OCEANSIDE — The upcoming opening of the downtown Walmart Neighborhood Market on Mission Avenue prompted City Council discussion on limiting alcohol sales in residential districts on Wednesday.
“The sales of alcoholic beverages has always come up as something we didn’t want as a council,” Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said. “The neighborhood has the highest saturation of liquor sales, a high crime rate, and it’s right across the street from the high school.”
The proposed zoning change by Sanchez would require grocery stores to obtain a conditional use permit for alcohol sales if stores are located within 1,000 feet of a school, park, beach, church, or childcare center.
Sanchez said this extra step would allow time for public notification and discussion before a grocery store in a residential district received a license to sell alcohol.
The usual procedure is for grocery stores to go through ABC for liquor licenses with no public process.
The Walmart Neighborhood Market is located in the Mission Square Shopping Center 500 feet across the street from Oceanside High School.
The sale of inexpensive liquor so close to the school was a concern of many speakers who said there is an alcohol problem in the neighborhood that includes underage drinking, and access to alcohol would further the problem.
“Decreasing local sales goes a long way to preventing the problem,” Erica Leary, North Coastal Prevention Coalition program manager, said. “The city can go a long way in preventing those problems or go a long way in exasperating those problems.”
There were also concerns that approval of one license to sell alcohol would open the door for more stores in the shopping center to apply for a license. The 99 Cent Only store previously applied for a license to sell liquor and was denied.
Others saw alcohol sales as a regular part of full service grocery store operations.
“We’re talking about two aisles, not a whole store,” Larry Barry, an Oceanside resident, said.
Councilmen Jerry Kern, Gary Felien and Jack Feller said the zoning change would not resolve the alcohol problem in the neighborhood or with youth. The councilmen supported efforts to curtail alcohol use by minors, but said grocery stores were not the cause of the problem.
“This is a solution in search of a problem,” Kern said. “We need to support businesses.”
Police Capt. Tom Aguigui said the police department challenges every liquor license application in order to add ABC conditions to local alcohol sales. In the case of the Walmart Neighborhood Market, the police department requested sales of alcohol be limited to the hours of 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., a certified uniformed security guard be on duty, and no single serving size be sold individually.
Aguigui said the store manager has been very cooperative and has agreed to several requests beyond ABC conditions, including not allowing more than five students in the store at a time, providing cubbies so students do not bring their backpacks inside, installing surveillance cameras, keeping liquor in the back area of the store, putting sensor tags on liquor, and requiring customers to use a pull tag system for high end liquor that calls for store employees to bring the product to the checkout line.
Aguigui said the store manager also agreed to hold a neighborhood meeting before the store opens in January to address community concerns.
In the City Council vote the zoning change failed 2-3, with Kern, Felien and Feller voting no.
Mayor Jim Wood gave Sanchez kudos for starting the discussion on reducing alcohol sales.
“The issue needs to be addressed,” Wood said. “Where there’s alcohol and drugs there’s your crime. I think Councilwoman Sanchez was on the right track. It’s a good thing to address safety in the community as a whole.”
Changes to city procedures were made to ensure city council members receive notification from the city clerk’s office when a business is applying for a license to sell alcohol.