El Cajon's efforts to combat public drunkenness include a "Do Not Sell Alcohol List.” The lists — with names and photos of what authorities refer to as "serial inebriates" or "habitual drunkards" — have been created by the police and distributed to liquor-store owners for a couple years.
"As a business owner, it doesn't really help when someone comes in and says, 'Did you know there's a guy passed out in your parking lot?'" said Christina Park, who runs a tax-consultancy business and was a part of the community effort to create El Cajon’s tough liquor law that was enacted in 2013.
El Cajon’s liquor law enables the city to cancel or restrict liquor licenses of businesses that sell alcohol to minors or drunken people. The law also prevents the sale of single-serving containers, sweetened alcohol products, and small airplane bottles of hard liquor.
The do-not-sell lists, however, are not part of the law but are what police captain Jeff Arvan called an "educational tool" provided to the liquor stores.
"These are people who have the most significant history of public drunkenness," Arvan said of the people who end up on the list.
The city attorney for El Cajon, Morgan Foley, said he had never heard of the lists. "There is no such thing as a do-not-sell list," he said initially.
When told that the lists are provided to the liquor stores by the police department, Foley said, "It's a list that somebody put together that we do not condone. The city does not authorize it," he said. “From a legal standpoint it does not exist…. We don't use it in prosecutions."
Police chief Jeff Davis said "that doesn't surprise me" that the city attorney did not know about the list.
"If we were forcing something on somebody, I'd get a legal opinion on that, but they [the liquor stores] are asking for it…. They got tired of the police department saying, ‘Why did you sell to that guy?'"
Davis said the lists were made by request of the liquor-store owners and are based on arrest records.
"We provide that for them," he said, and the list includes "folks who cause the most problems."
"We are not saying they can't sell it to them," Davis added, "but if you sell it to them, it's going to start causing problems."
Liquor-store owner Jimmy Loussia of Country Wine & Spirits said, "If anybody is on the list, we don't sell it."
He said, "Some of them complain, ‘We are citizens, what do they have against us?’” Loussia said he tells serial inebriates to take their complaints to the authorities. “’If they take you off the list, I'll sell it to you.’”
El Cajon mayor Bill Wells said liquor stores have been regulated for decades primarily by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which he said is "underfunded and understaffed." Wells said before the 2013 law "the city [had] very little regulatory function."
Wells said El Cajon started sending in decoys to the liquor stores to see if the store would sell alcohol to minors and found "about 27 percent of those stores sold to minors."
As a result of the recent efforts, "Now we're virtually finding nobody selling alcohol to minors,” Wells said. "We saw our drunk-in-public arrests go down significantly."
When the law was passed in 2013, "immediately we were sued" by local convenience-store owners, but the case was dismissed earlier this year and "we prevailed," Wells said. "We think it reduces crime, public drunkenness, violence...it's really helped the city."
The police chief agreed. "It's good for the community,” Davis said. “It does nothing but bring attention to a problem and ask for accountability to [alcoholic beverage control] laws."
About the do-not-sell lists, Martin of Fletcher Hills Bottle Shop (who declined to give his last name), said, “It's pretty smart, so we can avoid these people who trash the city and get the drunk people off the street.”