Would you rather certain businesses not be in your community, or perhaps restricted to certain conditions before being granted a permit?
Sure you would. You wouldn’t want a strip club near a day care center, a pot shop near a school, or a bar near a church. OK, the bar near the church might be desirable.
In most communities, many businesses can acquire a permit, no questions asked. But many cities, including Sacramento, also have a list of business categories that can be flash points for residents: medical marijuana facilities, nightclubs, porn shops, card rooms, check-cashing operations. Even a seemingly benign Starbucks might be denied a downtown storefront permit to protect the local coffee shop.
Businesses in these conditional use permit categories typically undergo an extra layer of scrutiny. While cities might approve that permit, it’s often under certain conditions. Starbucks is welcome, but not near downtown. Is that unreasonable if that’s the community standard?
Then why the rumpus over Sacramento’s decision last Tuesday to add a 15th business to its list: gun shops.
In a 7-1 vote, the Sacramento City Council approved the requirement of a conditional use permit for any new gun shop wishing to locate within city limits.
Unfair? Why? Aren’t there places where gun shops shouldn’t be located? Folsom, for example, requires that gun shops be at least 500 feet from residences and 1,000 feet from schools. Sacramento had no such restriction.
Gun advocates, who sometimes behave as if being oppressed is a genetic proclivity, railed against the new Sacramento ordinance.
Gene Hoffman, chairman of the California-based Second Amendment advocacy group Calguns Foundation, told the online Sacramento Press, “If you can place a bookstore there, you can place a gun store there.”
“Firearms are a product with an inherent risk,” Councilman Kevin McCarty said. “Some locations make a lot of sense while others probably aren’t a good fit.”
Like near a school or a church, I asked?
“Something like that, yeah,” he said. “Next to a bar. Next to a nightclub.”
Would a gun shop next to bar or nightclub be prudent? Hoffman didn’t respond to my request for an interview, but whether you think bookstores and gun shops are apples and oranges or businesses of the same feather, it’s not your call. If you believe the council members – a big if, for some – it’s not their call, either. What matters is the community standard. If city residents don’t want gun shops located in certain places, it’s the council’s duty to reflect that.
“This is a representative government and each of the council members represents a particular community,” said Randi Knott, Sacramento’s intergovernmental relations officer. “What works in District 5 may not work in District 8.”
Some criticized the permit fee, $7,150, calling it another onerous tax on businesses, particularly businesses the council might not like. Certainly, many council members have expressed what some might call anti-gun sentiments.
But all businesses subject to conditional land-use permits pay the same fee, Knott told me. “It’s not anti-gun,” she said. “It’s saying, ‘you are not a haberdashery. You’re not selling suits to lobbyists across from the capital. You’re selling a product that makes people have pause for thought.’ The fact we’re in a very urban environment where we have residential mixed in with schools mixed with businesses, people really want a say in what opens there, and this creates a formal way for them to do it.”
“The fee doesn’t go to the city,” McCarty noted. “It’s a fee to pay for the work – the hearing, the staff, the analysis. It’s a calculated cost recovery fee.” State law prohibits municipalities from charging fees higher than the administrative cost of assessing specific pieces of city business.
Allen Warren, the lone councilman to vote against the measure, felt we have enough layers of scrutiny, including police input. “If there’s an area where the Police Department feels a gun shop would be inappropriate,” he told me, “they would make that recommendation or say they don’t support the application. We take that very seriously.”
“The police do have an opportunity to weigh in,” Knott countered, but despite their professional opinion, the neighborhood might disagree: “The police may say it’s not going be a crime problem; it still may be a neighborhood problem.”
Because it’s all about perception. “Absolutely,” Knott said. “It is subjective.”
And we might not like that perception, which could just as easily be driven by a pro-gun sentiment as an anti-gun one, but at least citizens on both sides have an opportunity to partake in the process.
Bottom line: Right or wrong, if the community feels a certain way and can exact its wishes without violating the law, the community gets what it wants.
Ya know … you could make that same argument about the downtown arena funding plan.
Bruce Maiman is a former radio host who lives in Rocklin. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.