Sobering Up Boyle Heights: Group Pushes for Control of Alcohol In the Neighborhood

A moratorium on alcohol licenses and a task force to take-on nuisance businesses is in the works.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

Cashiers forced to hand over beer at gunpoint, rowdy alcohol-fueled after parties, drunken brawls and public urination—these are quality of life issues that Boyle Heights should not have to deal with, a local coalition told residents last week, explaining they have the power to sober-up the community.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Desembragando a Boyle Heights: Grupo Presiona por Control Más Estricto de Alcohol

“It is up to us, the people, to tell our government … what to do with a bar. Report them…” if they are not following the law and are a nuisance, said Boyle Heights resident Terry Marquez at a recent meeting on the impact of alcohol on the community of Boyle Heights. “You need to help us,” she said.

The Boyle Heights Coalition for a Safe and Drug-Free Community, which recently tracked the affects of alcohol consumption on the local community, along with the Boyle Heights Stakeholder Association and other organizations have started a campaign to garner support for alcohol licensing policy changes at the local, county and state level.

“This is a public health issue, the more outlets we have the more incidents we have. We know we have a problem …” Coalition President Denis Quiñonez said at the meeting held March 15 at Resurrection Church.

The groups want the public’s help to bring about the changes. “We need everybody, the whole community on board,” Quiñonez told EGP.

Coalitions members, elected officials addressed about 120 people who attended the March 15 meeting held at Resurrection Church. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

The Coalition recently released preliminary findings of the alcohol-availability study they conducted. The data shows that during a six-month period in 2011, there were two felony DUIs with injuries, 349 alcohol related traffic violations, and a host of other crimes in Boyle Heights where alcohol played a factor.

The list of alcohol-related crimes compiled for the April to October 2011 period, also includes 43 incidents in which children were beat-up or otherwise injured, and 197 incidents of spousal abuse, according to the Coalition, which received a funding grant to conduct the study from the Dept. Health and Human Services.

The Coalition used public records from the Hollenbeck Police Department to map out the locations of the violations, noting their proximity to places where alcohol is sold.

The preliminary data shows Boyle Heights has a high-density of alcohol outlets and the availability of alcohol is directly related to public safety, according to Quiñonez.

It’s not uncommon to have more than one outlet selling alcohol on a single block, according the Coalition’s detailed maps. On a two-mile stretch of East 1st Street, from Indiana to the LA River, there are roughly 31 active licenses, according to Arnulfo Delgado, a consultant to the project.

Besides causing serious health problems to the person consuming the alcohol, communities with high density of alcohol sale outlets are 9 to 10 times more likely to have increased rates of violent crime, according to the LA County Dept. of Public Health.

Alcohol abuse in communities also creates quality of life issues: such as disturbance of the peace, drinking in public, loitering, public urination, fights, domestic violence; it is also a known entry for teenagers to use other drugs.

The coalition, a branch of the Salesian Boys & Girls Club, is especially concerned about alcohol sold to minors. “Many youth we talked to told us about specific locations that have been traditionally selling to minors for decades,” Quiñonez said.

There are currently 188 businesses in Boyle Heights that have a license to sell alcohol. Of those, over 100 are for off-premise sales, Type 20 and Type 20 licenses awarded to liquor, convenience, grocery and drug stores.

Ideally, the neighborhood should only have 100 alcohol licenses of all types, and no more than one for every 2,500 residents, Quiñonez said. That number would include alcohol licenses for bars and restaurants that serve alcohol to patrons.

The group has numerous suggestions to sober up the community.

They want a moratorium on new alcohol sale licenses for off-site consumption, as was done in South Los Angeles after the 1992 LA Riots.

They also wants changes to city and state policies they say ferment crime through easy access to alcohol.

While the public meeting focused on Boyle Heights, the Coalition says its policy recommendations could benefit unincorporated East Los Angeles, LA County, and the state as a whole.

And while CD-14, where Boyle Heights is located, has both a high concentration of alcohol selling locations and a high number of alcohol-related harms — according to a 2009 LA County Public Health Department report — it is not by any means the worst off.

Council District 9, which includes parts of downtown and South Los Angeles, has both a higher density of alcohol selling outlets and alcohol related harms. Council District 1, which includes Highland Park, downtown, Lincoln Heights and MacArthur Park, is not far behind CD-9 in the number of alcohol-related harms.

Many other cities in the county have similar problems, according to County data.

According to Will Salao, district administrator for the California Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control, (ABC) since 2002 — when the coalition found an increase in new alcohol permit activity —4 new alcohol licenses were issued in the 90033 and 90023 zip codes (Boyle Heights and the surrounding community), and there were 17 person to person alcohol license transfers in those two zip codes.

Quiñonez says Boyle Heights, and other communities need to be seen as a whole in order to see the magnitude of the problem. That’s the only way they can tackle the problem.

The saturation of alcohol in Boyle Heights is the result of a “broken system” that has been allowed to continue for decades, Quiñonez said. “We need to do something about it before it gets worse.”

