OCEANSIDE — Walmart Neighborhood Market opened in the Mission Plaza Shopping Center on Wednesday and received happy responses from most customers. But one group still has questions for the grocery store that sells alcohol within 500 feet of a school.
Members of NCPS (North Coastal Prevention Coalition) asked city council to help them arrange a meeting with Walmart store management on Jan. 22, a week prior to the store’s opening.
Speakers expressed concern that alcohol sales occur across the street from Oceanside High School and in a high crime area.
“We have reached out to Walmart, but unfortunately they haven’t returned our calls or emails,” Aaron Byzak, NCPC board president, said at a recent meeting. “We’re asking if you can use your influence to help us meet with them, not in animosity, but to protect the community at large.”
Mayor Jim Wood assured the group City Manager Steve Jepsen, who was in attendance at the Council meeting, would help them contact Walmart, but the store’s opening day has come and gone and no meeting has been set up.
Jepsen said he did not know if the parties had scheduled a meeting.
“I don’t have any information on that meeting,” Jepsen said. “It probably hasn’t happened. That’s not saying it won’t in the future.”
To curtail problems related to alcohol sales, the police department took measures in November to add ABC conditions to the store’s liquor license.
Police Capt. Tom Aguigui said the police department requested sales of alcohol be limited to the hours from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., a certified, uniformed security guard be on duty, and no single serving size of alcohol be sold individually.
Aguigui said the store manager was very cooperative and agreed to several requests beyond the ABC conditions, including not allowing more than five students in the store at a time, providing cubbies so students do not take backpacks inside the store, and installing surveillance cameras.
Further measures promised by Walmart include keeping liquor in the back area of the store, putting sensor tags on liquor, and implementing a pull tag system for high-end liquor that requires store employees to bring the liquor to the checkout line.
Aguigui said the store manager also agreed to hold a neighborhood meeting before the store opened to address community concerns.
Some promised measures were in place on opening day.
There was a uniformed guard and undercover security guard on duty, no alcohol advertisements were placed in the front of the store, and youth entering the store were only allowed in, a few at a time.
Store manager Joe Cisneros said the store is in the process of implementing additional safeguards including placing lock caps on hard liquor, and storing high-end liquor in a locked display case.
Cisneros said the delay in having these measures in place is due to the store’s ordering and delivery schedule, and measures would be implemented next month.
Erica Leary, NCPC program manager, said she visited the grocery store on opening day just after high school dismissal and had some concerns.
She said she observed students being restricted to entering the store a few at a time as promised.
She also spotted cases of beer on display in aisles other than the designated liquor aisle.
“We had been informed that Walmart agreed to keep alcohol in a distinct area of the store, but that is not what I observed,” Leary said. “I was disappointed to see stacks of beer in different areas of the store.”
Leary added she had not heard back about a meeting with store management.
Cisneros said he was not aware a meeting had been requested.
Leary said she is still hopeful for a meeting to share NCPC concerns, hear the store’s plan to keep alcohol away from youth, and maintain an ongoing dialogue with management.
“We still believe it is not the ideal location for alcohol to be sold,” Leary said.
She added that NCPC staff would also like to share information on alcohol prevention with parents and students at the high school.
Leary stressed it’s not about Walmart selling alcohol; it’s about selling alcohol at that location.