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Lodi struggles to slow liquor license outpour

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Posted: Friday, May 30, 2003 10:00 pm

In Lodi, there's apparently more than enough alcohol to go around.

At least that's the assessment of the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

The department, which regulates the number of licenses allowed in jurisdictions based on population, reports that Lodi currently has 54 active off-sale wine and beer licenses, or more than twice the suggested amount.

This includes grocery stores, mini-marts, liquor stores and gas stations, for example, that sell liquor to be consumed somewhere other than at the outlet.

Liquor license list

Following is a list of liquor licenses available through the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control:

Beer Manufacturer/Large Brewery:The sale of beer to any person holding a license authorizing the sale of beer, and to consumers for consumption on or off the manufacturer's licensed premises. May conduct beer tastings under specified conditions. Minors are allowed on the premises.

Winegrower/Winery:The sale of wine and brandy to any person holding a license authorizing the sale of wine and brandy, and to consumers for consumption off the premises where sold. May conduct winetastings under prescribed conditions. Minors are allowed on the premises.

Off-Sale Beer & Wine:The sale of beer and wine for consumption off the premises. Minors allowed.

Off-Sale General:The sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits for consumption off the premises where sold. Minors allowed.

Small Beer Manufacturer/Micro-brewery:The same privileges and restrictions as a large brewery.

On-Sale Beer/Bar or Tavern:The sale of beer for consumption on or off the premises where sold. No wine or distilled spirits may be on the premises. Full meals are not required; however, sandwiches or snacks must be available. Minors allowed.

On-Sale Beer & Wine/Restaurant:The sale of beer and wine for consumption on or off the premises. Distilled spirits may not be on the premises (except brandy, rum, or liqueurs for use solely for cooking purposes). Must operate and maintain the licensed premises as a bona fide eating place. Must make actual and substantial sales of meals, during the normal meal hours that they are open, at least five days a week.

On-Sale Beer & Wine/Public Premises:The sale of beer and wine for consumption on or off the premises. No distilled spirits may be on the premises. Minors are not allowed to enter and remain, and food service is not required.

On-Sale General/Restaurant:The sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits for consumption on the licensed premises. Authorizes the sale of beer and wine for consumption off the licensed premises. Must operate and maintain the licensed premises as a bona fide eating place.

On-Sale General/Bar Or Night Club :The sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits for consumption on the premises where sold. Authorizes the sale of beer and wine for consumption off the premises where sold. Minors are not allowed to enter and remain. Food service is not required.

On-Sale General/Seasonal:Same privileges and restrictions as provided for a regular license except it is issued for a specific season. Inclusive dates of operation are listed on the license certificate.

With a current population of 60,000, Lodi should only have 24, according to ABC. The statewide standard dictates that there should be one license for every 2,500 residents.

What, if anything, should be done about it?

The city's community development director, Konradt Bartlam, wants the city to set a cap on the number of use permits it allows. While ABC allocates liquor licenses, it can not do so without business owners first obtaining a use permit from the Lodi Planning Commission.

"What we're looking for is some policy and direction," Bartlam told council members at a meeting last week. "Do you think we should have a limit set?"

Councilman John Beckman says no, while Vice Mayor Emily Howard says yes. But Councilman Larry Hansen says maybe.

Lodi wants to examine the number of liquor licenses and their Eastside concentration because of reported crime and the potential for more.

While it provides recommendations on how many can be in use in any city, ABC can only mandate that a new applicant obtain a license from somewhere else within the specific county.

For example, a new business owner wanting to sell alcohol in an area where the concentration is already high would be required by ABC to get his or her license from another city.

At least three and maybe four businesses are expected to apply to Lodi for use permits in a matter of weeks, Bartlam said.

One, the large Eastside grocery store planned to be built on Cherokee Lane in the former bowling alley, made its application this week.

But this is not the first time the issue has come up, Bartlam said.

In 1993, when Hansen was police chief, members of the Eastside Improvement Committee started to fight back against what they felt were too many liquor-related businesses moving in.

Two years later, the city successfully lobbied Hansen to formally request the ABC to revoke a number of liquor licenses in the area.

Hansen said the quantity of licenses in Lodi goes hand in hand with the city's higher-than-normal driving under the influence infractions.

When compared with other cities with populations between 50,000 and 100,000, Lodi was ranked by the state Office of Traffic Safety at the top of the list for injury and fatal accidents involving alcohol. Because of those figures, the Lodi Police Department applied for and received a state grant in 2001 to hold monthly checkpoints looking for drivers under the influence.

"But I really am torn on this," Hansen said at last week's council meeting regarding limiting the number of liquor licenses.

"I agree with letting people develop their own property," he said.

That is Beckman's issue.

"It's one of those nasty little issues with telling people what they can do on their private property," he said Friday.

"We want to protect the property owner, but we also want to protect the neighborhood.

"I want to encourage free enterprise … until it rises to the level of a nuisance."

City Manager Dixon Flynn said residents expressed concerns a few years ago when the topic came up.

"At that time, the people on the Eastside felt the availability of alcohol was not proportional throughout the city," he said.

"The public needs to come in and have their voices heard. That may limit the number (of liquor licenses) we have on the Eastside."

Eastside advocate Virginia Snyder worries about the high concentration in the area.

"I know throughout the Eastside you're seeing more and more liquor stores with bars on the windows and garish signs inside," she said.

"It denotes this is an unsafe neighborhood."

About 10 years ago, residents started fighting back when groups of people began loitering on corners where alcohol was sold and property owners found empty booze bottles on their lawns.

"It's a huge problem, and it's just contributing to the downturn of this side of town," Snyder said.

Between April 1, 2002, and Sept. 29, 2002, there were 724 police reports related to businesses holding off-sale licenses, according to a city study. Of those, 127 involved alcohol or drugs.

Cherokee Lane, specifically, had 12 active licenses during that same time period, the city reported. Those sites generated 168 incidents with 22 percent involving alcohol or drugs.

Police Chief Jerry Adams said he favors a cap placed on the number of liquor-related use permits.

"I know there are lots of communities around California that have done that," he said. "I know in the past, we have opposed the issuance of liquor licenses because of a concentration.

"We have to ask ourselves, 'Is it a police department issue, or a planning issue?' We have to look at how the number of licenses and the type of business affects calls for service."

Since liquor licenses are granted by the state, cities do not typically keep track of how many are in use within their city limits unless it is tied to a use permit, like it is in Lodi.

In Galt, for example, no use permit is required to operate a business that sells alcohol.

Representatives from the city's Police Department, Planning Department and the Finance Department did not know how many ABC licenses were currently is use.

Stockton, too, does not keep its own figures on hand, said Matt Robinson, city spokesman.

San Joaquin County figures were unavailable from ABC on Friday.

While some may think the high number of liquor licenses in Lodi is reflective of the city's wine connection, business owners who operate wineries or wine cellars fall under a different license, according to ABC.

In the end, the city council last week could not decide last week whether to cap the number of liquor licenses allowed in Lodi.

Both Howard and Councilman Keith Land wanted to set the limit at 54, but the motion failed 2-2 last Wednesday. Howard asked the issue come back when Mayor Susan Hitchcock is in attendance.

It is tentatively scheduled to be discussed at a Tuesday morning Shirtsleeve Session in June.

In the meantime, without a cap, Bartlam said each use permit would have to be scrutinized on a case-by-case basis, but he would recommend against issuing permits because of what he termed an "over-concentration."

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