There are already policies in place that if enforced could alleviate the problem. LA’s municipal code states that businesses selling alcohol must be at least 1,000 feet away from schools, places of worship, parks and other sensitive areas. But in Boyle Heights, many of those businesses are in Gang Reduction Youth Development (GRYD) zones and other prohibited areas; 25 outlets are located on residential streets.

The Boyle Heights Coalition for a Safe and Drug-Free Community, which recently tracked the affects of alcohol consumption on the local community. This map shows alcohol-related incidents Hollenbeck officers responded to, and their proximity to alcohol outlets, during April to October 2011. (Boyle Heights Coalition for a Safe and Drug-Free Community)

The Coalition’s strategy to reduce alcohol consumption and alcohol related crimes is to get residents involved in making sure businesses are following the conditions under which their alcohol licenses were approved by reporting violations and crimes to law enforcement agencies, and the Alcohol and Beverage Control.

The Boyle Heights Stakeholders Association and others spent 10 years going after a local bar that had over 20 violations, Teresa Marquez said. The business was finally closed by the LAPD, but was then sold to a new owner, who they feared would allow the same violations to occur.

In another case, one business had all 5 of the alcohol licenses allowed for one census track, but seven additional alcohol licenses were approved in that same census track, she said.

Marquez noted that many alcohol licenses were grandfathered in when new licensing restrictions and conditions were approved, but that doesn’t mean they cannot be closed down if they become a nuisance.

Quiñonez said the group is not “against small businesses,” but noted that liquor and corner stores will likely be some of the businesses targeted for stepped up monitoring. “We are not against businesses that want to do responsible business in our community,” he told EGP.

The Coalition found that a major cause in perpetuating nuisances in the community is the ease of transferring an alcohol license from one owner to another, which wipes clean the outlet’s violation record.

They want to increase fees associated with alcohol licenses and have started a letter writing campaign targeted at state legislators. They’ve already collected over 200 letters urging policy recommendations and legislation to decrease alcohol access in the neighborhood.

LA Councilman Jose Huizar has committed to contacting State legislators to ask them to author legislation that would better regulate alcohol licenses and hold businesses accountable through increased penalty fees as well as increased license transfer fees.

At the March 15 meeting, Huizar gave his word that his office would work toward a moratorium and creating a taskforce to identify troublesome outlets. “The information we see should mobilize us to do something… We have too many [alcohol outlets], period,” he said.

LAPD’s Hollenbeck Station commanding officer, Capt. Anita Ortega, also sees problems with the current licensing system, and told EGP she would like to see more information on license transfers so her department can weigh in on whether a license should be granted.

She told EGP that Hollenbeck officers inspect alcohol-selling establishments at least every two years, and have issued a large number of citations, which are forwarded to the ABC.

The coalition’s recommendations include a combination of increased fees, taxes, restrictions on sales, and increased enforcement, including: increasing fees for Conditional Use Permits, license renewals, transfers, added taxes on alcohol products per units and use additional revenues to fund code enforcement for alcohol retailers and prevention services; have the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control disclose license conditions to the public on their website; prohibiting businesses from selling single cans, limiting alcohol shelf space and signage, requiring surveillance cameras and ID scanners to prevent sales to minors and prohibit off sale licenses from selling alcohol between midnight and 8 a.m.

For more information, visit http://www.salesianclubs-la.org/programs-a-services/health-a-life-skills/boyle-heights-coalition.html

To report quality of life issues caused by an alcohol outlet, call the CA Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control Reporting hotline at (562) 924-2827 or email ceo.direct@abc.ca.gov

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March 22, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

2 Responses to “Sobering Up Boyle Heights: Group Pushes for Control of Alcohol In the Neighborhood”

  1. Michael Carreon on March 22nd, 2012 3:11 pm

    I urge you not to believe Mr. Huizar and all of his promises. In the past 5 years he has been in office, i think he has given out 10 liquor licenses in downtown LA. Which according to the article is in District 9. Where Mr. Huizar is attempting to get re-aligned with CD 14. The problem is not the liquor licenses the problem is Mr. Huizar who continues to give them out to special interest. In CD 1 anyone who owns a 7 eleven gets a liquor license from Ed Reyes. Mr. Reyes attempted to give a liquor license to a restaurant before it even opened called Via Via across the street from Lincoln High School adjacent to a day care, across the street from an elementary school, and across the street from a place of worship. This was all done in back private meetings with the restaurant owner. If that’s not shady, then what is? ” This starts with our council members who give them out.”

  2. Mike arellano on March 22nd, 2012 10:02 pm

    It is a shame that local politicians continue to speak out of the both sides of their mouths. In public many will say the politically correct words while they seek another action out of the other side of their mouth. For years many in our culture blamed one race for the wrongs committed and now it is our very own that permits these conditions to exist. Although I am in favor of replacing bad politicians, it seems that the the replacements will fall in line with past behaviors and commit the same acts. I wish there was a simple solution to an age old problem. Thank you egp for coverage of this matter as it seems only local journalists will cover matters that affect our beautiful community which is plagued with problems created by those thinking about themselves before others.

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