Sacramento County ponders new alcohol sales rules

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 17, 2013 - 8:59 am

Sacramento County officials stirred up a hornet’s nest of opposition after proposing new rules that would effectively ban liquor stores within the unincorporated areas of the county from selling single beers and small bottles of hard alcohol.

The county’s most recent version scales back the scope of the proposal by exempting existing businesses, but some of the business owners opposed to the proposed ordinance are not mollified.

“We are going to fight till the end. You can’t take away from our investment,” said Guri Kang, whose family owns 13 Sacramento County convenience stores.

County officials said they are simply seeking additional controls over alcohol sales, beyond those enforced by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The city of Sacramento is one of many municipalities and a handful of counties that have similar restrictions, county officials said. The proposed rules – set to go to the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 24 –would not affect businesses within the county’s incorporated cities.

“The unincorporated area deserves and needs some regulation regarding this,” said Leighanne Moffitt, the county’s planning director. She said the proposal didn’t originate from a single incident or from a county supervisor. Rather, it was the board’s interest in having more options beyond its ability to recommend approval or rejection of a state liquor license request.

Under the proposed rules, new bars and liquor stores would undergo a county review that would take approximately six months and cost about $13,500. According to the county, approval is likely to require no single sales of beer, restricted hours of operation and bottle size for spirits. Additional requirements could be put in place based on neighborhood concerns.

The rule would not apply to business over 12,000 square feet, such as Rite Aid stores or Wal-Mart, but would apply to large stores selling primarily alcohol, such as Beverages & More.

New restaurants would undergo a less stringent process. They would be approved by a zoning administrator, costing $1,200 and taking three to five days to complete.

Moffitt said the sale of a business would not force the new owner to undergo a review and face the new restrictions. Under the latest version of the ordinance, a major expansion, a change in type of liquor license or change of physical address would trigger a new county review.

John Carr, a spokesman for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said the state’s process already gives local authorities a significant voice.

“Every sheriff is involved. By law we have to forward the application to the local governing authority. They have the ability to provide input or protest the license. I would say they have a significant influence,” Carr said. He said there are occasions when a license is approved over the local sheriff’s objections, but such instances are not common.

The proposal as originally drafted would have resulted in a more sweeping change. Kang said single beer and small volume spirits sometimes make up nearly half of all sales at some of his stores. He wondered if the county would actually achieve its goal of regulating liquor sales if customers had to buy a sixpack of beer rather than a single large one.

“People find a way to drink,” Kang said.

Jerry Freelove, owner of Orangevale Liquor, said the county’s rationale is misguided. He said liquor stores don’t create the problem of homeless people loitering around liquor stores and eliminating the stores won’t relieve the associated problems. He said 200 to 300 of his customers have signed a petition in opposition to the county’s proposal, and he and other owners are prepared to sue, if needed.

“They are trying to blame the problem on the liquor store,” he said. “Just because it’s in a bad neighborhood doesn’t mean it’s a problem for the neighborhood.”

Call The Bee’s Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @NewsFletch

Read more articles by Ed Fletcher

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