The El Cajon City Council on August 27 unanimously adopted an ordinance to regulate the sale of alcohol that is consumed offsite. The law established a system that starts with a warning, and could lead to fines and revocation of the City permit now required for all retailers selling alcoholic beverages.
Furthermore, new businesses that sell alcohol in small stores (under 10,000 square feet) could only open in areas where the crime rate isn’t high and the state allows more alcohol sales. Currently, those areas are Fletcher Hills and Granite Hills. Larger stores such as a supermarket could open anywhere because they offer more goods and services.
El Cajon is the first city in the county to adopt a "deemed approved" ordinance; a regulation approved in cities including San Francisco and Oakland.
The council vote followed two hours of public comment, primarily by supporters who maintained the law that takes effect November 1 would end alcohol sales to "serial inebriates" and teenagers. Opponents claimed that the law targets small businesses.
City manager Douglas Williford said existing business owners have the "freedom to operate lawfully." Most businesses do and "have nothing to fear," he said.
Police chief Jim Redman said efforts to resolve problems included attempts to curb problems caused by "chronic drunkards" on Second Street.
Redman said during April and May, police discovered that people on the city's "Do not Sell" list bought alcohol at five stores. Furthermore, an underage decoy attempted to buy alcohol at 11 stores, and succeeded three times.
During the hearing, people spoke about single-servings containers such as 50-ml "airline bottles." Resident Rob Hall displayed two plastic bags of empty bottles that he found while walking. He said the homeless favored brandy, vodka, or tequila. Teenagers consumed schnapps in flavors like banana and grape. "They get their drunk on for under $2," Hall said.
Property manager Mario Tilaro said that while he was out of town a year ago, tenants discovered a landing "used as a toilet." A tenant called a company to remedy the situation, and "I got a bill for $1100 for cleaning up hazardous waste."
Ramzi Murad, Chaldean American Association vice-president, acknowledged problems, saying that he had a store on Second Street. He objected to the exclusion of larger stores from regulations. "Whether it's 10,000 or 100,000 square feet, that doesn't stop the homeless," said Murad, past chairman of the Neighborhood Market Association.
Association president Mark Paul Arabo called El Cajon's law an "overreach" and said, "If someone sells to minors, they should be put out of business."
He added that association members didn't own three stores named by Redman as violators. He noted that members own markets and gas stations. "Let's work together," he said.
In an interview, Elizabeth Diaz spoke about "40 Days of Hope for Second Street." In the days leading up to August 4, people walked there and prayed. "We heard the cries of the business people and [observed] the pitiful states of the homeless," Diaz said. Participants also tried to connect homeless people with the East County Transitional Living Center.
Organizers included Councilman Bill Wells, according to news reports.