In Looking To Stem Drunkenness Barstow Considers Banning Small Booze Bottles

BARSTOW — A century after several communities in the High Desert went dry in the years prior to the onset of Prohibition in 1919, the City of Barstow is looking to again ban liquor, not in large measure but in small measures.
Under the proposal advanced and considered but not yet given the planning commission’s imprimatur is that those of the age of majority will still be permitted to buy intoxicating beverages, as long as they do so in quantities of 12.68 ounces (375 milliliters) or greater.
Twice this month, the planning commission considered, but ultimately receded from, adopting a proposed amendment to the municipal code dealing with conditional use permits for liquor stores and stores in general that would prohibit operators from offering for sale bottles of distilled spirits in containers containing less than the aforementioned 375 milliliters.
The planning commission focused on the issue at its May 9 and May 23 meetings, a year after the proposal was first floated. And though the restriction, as was expected, ran into rather stiff opposition from those who make their way in the world as purveyors of alcoholic beverages, the possibility remains the planning commission and eventually the city council will revisit the issue.
On April 25, 2016, the city’s rules and policy committee directed city staff to devise an ordinance directed toward the regulation of what was termed “Off-Sale Alcoholic Beverage Sales.” This was the second time the city took the matter up, following a proposed ordinance originally initiated in 2015 from the city attorney’s office at the request of the rules and policy committee.
According to a staff report “The city is in an area determined to be ‘over-concentrated’ by the Alcoholic Beverage Control department. What this means is that the city has more off-sale (for consumption off-premises) liquor licenses than the average established by the state. This is calculated based upon the ratio of licenses per population for each census tract. For instance, when there is a mix of Type 20 (off-sale beer and wine) and Type 21 (off-sale general, including distilled spirits), it is one license for each 1,500 persons. In Census Tract 93, where there is a population of 1,257, there is one liquor selling outlet, which meets the state recommended standard, per the population. Census Tract 94, with a population of 3,493, is most of that area north of Main Street, from Interstate 15 to just beyond Highway 58, a distance of approximately 5 ¾ miles. Along that stretch there are 11 alcohol-selling outlets, which exceeds by nine the state recommended standard of two.
Census Tract 95 located in the central part of the city, with a population of 7,094, has 15 outlets in an area where five are deemed appropriate. Census Tract 118, on the southwestern side of the city with a population of 7,000, has eight liquor-selling retail stores in an area where the state’s recommendation is that there be five. In Census Tract 120, with a population of 7,020 on the southern side of the city, sports 12 alcohol outlets where the state says five would suffice.
“It should also be noted that Barstow is not typical of other cities,” the staff report states. “As Barstow is considered a disadvantaged city, vehicular transportation is not readily available to some of the population. Therefore, there are a number of convenience stores throughout the Barstow area, especially along Main Street. These are, in many instances, located within walking distance of many residential areas. In addition, there is a tremendous amount of freeway traffic along the I-15 and I-40, and an off-highway recreational area at the Outlet Center Drive off-ramp. There are a lot of individuals that will buy their items here, whether it is for the weekend camping as part of the off-highway vehicle area, or on their way to the river.
Another factor is that Barstow is the supporting city for much of the surrounding area. Regardless, it appears that Barstow has an overconcentration of off-sale licenses, and a mechanism is necessary to help regulate how many, and where additional licenses are going to be located. This ordinance gives the city a better tool to either approve or deny such licenses.”
At the May 9, 2016 Planning Commission Meeting, the commission tabled the item, directing staff to contact the business owners for their feedback. A total of 48 letters were mailed out on May 11, 2016 to the various businesses, with a link to the planning department’s website for the draft ordinance. A number of the operators of local retail establishments which rely to some degree on alcohol sales were on hand at the May 23 planning commission meeting. The upshot of their input was that a significant percentage of the sales that keep them in operation consisted of the 375-milliliter “hip flash” containers as well as the 50-milliliter “airline bottles” which have become popular with consumers in recent years. Store operators said their bottom line would be impacted, in some cases to the point that it might drive them out of business, by the ordinance if it passes. Some suggested that the city, if it adopted the new policy, would give an unfair advantage to “big box stores,” forcing the exodus of mom and pop operations.
Also on hand were members of a group calling itself the “Safe Coalition,” who want the city to do all it can to discourage wanton drunkenness in town. There rationale in supporting the restriction on the purchase of small portions of alcohol is that it will keep it away from alcoholics who measure their lives out drink by drink. Additionally, they reason, the lack of availability of smaller containers of alcohol for sale would make it harder for the constantly besotted to panhandle sufficient funds to make a stopgap alcohol purchase.
Some of the store owners suggested that the proposed new restriction would have the diametrically opposite effect of its intent, forcing those who have a hankering for just a single drink or a single shot to buy their booze in quantities that will lead to heavier indulgence. “If I limit the size of the bottles, [a] person can’t get a single shot,” said store owner Ben Fedrick. “They’ll go get the largest size. You are sending the message no, don’t have one shot, have 20.”
One of the most respected entrepreneurs in town, Barstow Station owner Ben Rosenberg, said anti-alcohol crusaders, their allies at City Hall and store owners should “hash out their differences” before codifying any new regulations.
After planning commissioner Bea Lint called for tabling the item in favor of having all parties hold discussions to determine what the best route was to achieve the goal of limiting profligate alcohol consumption as advocated by some of the Safe Coalition activists without placing onerous limitations on the business community, the commission, with commissioner Andrew Ziemer absent and commisoner Marilyn Dyer-Kruse dissenting, voted 3-1 to again table the item.
In the meantime, according to city planner Mike Massimini, the city will not grant any further off-site conditional use permits beyond those already in place until a final decision on the proposed amendment is made.

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