City of El Cajon initiates plan to crack down on liquor sales

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The city of El Cajon has initiated a plan for cracking down on the sale of liquor that is defined as off-site sales.
This refers to alcoholic beverages that are intended to be consumed away from their place of purchase. Sellers in the off-site category would include markets and especially liquor stores.

As the city abounds with an excessively high and concentrated number of liquor stores, on Jan. 22, El Cajon’s City Council voted unanimously to pass an initiative that would allow for a full review of the city’s policies on liquor sales. 

The city of El Cajon has initiated a plan for cracking down on the sale of liquor that is defined as off-site sales.
This refers to alcoholic beverages that are intended to be consumed away from their place of purchase. Sellers in the off-site category would include markets and especially liquor stores.

As the city abounds with an excessively high and concentrated number of liquor stores, on Jan. 22, El Cajon’s City Council voted unanimously to pass an initiative that would allow for a full review of the city’s policies on liquor sales. 

The initiative would include a possible city ordinance that would penalize existing businesses that are deemed culpable in creating a public nuisance. This ordinance would work in accordance with a conditional use permit that would target and penalize these vendors.

El Cajon City Councilman Gary Kendrick is leading this initiative. In his report to the City Council, Kendrick noted that the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control “has alerted the city that we have an overconcentration of off-site sale liquor licenses for a city this size, and they consequently have placed El Cajon into a moratorium category.”

As the city has grown in size, so have its problems. Some of its noted problems can be attributed to alcohol abuse. Kendrick reminisced about a time when there were relatively few liquor stores in El Cajon and even fewer numbers of homeless people. Those days have significantly changed, however, bringing the issue to the attention of legislative interests and concerns.

“I remember when I was a child and my mother used to take me shopping in downtown El Cajon. It was an entirely different place back then,” Kendrick stated. He expressed the need to overhaul El Cajon’s alcohol-related policies stating that the city has been struggling with the issue for the past 30 years, and it begs for accountability through serious and timely reform.

Kendrick proposes the introduction of a “deemed-approved ordinance.” This type of ordinance is presently in use in other cities in California, but would be new to San Diego County. Kendrick stated, “The ordinance has been very successful in other jurisdictions. Presently it’s in use in 20 cities in California, having started in Oakland in 1994.

The City Council voted to go forward with reviewing the ordinance, and it will come up for a vote to implement it on Feb. 28. If it passes, it then gets sent to the Planning Commission.

As it relates to alcohol sales, the ordinance would hold existing alcohol sellers accountable to performance standards. Non-compliance to the outlined standards would result in being reported to the city and police department.

These performance-based standards aim to curtail incidents of selling alcoholic beverages to minors, public drunkenness, public consumption of alcoholic beverages, lewd conduct, disturbing the peace, vandalism, battery, curfew violations, sale of stolen goods, harassment of passers-by, prostitution, gambling, theft, assault and other criminal activity stemming from alcohol abuse.

Failure to comply with the ordi­­nance would result in the sus­­pension or revocation of an existing business’ license. Additionally, the ordinance would serve to screen future requests for licenses.
Kendrick explained, “The ordinance would include setting up rules for outlets without creating a public nuisance. It would also address the issue of outlets that don’t have a conditional use permit and are grandfathered in.”

“The city is in a moratorium imposed by the state because we have too many liquor-selling outlets. What brought this to our attention was a former liquor store that lost its license for selling narcotics, and they were reapplying for a license.”
“I did a lot of studies and realized the problem of outlets on the do-not-sell list, outlets selling to serial inebriants and teens. I want to clean up this city,” Kendrick added.

El Cajon passed its tobacco license ordinance in 2005. The deemed-approved ordinance for alcohol sales would be a similar approach aimed at reining in a situation that the council has found to be out of control.

Referring to the ordinance, Kendrick stated, “The council wants to craft it like the tobacco ordinance. We want to eventually implement sting operations that crack down on outlets that sell to serial inebriants and teens. We have a chance to clean up El Cajon and make it a family friendly community again,” he concluded.

Based on the success of the city’s tobacco ordinance, which has reduced the incidence of stores selling tobacco to minors from a whopping 43 percent to less than one percent, the council is looking forward to a similar outcome by cracking down on problems stemming from alcohol abuse.

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