Discussing liquor and crime last night, the Vista City Council heard a wild clash of concerns during the public forum from local business and substance abuse prevention speakers, but in the end they approved a request for a Special Use Permit for the off-site sale of beer and wine at the 7-11 located on South Santa Fe Avenue.
In a 3-2 vote, the council members split on the applicant’s request for the permit. Council members Dave Cowles and Cody Campbell voted against the permit being granted to “Happy” Singh, while Mayor Judy Ritter, Deputy Mayor John Aguilera and Councilmember Amanda Rigby approved the request.
Expressing opinions from business Bret Schanzenbach, the chief executive officer for the Vista Chamber Commerce, addressed the council and noted the “transformation” taking place there with the efforts of the owner to change the dilapidated appearance. Schanzenbach made two points to the council, the first being that with the effort to finish the Paseo Santa Fe corridor “it would be great to keep that end of it down there in the condition it is now and see it thrive instead of go back to a very poor condition that it has been in the past.”
Schanzenbach’s second point was that the public doesn’t understand when they see a 7-11, “a convenience store,” where they believe they should be able to go in and buy some beer and/or wine along with other items. He advised council to give the owner “a fighting chance to keep his business going” noting that the applicant wants to be an active member in the community as well.
Motor vehicle crashes, homicides, and suicides
Ray Pearson, president of the North Coastal Prevention Coalition, also addressed the council. He said the mission of his organization is to reduce the harm of drugs such as alcohol, marijuana and tobacco through community action, education and support and collaboration.
“As our name implies, we are committed to working with all sectors of the community to prevent problems before they start.” He believes denying the applicant a permit would help reduce loitering, vandalism, and public disturbances.
In Pearson’s comments, he stated he and his organization would recommend a denial of the Special Use Permit to the applicant, and told the council that the current crime index of 115% has increased from a 2012 number of 98.6%, and there appears to be a problem. “Alcohol remains the most abused drug by young people in our communities. And it is associated with the leading causes of death in teens and young adults: motor vehicle crashes, homicides, and suicides.”
Erubey Lopez, a 2014 candidate for Vista city council told those on the dais that he came to speak against granting the beer and wine permit. “The community does not need another liquor store.” He added that he was skeptical of 7-11’s intentions. “In the initial comments the 7-11 said that they are not here to increase the sale of alcohol in the city. That is the only reason they are here. If that was not the reason, they would not have spent so much money on the review process that takes a lot of time and a lot of money, and they keep coming back because that is their main objective.”
Building a community
Cliff Kaiser, who now serves as President of the Vista Village Business Association and once upon a time was going to run for Mayor, spoke to the city leaders. After criticizing the “ugly” look of the shopping center, he noted it is “unfortunate” that the applicant, Mr. Singh, had to install security measures such as cameras and gates. “How about we strive to build a community where we don’t have to have these draconian security measures … to keep the business safe?”
Kaiser also said the applicant is offering convenience. “He’s not going to sell any more alcohol here in Vista than the next guy.” He may be stealing those sales from Von’s and CVS and Walgreen’s, Kaiser suggested in his remarks, but he decided to invest in this corner real estate location to offer convenience to people who want that convenience.
Vacant buildings versus successful business
The priority for Deputy Mayor Aguilera was one of having a vacant building attracting crime versus seeing an engaged business owner making an effort to maintain the property. Aguilera’s comments included the fact that the corner has always been “a bad situation” with loitering and crime, but trying to keep it occupied and successful was difficult. “In fact I’ve lived here my whole life and can’t remember anything real successful ever being in that corner there.” He knows 7-11 has a good track record as far as management and success, they train their employees which will help in managing the abuses of alcohol sales and crime. “It is not perfect” as far as crime, but the location “is below our level of high crime.” He said he needed to see more lighting and the cameras added, loitering to stop. He mentioned parking at the Wells Fargo which has a loitering problem, and they are not at the 7-11.
Where do we draw the line?
Councilmember Campbell noted in his remarks that in the application images submitted and shown, there actually appeared to be someone loitering by the 7-11. He stated that he was elected to look out for the entire community and not just one specific location. “Adding another liquor outlet to Vista is foolish. We already have the highest concentration of off-site liquor sales in North County. How many more do we need? Where does it stop? Where do we draw the line?”
“This council has a fiduciary responsibility to look out for the needs of Vista community as a whole, not to add another off-site liquor license for the benefit of a few,” Campbell stated.