“We’re not a liquor store, we’re a supermarket like Vons or Albertsons,” said Sami Jihad.
On July 20, a public hearing was held to decide the fate of My Market’s (4111 Home Avenue) Type 21 liquor license, which permits the sale of beer, wine, and distilled spirits for offsite consumption.
The state bureau of Alcoholic Beverage Control granted the store a Type 21 license in April of last year. At the time, My Market already had a Type 20 license, which permits the sale of only beer and wine.
In May 2015, based on a complaint, the city's code enforcement division opened a case concerning the license not having a conditional use permit, required when there's a high crime rate, oversaturation of alcohol licenses, and/or the liquor outlet is close to residences or schools.
A July 13 memo to the hearing officer documents the approval of the conditional use permit by the police department and the city.
Suggested conditions by the police included no sales of single or small containers, no alcohol advertising visible from the exterior, no video games, and the posting of a “No Loitering” sign.
The market's proximity to a Head Start preschool is one reason why the state should not have granted the license to sell hard liquor.
At the July 20 hearing, Patty Vaccariello, chair of the City Heights Area Planning Committee, reiterated what she wrote to the city on May 9 after her committee voted against the conditional use permit.
She pointed to the oversaturation of liquor licenses (three authorized, eight issued), a crime rate of 144.8% of the citywide average, the close proximity of a Head Start preschool (next door), an existing Type 21 liquor store within 450 feet (Anderson’s Market), the increasing homeless population, and a methadone clinic within one-quarter mile.
Yellow dots indicate stores with liquor licenses
Councilmember Marti Emerald’s testimony echoed five others who testified in opposition when she said, “We have to put our foot down somewhere. This isn’t a new issue. In many of our older and lower-income neighborhoods, in fact, it’s a very old issue that still hasn’t been resolved.”
A resident who lives in housing across the street from My Market testified that she calls the police at least once a week due to homeless drinking and fighting in the My Market strip mall.
One question yet to be answered by the city is why they signed a zoning affidavit in 2014 stating that a conditional use permit wasn’t necessary. This affidavit is what led to the Type 21 license being issued by the state in error. The city declined to shed light on what happened. The attorney representing Anderson’s Market said that in 15 years of assisting liquor-license applicants, he had never seen anything like it.
By far the lengthiest testimony came from Sami Jihad, representing the owner of My Market, Samim Bidi. Jihad padded his three-minute time slot to near twenty minutes by borrowing time from four to five other supporters.
Jihad started off by saying, “As far as the [conditional use permit] is concerned, everybody is saying that there was an error. There was no error! Absolutely no error!” He then said that while he agreed to go through the hearing, he didn’t have to.
Jihad then started pulling out exhibits that included letters of support and a petition with 408 signatures.
Jihad went to lengths to downplay the amount of alcohol for sale in the store by repeatedly stating, “We’re not a liquor store, we’re a supermarket like Vons or Albertsons.” He claimed that alcohol took up less than 20 percent of the 3500-square-foot market.
The hearing officer, Duke Fernandez, told Jihad that he visited My Market on July 19 and that he thought there was an excessive amount of alcohol in the store. Fernandez then asked Jihad if he had calculations as to how much square footage was devoted to alcohol. In lieu of hard numbers, Jihad talked about how competitive the store's prices are.
Fernandez then asked Vaccariello if she preferred My Market to sell hard alcohol with conditions or beer and wine without conditions. Vaccariello said she was told by city staff that My Market would have to reapply for a Type 20 license with conditions if denied the Type 21 permit. Renee Mezo from the city refuted this by saying that My Market could have their Type 20 license back without conditions since it superseded the conditional use permit requirement.
At this point, Bidi (owner of My Market) said, “We purchased over $100,000 of liquor. If we aren’t allowed to sell it, we aren’t allowed to return it where I purchased.”
As Fernandez rendered his decision to deny the permit, he commented on how difficult the decision was, but in the end, he couldn’t ignore the high crime rate and the oversaturation of liquor licenses.
“The one that bothers me the most is [the proximity] of a Head Start daycare center with preschool age children. And the other factor is being within 100 feet of a residential zoned neighborhood.”
My Market has until 5:00 p.m. on August 3 to appeal the decision.