Cut Crime by Cutting Liquor Sales
Alcohol is the root of many problems, say eastsiders.
By Jacqueline García, EGP Staff Writer
National Night Out’s call “to take back the streets” should be a year-round goal, not just another one-day proclamation, according to some of the people living in Los Angeles city and county’s eastside.
Exhibits of law enforcement vehicles, K-9 units and free hot dogs may be good public relations, but do little to decrease crime and improve quality of life issues, they claim about the annual event taking place next week.
In unincorporated East Los Angeles, some point to the actions of elected officials and bureaucrats as the root of many local problems, which they say cannot be solved with stepped up sheriff and police patrols alone.
Specifically, they see the proliferation of liquor licenses in their neighborhood as a major obstacle to them “taking back” control of their streets and efforts to reduce crime. They blame “easy access” to beer, wine and hard liquor for everything from vandalism to domestic violence to murder, and claim elected officials share the blame. However, most elected officials say they are very diligent about reviewing liquor license requests, rejecting many.
Margarita Ortiz lives in East L.A. and is working with other residents to overturn the recent approval of a liquor license for a CVS drug store opening on the corner of Cesar E. Chavez and Rowan avenues. She told EGP the area is a “hot spot” for crime and violence, and was shocked that the license was approved during a July 16 public hearing of the LA Regional Planning Commission.
Ortiz said she is angry that the new 24 Hours CVS will be allowed to sell liquor on the same block where five businesses already hold a liquor license.
The number of businesses licensed to sell alcohol in her neighborhood is excessive, she said, claiming the impact has been devastating.
“The residents of this neighborhood strongly oppose the granting of another liquor license in our neighborhood,” Ortiz told EGP.
However, selling liquor can be very profitable for a business, sometimes the difference between staying in business and going broke.
Lea este artículo en Español: Crimen Disminuye con Recorte de Ventas de Alcohol
Michael DeAngelis, CVS director of public relations, told EGP that it is important for people to understand that CVS is not adding to the number of liquor licenses in the area, but transferring one from another local establishment.
He said CVS is committed to the community and will act responsibly, limiting alcohol sales to between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m.
“Our shelf space for alcohol sales will be 4.14%, which is less than the maximum of 5% of shelf space” allowed in the County of Los Angeles’ Zoning Ordinance, DeAngelis said.
L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina represents the area and according to her director of field operations, Martha Molina-Aviles, the supervisor has a long track record of not permitting “new licenses in the area.” Instead, she “encourages people to buy an existing one” as CVS has done.
There are about 300 liquor licenses in the 7.5 square-mile area of East L.A., Molina-Aviles told EGP.
While the supervisor originally supported CVS’ liquor license application she decided to reconsider that position in response to concerns raised by constituents.
The Board of Supervisors [had] until July 30 to appeal the decision and on Tuesday Molina filed a motion requesting a review of the license, according to Molina-Aviles.
Meanwhile, next door in Boyle Heights, El Mercado’s petition for a full liquor license is also raising red flags in the community. Currently four separate liquor licenses have been issued for the combination retail, dining and entertainment venue on First Street.
Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar and representatives of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollenbeck station attended the hearing on El Mercado’s change the nature of liquor sales at its site. Their attendance raised the ire of Boyle Heights resident Teresa Marquez.
“I was very upset that officers spent so much time at the hearing to support [El Mercado’s] liquor license,” Marquez said.
There are essentially four main types of liquor licenses issued in California: two beer and wine licenses for either on-site or off-site consumption, and two full [beer, wine and distilled spirits] liquor licenses, also for either on-site or off-site consumption, with a slew of other categories for special circumstances.
Captain Garey Lopez of the Hollenbeck Division told EGP the department does not approve or reject liquor licenses, but does make recommendations to the hearing board.
He said approving El Mercado’s license was a good deal for the community because the owner agreed to give up two beer and wine licenses in exchange for upgrading one license to sell hard liquor.
Huizar spokesperson Rick Coca told EGP that a one year probationary period is being required as part of the change, but added that El Mercado could apply to upgrade its remaining beer and wine license to full liquor if all goes well.
“It is a sit-down family restaurant that provides cultural programming, not a bar or a night club,” Coca emphasized.
According to Lopez, one year ago it was estimated that there were 248 active liquor licenses in the Hollenbeck Division, but that number has dropped to 226.
“Our objective is to limit and decrease the number of licenses” in Hollenbeck, Coca said.
Huizar has been less understanding in cases where retailers try to skirt the law and violate the conditions of their licenses.
Ramirez Liquor Store on Olympic and Soto Avenue may be one of those cases. Because the liquor store is located at the site of a former grocery store, Fines Market, the retailer was grandfathered in to sell alcohol. However, Fine’s liquor sales were secondary to its primary use as a grocery store, which is not the case with Ramirez Liquor Store.
Area residents complained that because Ramirez is now primarily selling liquor, it should have to go through the formal liquor licensing process just like every other liquor seller.
Coca told EGP that the city’s Building and Safety Department (LADBS) has ordered Ramirez Liquor to apply for a CUB, Conditional Use Beverage and new occupancy permits or convert back to a grocery store.
The CUB designation allows the city and local councilman to place conditions on the businesses operations, according to Coca.
“We would be opposed to them operating as they are currently operating,” Coca said.
EGP contacted the owner of Ramirez Liquor for comment, but he said he was “too busy” doing inventory to talk.
There’s an abundance of “drunks on the streets” of the eastside, which according to El Sereno resident Carlos Morales is a major quality of life issue. “It’s a shame that when our kids get out of school they see them laying on the streets or urinating in public,” he told EGP. “Why don’t we see this in the more affluent neighborhoods? Our community deserves better,” he added.
Huizar told EGP via email that his office works with LAPD’s Hollenbeck Division to limit and reduce the number of liquor licenses and to protect “our communities.”
We want “to make sure existing facilities are acting within the parameters of their state-issued alcohol licenses and city-regulated conditional uses,” he added.
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July 31, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.