Business & Real Estate

Sacramento says no to more liquor in Oak Park: ‘If you have alcohol, they will come’

7-Eleven sign in Kansas City.
7-Eleven sign in Kansas City.

A ban on small-store alcohol sales in Oak Park will continue after the Sacramento City Council rejected an effort to lift the prohibition Tuesday night and allow a 7-Eleven to open in the neighborhood.

The contentious 4-3 vote surprised dozens of residents who protested the plan for 22 months but thought the City Council would approve the change.

“I thought this thing was going to happen,” said Bill Motmans, a board member of the Tahoe Park Neighborhood Association.

With the vote, the city will continue to ban alcohol sales in stores less than 15,000 square feet in size along a specially designated Oak Park business corridor along Broadway and Stockton Boulevard. The city imposed the ban in 2001 in an attempt to lower crime and blight in a troubled part of town that had an overabundance of bottle shops.

When the ban was first implemented, it applied to small stores in which more than half of shelf space was devoted to alcohol. But in 2013, the city accidentally expanded the ban to stores with any space devoted to alcohol when it changed the language during an update of planning department codes.

The mistake was not discovered for years, until Frank Louie and Gloria Wong Louie decided to retire from the popular Chinese restaurant they’ve run for 27 years at the corner of Broadway and Stockton. The couple wanted to rent their space to 7-Eleven.

In exploring city requirements, the Louies discovered the 2013 code change.

City staff workers recommended correcting the ordinance back to its original intent, but community members protested. Many felt that the stricter ban has been significant in helping to reduce crime and other problems in the area, and they fought vehemently to keep the mistake in place.

Councilman Jay Schenirer has attempted for months to broker a compromise, calling it a “difficult” issue.

On Tuesday, he tried to salvage a compromise by suggesting that the ban remain in effect on Stockton Boulevard and be lifted on Broadway. Broadway is undergoing an economic renaissance with new shops and restaurants opening, while Stockton Boulevard continues to face economic challenges.

Schenirer said lifting the ban on Broadway could keep its momentum going by allowing more types of businesses. Under his proposal, stores wanting to sell alcohol would have gone through an individual permitting process that allowed neighborhood input and restrictions.

“We should let the neighborhoods decide what is best for them,” he said. “I don’t think this is about 7-Eleven and it’s not about Frank Louie. This is about a neighborhood and where they are and what they can do and not do. … It’s a little bit of laziness on the part of government to say, ‘No, you can’t do this at all’ rather than having to do the work and look at individual shops.”

Gloria Wong Louie said during Tuesday’s meeting that she had met “many wonderful people” and had “seen the corridor improve immensely” during her decades in the area, and she asked the council to support the change.

“It takes corporate and local businesses, big and small, to help a community flourish,” she said.

But Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said that while she did not want to cause a hardship for the Louies, the City Council should listen to the five neighborhood associations protesting the plan. She pointed to the contentious development in Curtis Park where some neighborhood residents have vocally opposed a proposed Safeway gas station at the site, and the council did not approve the project.

“When Curtis Park came to us and told us they felt strongly about gas, we listened to them,” she said.

Councilman Allen Warren also opposed dropping the ban. He said he did not think the area would benefit from more alcohol sales and that it could lead to problems.

“If you have alcohol, they will come,” he said.

Councilmen Larry Carr and Eric Guerra also voted against the proposal, while Vice Mayor Rick Jennings and Councilman Jeff Harris supported it.

A representative for 7-Eleven declined to comment after the meeting.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa