A City Heights planning group meeting ended loudly and abruptly Wednesday night (September 7) when the group chairman substitute could not control an angry crowd and shut down the meeting.
A member of the mayor's staff and of city councilmember Marti Emerald's staff stood quietly aside shaking hands and greeting friends while people left the meeting. A San Diego police officer who was there to speak as a community liaison was among the first to leave.
"Can you believe this? We came here to be heard and they aren't listening," longtime City Heights activist Maria Cortez said. "They screwed us up because they did not want to listen to the community."
Up to 100 residents attended the meeting — moms with children and shopkeepers alongside community activists and the principal of Cherokee Point Elementary School — to advocate against letting the developer of a new 7-Eleven at 39th and University sell beer and wine. The item was presented for information; no vote was planned.
The planning group had approved the permit in December, vice chairman Mark Munic said. Munic, who ran the Wednesday-night meeting because the chairwoman was absent, restricted community speakers to one timed minute each. Many people donated their minute to other speakers so they could present a cohesive statement.
"We do not want another liquor store in our community," said Ahmed Malinomar. He held in his hand a map that showed there are 20 liquor stores per square mile in City Heights, compared with the citywide average of 7.6 liquor stores per square mile.
Tracey Gabriel, who lives near the proposed store, said liquor stores make her Terra Alta neighborhood less safe. "There are six liquor stores near our home, and three bars and three restaurants that serve liquor by my son's school," she said. "What we get is drunks in Terra Alta Park and people don't go there because it's not safe."
But Godwin Higa, the principal of Cherokee Point Elementary School, made the deepest cut. Cherokee Point is a "trauma-informed" school, where teachers and staff work under the premise that some of their students have been traumatized by some aspect of life's ugliness. That view of students results in more support and far less punishment. His kids, he said, don't need to see any more bad stuff.
"My 500 students do not need to be affected by this," Higa said. "We are already subjected to crime. We have children coming to school walking by dead bodies. My 500 children need your voices [to support them] as well."
The permit was approved on an 8-7 vote in December, according to city documents. The liquor license is not a new one; it is being transferred from the store on 38th and University, city documents show.
Hundreds of residents opposed the sale of liquor in dozens of petitions and letters. Neighborhood schools and groups also weighed in against having more liquor stores in the area, according to city records. Since it had already been approved by the planning group and they could not revote, the community voices ran out of time.
Munic restricted boardmember comments to a minute each as well, then ended comment after one unidentified boardmember spoke sympathetically to the community members.
Munic tried to end the discussion and push the meeting forward past what he saw as a procedurally dead issue; the crowd grew quite loud and outraged. After about two minutes and a range of noise from muttering and catcalls to yelling, Munic brought the meeting to an end.
Community members gathered outside the building to talk about their next step.
"This chairman needs lessons on how to deal with the community and run a meeting," said Valentina Hernandez. "He didn't want to hear the community or the rest of the boardmembers. That's outrageous."