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Fresno wants to shrink number of liquor stores. Here's how city plans to do it

The Fresno Bee - 10/16/2020

Oct. 15--The Fresno City Council adopted a new policy Thursday touted as a way to water down liquor store-saturated areas and encourage new grocery markets.

The Responsible Neighborhood Market Act was supported vocally by residents of southwest Fresno and some from one of the city's wealthy developments in the Copper River Country Club area.

The council voted 6-1 with Councilmember Mike Karbassi voicing the only dissenting vote.

Fresno averages a liquor store for every 1,000 residents, much higher than the state average of one per 2,500 people, according to numbers from Fresno city staffers. In some ZIP codes in southwest Fresno, the ratio is as high as one liquor store per 500 residents.

"I've heard it for the last six years and even my time before council, families want us to prioritize investments that improve quality of life," Councilmember Esmeralda Soria said in support of the act.

It's with the saturation of alcohol sales -- including single-serving sales of malt liquor and airplane-style booze -- and the work of youth advocates in south Fresno that the ordinance came forward, according to Councilmember Luis Chavez.

The sales often lead to public intoxication and blight, Chavez said. The idea is to try to add markets while squeezing out the kind of shops that sell liquor and junk food.

"We want neighborhood markets that have fresh fruits and vegetables and amenities like other parts of the state," he said.

Advocates and residents of southwest neighborhoods said they are concerned alcoholism only adds to the violence that already plagues low-income neighborhoods that see gang activity.

Southwest Fresno advocate Rod Wade said the community needs fewer liquor stores to give it a chance to succeed. "It's like they're setting us up," he said. "They're killing us."

Some of Fresno's wealthiest neighborhoods also threw their support behind the plan. Copper River resident Mehri Barati said the corner where Copper River Drive meets Friant Road has seen its problems with stores and DUIs.

"In Copper River we're facing potentially four. Not one, not two, not three -- four new liquor stores," she said. "The health and safety of our families should be the priority in policy making."

What does it do?

The act makes it so new grocery stores that would sell alcohol are required to acquire more than one liquor license transferred from another user with the intent of canceling all but one of them. For example, a store of more than 30,000 square feet would need to get four licenses transferred from other license holders and cancel three of them.

The transfer process does not apply to a license holder who is moving locations.

The city will not approve any new licenses that would exceed a ratio of one liquor store for 2,500 residents, according to the act.

New businesses will not be allowed single sales other than craft beer sold in 22-ounce bottles, often called "bombers." There is no change to single sales for existing license holders.

Chavez said he is drawing up language to be added to the act that would allow the council discretion on waiving requirements that are too burdensome on new markets. During the same council meeting, the council adopted a plan to waive impact fees through 2022 for new grocery stores opening in underprivileged areas.

Who is against it?

Granville Homes builder Darius Assemi said he was afraid the new act would burden anyone trying to open a market in good faith. He stressed "I despise liquor stores."

Other speakers at Thursday's meeting said the ordinance does not address the real problem of banning the single-sale of items like malt liquor and spirits sold in bottles of just a few ounces.

Karbassi said bringing markets into blighted corners is a tool for cleaning up those areas, and shrinking the number of liquor licenses would only drive up the cost.

"It gives a monopoly to liquor stores in saturated areas while blocking markets from going in," he said.

Of the people who spoke publicly, an overwhelming number supported the new act, calling alcohol a poison in their neighborhoods.

Southwest Fresno resident Orlando Hopkins was applauded after he repeated himself fives times. "We don't need no more liquor stores in southwest Fresno."


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