listening to arguments for and against the ordinance, believed to be one of the most restrictive in the state, the council voted unanimously Tuesday to have the city attorney study the law further.
The council ordered the matter be placed on the calendar “for reconsideration” at its next scheduled meeting Sept. 15.
“The move is to stop the 30-day clock that is running” while the ordinance is examined, City Atty. Henry S. Barbosa told the five-member council.
Barbosa, recently hired as city attorney, said he was attending his first council meeting and needed time for a closer look at the law. It was originally scheduled to go into effect Sept. 17.
The attorney told the council he had some misgivings about the ordinance but wanted to examine it closely before making any specific recommendations.
Restrictions on Stores
Among other things, the law would restrict how liquor is sold and limit where new stores could be opened.
Brian Hong, one of more than 40 merchants who attended the City Council meeting, said in an interview that he was encouraged that the council had paid some attention to the merchants’ complaints.
However, Hong said, he and many other owners of liquor stores and small markets in the city intended to spend the coming weeks “informing our customers of this unfair law and asking them to come to City Hall Sept. 15 to oppose it.”
Hong said he did not believe people were aware of the restrictions the ordinance would place on customers and merchants.
The clause in the ordinance that has drawn the most attention prevents customers from purchasing a single beer or wine cooler. Sales are restricted to a minimum of a six-pack of beer or a four-pack of wine coolers.
City Council members, who passed the ordinance unanimously Aug. 18, said their intention was to discourage people from drinking and driving.
Merchants and their supporters contended that the ordinance would create more crime and havoc, force customers to go to nearby cities to purchase alcohol and push businesses out of the city.
“I strongly believe the new law will hurt business and increase crime. People will steal. They will rob. Innocent people will be hurt,” said Hong, owner of Alta Dena Dairy, 12306 S. Atlantic Blvd.
Hong said he believes people who did not have enough money to buy the minimum purchase could resort to stealing or robbing.
“Don’t burn down the house to kill a few bugs,” Hong said.
“Lots of people can’t afford to buy a six-pack of beer,” said Fred Ruff, president of the Southern California Retail Liquor Dealers Assn.
See Loss of Customers
“If we can’t sell a single can of beer the customers will go to the next city like South Gate. It will hurt my business. If I wanted to sell my business I can’t” because of such a restrictive ordinance, said Frank Napoli, owner of Vito’s Place.
The council did not intend to hurt businesses, but was trying to control the proliferation of liquor stores and the problems created by them, Mayor Paul Richards said.
Other proponents of the ordinance, such as the Rev. C. C. Coleman pastor of New Life Baptist Church, said he was concerned about minors buying beer.
“I see them buying beer. I want them (businesses) to make money. I want them to make a living but I don’t want to see (the pending ordinance) changed,” Coleman said.
Charles Glenn, another supporter of the ordinance, told the merchants that they were remiss for failing to attend four earlier public hearings on the ordinance.
Helen Mendoza, owner of Helen’s Liquor, said in an interview that merchants were unaware that the council had been debating the ordinance.
Mendoza, who helped organize the merchants after the council gave tentative approval to the ordinance in an initial vote Aug. 8, said the council should have notified the businesses in writing before voting for passage.
The notification of all hearings was placed in the local newspaper as required by law, said Councilwoman Evelyn Wells, but she suggested that perhaps other methods should be worked out to notify businesses that could be affected by council action.
Wells and Councilman Robert Henning attended a meeting last week of more than 50 liquor store owners at Helen’s Liquor and pledged to do what they could to help the merchants.
Unaware of Opposition
“I was unaware that there was opposition from the merchants on this. They never showed up at the four hearings we had,” Henning said.
“The merchants are concerned about losing their businesses because of this ordinance. I agree with them that some of the provisions are really Mickey Mouse,” Henning said.
Other provisions of the ordinance that have drawn criticism include:
- A ban on video games in liquor outlets that sell alcoholic beverages for consumption off the premises.
- Restriction of alcoholic beverage advertisements to areas that cannot be seen from the street.
- A requirement that all paper or plastic cups to be sold in regular packaging instead of individually.
- Removal of exterior public telephones from premises.
Most of the merchants seemed to agree that they could live with the provision that prohibits construction of new alcoholic beverage outlets within 500 feet of another outlet or within 500 feet of a hospital, church, park or school. Only bona fide restaurants and veterans’ clubs would be exempt from the distance requirements.
Under the provisions of the ordinance, businesses would have five years to fully comply with the new requirements.
While applicants for liquor licenses must comply with local ordinances, such as the one in Lynwood, liquor licenses are issued by the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Department.
The ABC places some conditions on licenses but “it is rare to have restrictions placed on amounts and sizes,” said John Thompson, assistant director for the department.
“The Lynwood ordinance is totally new. It is going to be the most restrictive, possibly, in the state,” Thompson said.
“I’ve never seen a citywide ban like this adopted. It is usually done on a case-by-case basis” where there have been problems, added Pete Case, ABC district administrator for San Diego County.
The Lynwood law was to replace a less restrictive 1986 ordinance that came about after residents voiced concern over the proliferation of liquor stores and after Los Angeles passed a law restricting new establishments.
Lynwood residents had complained of loitering, littering, drug trafficking, prostitution, vandalism and excessive noise associated with some liquor outlets in the city.
There are 90 alcoholic beverage outlets in Lynwood, a city of 50,000.