There’s frustration in the voices of some of the north Long Beach residents who are speaking out against a particular kind of liquor store– the “Type 21” stores that sell the alcohol beyond just beer and wine for off-site consumption. The Long Beach eighth and ninth district councilmembers are hoping these market owners will eventually make demonstrable improvements to their buildings and merchandising decisions, but they can’t help but note the problems they and their constituents have seen first-hand.
In their official staff reports, Councilmembers Al Austin and Steven Neal note that the liquor markets have attracted criminal behavior that includes not just public drunkenness, but loitering, drug dealing and prostitution. If you ask the residents, there are a few who have a story about their local liquor market. North Long Beach resident Manuel Walker remembers seeing two men urinate outside the store in his neighborhood and then go inside the store to buy beer. Walker remembers the unease he felt for the owner, a 5’3” woman who was managing the store on her own at that time of night. He said he returned later that evening to the store to make sure nothing had happened.
Linda Wilson, another resident, recalls how liquor affected her part of town and remembers when young adults served too much alcohol at a party that attracted too many people. She remembers shots fired that night and a chase down the street. Even Ninth District Councilmember Neal has his own painful story that involved a local liquor market. Neal said his son was robbed at gunpoint for his phone in a liquor store in his own district.
“That’s just an example,” Neal said in an interview, adding that there are other stories like his son’s that come from some of the residents. Neal says, however, that the issue is bigger than the problem of crime.
“There’s a real economic issue that comes along with having these kinds of conditions in the area,” the councilmember said, explaining that he and community members have been attempting to revitalize the area and bring businesses there. “And, unfortunately, when you have corridors with this kind of land use,” Neal said, “it deters other folks from wanting to be in the area.”
According to figures provided by Neal and Austin, there are about 180 businesses that are considered to be Type 21 and can sell beer, wine and other spirits. This number includes convenience, grocery and drug stores. Neal criticized the higher concentration of liquor markets in his north Long Beach district. The ninth district has 18 Type 21 liquor stores that don’t fall into the category of convenience, grocery and drug stores. Each of the other districts has only between seven to 15 stores, according to figures provided by the offices of Neal and Austin. Many of these Type 21 liquor stores aren’t operating with a conditional-use permit, and Austin and Neal explained in their memorandum that many of these businesses opened during a time when the City was not imposing “meaningful regulatory conditions on their operation.” They explained in their memo that new liquor markets of this type are now required to get conditional-use permits.
Last week, the Long Beach City Council submitted a request to the Planning Commission that asked for a review of the current zoning regulations pertaining to Type 21 liquor markets. The Council asked the Commission to look at the possibility of developing performance standards for these kinds of Type 21 liquor stores and/or requiring a conditional-use permit. They also asked the Planning Commission, at the initiative of Councilmembers Neal and Austin, to create a pilot study that targets the north Long Beach area.
It’s an attempt to find a way to improve the liquor market facilities, not do away with them altogether, a point that both Austin and Neal emphasize.
“Remember we do want to take into consideration that. . .folks are making a living off of this,” Neal said in a telephone interview Tuesday, “but we also want to address the deafening concerns of the residents of the community.”
In their memo, both councilmembers requested that the Planning Commission consider offering financial incentives to business owners who are willing to comply early with the conditional-use permit or whatever development standards are in force. The pilot study’s scope of standards has yet to be determined by the Commission. Right now, it is up to the City’s development department to put the matter on the Planning Commission’s agenda to consider what can be done. Robert Zur Schmiede, who serves as the deputy director of the city’s development department, confirmed that no time standard has been set for the Commission to review the options.
Austin emphasized the need for standards to be in place in the north Long Beach area. In his interview, the eighth district councilmember said that he had seen glass pipes, drug paraphernalia and realistic toy guns for sale in liquor stores. When asked if he had thought about eventually expanding regulations to include “head shops,” stores that sell tobacco items and drug paraphernalia, Austin replied that the issue is with liquor stores and emphasized the liquor stores’ negative impact on the neighborhoods.
“Now I’m not advocating shutting down every liquor store,” Austin said.“I don’t think that would be an ideal situation either, but I do think that we need to send a message to all business owners that…they have a responsibility beyond just selling whatever the market demands…. They have a responsibility to be good neighbors.”
The two North Long Beach residents recognize the value of having a market in the community. They discussed how improvements could be made to the facilities. Walker, who also serves as the co-president of the Houghton Park Neighborhood Council, emphasized how the lighting could be improved both inside and outside the store. In his Tuesday interview, he stressed the importance of having a store owner embrace the community and that he hoped the liquor store owners would conduct their businesses more like markets.
“The goal isn’t really to seem anti-small business,” Walker added. “The goal really is just to make businesses become good stewards of their community, and for the longest time they have not been.”
Wilson, who also serves on the College Square Neighborhood Association, agreed. She described in a telephone interview on Tuesday how newer markets had nicer façades, how parking areas are better, and how placement of the alcoholic beverages in the stores were more suited to those who weren’t drinkers.
Wilson was asked whether she had thought about how she would respond to the liquor-business owners who might resist change and may say that the liquor stores happen to be located in places with lots of crime.
“We want the pride of ownership,” Wilson said, explaining that many of the businesses owners may not live in the community and don’t exhibit that pride of ownership and are thinking about making a profit.
She also emphasized the importance of focusing the on north Long Beach.
“We want to send the message to our residents that the city does care about us because at this point, we feel as though we’re the stepchildren,” Wilson said. “We’re the forgotten child of the city. And that needs to change. That mindset needs to change.”