City leaders concentrate on push to regulate north Long Beach liquor stores

<strong>CJ Dablo/Signal Tribune This August, the Long Beach City Council will consider an ordinance that will ultimately require the owners of specific types of liquor stores to make key upgrades to their buildings and signage. If the ordinance is approved, city staff will begin implementation in north Long Beach, and owners of shops like this one on Atlantic Avenue will be notified of the new requirements.  </strong>
CJ Dablo
Staff Writer

The liquor stores are all over Long Beach. Their neighborhoods may have changed, but the ubiquitous shops that claimed their own spots on the city landscape decades ago weren’t required to change much. Unlike other new businesses that moved into the city later, many of these stores weren’t required to apply for a conditional-use permit that allows them to sell beer, wine and other distilled spirits.
A proposed ordinance that targets the small liquor stores that carry what’s called the “Type 21” licenses is scheduled to be reviewed by the City Council in August.
Supported by a number of residents and neighborhood advocates who are deeply critical of the number of liquor stores throughout the city and especially on the north end of town, city councilmembers from north Long Beach raised the concern that these shops are attracting the wrong kind of attention. Complaints of loitering, public fighting, drunkenness and a host of other problems that occupy police resources are often associated with the liquor stores, according to staff reports.
Two Long Beach city councilmembers hope to address the problem of crime by requiring that store owners make significant improvements to their buildings and commit to keeping their property clean and safe. Ninth District Councilmember Steven Neal, who co-sponsored the proposed ordinance with 8th District Councilmember Al Austin, says that the overall concentration of liquor stores in Long Beach does not create an atmosphere that is conducive to economic development, and economic development is badly needed in his region.
“If we’re ever going to improve infrastructure and the real quality of life for our residents,” Neal said in a telephone interview last week, “[we] have to be able to draw businesses to the area because there is no more land. So we have to clean up the land that we have.”
Neal stressed the urgency of moving forward with the ordinance. He said that north Long Beach is about to experience a number of positive changes in the next 12 to 36 months.
“By not addressing this [the liquor store issue],” Neal said, “it could curtail some of the future development that we anticipate is going to be coming to north Long Beach.”
The ordinance will specifically target the smaller shops that sell beer, wine and distilled spirits that have been legally operating for years without the need for a conditional-use permit. They are still subject to state regulations governing the sale of alcohol, but as far as the City was concerned, the shops enjoyed “grandfather” status for years. Shops weren’t required to apply for a conditional-use permit because they were established prior to 1988, the year that the City decided to require these permits and enforce performance standards on stores that sell alcohol, according to a staff report. Larger convenience stores, pharmacies and bigger grocery stores are exempt from this proposed ordinance. Restaurants that serve alcohol also won’t be affected by this ordinance.
According to a staff report presented at the May Planning Commission meeting, if the staff plan is fully approved by the Council, enforcement will be completed in phases. Because north Long Beach has been shown to have a higher concentration of liquor stores, the efforts to implement the plan will begin in the entire region north of Del Amo Boulevard before the ordinance is enforced in the rest of the city.
If the ordinance is approved, letters will be sent to more than 30 north Long Beach liquor stores. City staff will notify the owners in an on-site visit to review specific changes that will need to be completed within 90 days of notice. Those changes could involve installation of security cameras on the building exterior that could be accessed by the police department, improvement of the lighting, changing the building signs, and ensuring that nothing is blocking the view through the store’s windows and glass doors. Overall, the proposed ordinance specifically asks that owners maintain a clean and safe environment that doesn’t present any safety or nuisance issues to the surrounding area. The ordinance does not regulate the sale of alcohol.
”Our goal is not to hurt existing businesses,” Neal said, but the councilmember added that the needs of the constituents have to be addressed. Both Neal and Austin have emphasized in previous interviews that this is an attempt to improve the facilities, not to do away with them altogether.
However, city staff explained at the May 16 Planning Commission meeting that, if this ordinance is passed, there will be repercussions for business owners who don’t comply with the performance standards. Staff described briefly the possible consequences for those businesses that ultimately refuse to comply with the requirements that go along with the so-called Alcohol Nuisance Abatement Ordinance (ANAO). If the shop owners don’t comply with these new performance standards in accordance with the proposed ANAO, they are still given a few opportunities to meet the requirements. They could even appeal their status. If they still fail to comply after they have undergone the enforcement process, the owners do risk losing the ability to continue to sell alcohol and might have to file for a conditional-use permit to sell liquor. That permit would have to be approved by the City Council.
City staff told the Planning Commission that they have received mostly positive feedback from the community and the liquor-store owners.
However, one owner of a shop in north Long Beach appeared before the May Planning Commission to voice his own concerns.
“I put my life savings on this store,” he said, “and I’m afraid somebody [will] use this as a pretext to get rid of the store in that area.” He added that he had no issues with complying with the requirements the staff outlined at the meeting, however, he didn’t like the possibility that the City could revoke his license. He felt that citations would be sufficient. He said that the City was discriminating against liquor stores and suggested that the City should ask the other kinds of shops to adhere to the same standards.
One other owner agrees that generally, the performance standards seem to be reasonable. Ed Snow, the original owner of Eddie’s Liquor at 299 Artesia Blvd., said in a telephone interview that his store already meets the requirements. He read over the general list outlined in the staff report, noting the requirements to keep a clean area, to ensure that the windows aren’t blocked and for the installation of cameras that are linked to the police department.
“We already do that. It’s part of doing good business,” he said. Snow originally owned the store in 1973, but in the last few years his son has taken over the family business. However, Snow is critical of the City’s decision to target only those stores that carry a Type 21 license.
“I would think it would be just as effective if they target all alcoholic licenses,” Snow said, wondering aloud why the City didn’t also target the numerous stores that sell only beer and wine. “I don’t know what they are trying to accomplish.”
He said that the majority of his store’s sales are from groceries; liquor only makes up about 10 percent of his sales.
A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Aug. 6 during the City Council meeting.

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