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Fresh & Easy takes step ahead toward liquor license


Last updated 8/16/2007 at Noon

The county’s Planning Commission approved a determination of public necessity or convenience which will increase the chances of the future Fresh and Easy Market obtaining a liquor license.

The Planning Commission’s 5-0 vote August 10, with commissioners John Riess and Bryan Woods absent, does not guarantee that the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission will issue a liquor license for off-sale consumption, but the finding of public necessity or convenience allows the ABC to consider the license application.

“I think this is a terrific opportunity for Fallbrook,” said Planning Commissioner David Pallinger, who lives in Bonsall and often shops in Fallbrook. “I think it’s going to be a benefit to the community.”

Fresh and Easy Market, which will be located in the 1100 block of South Main Street, has applied for a Type 21, or general off-sale, liquor license. The shopping center is located in Census Tract 189.05, which is allowed four liquor licenses but currently includes seven. The state’s Business and Professions Code stipulates that if the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission determines that an “undue concentration” exists in the vicinity of the application premises the license is to be denied unless the local jurisdiction determines that public necessity or convenience would be served by issuing the liquor license.

Board of Supervisors Policy I-121 stipulates the criteria to be used in a determination of public necessity or convenience. The Sheriff’s Department must determine that approval or conditional approval will not negatively influence criminal activity including loitering, vandalism, public drunkenness, illegal drug use and sales, theft, and violent behavior. The county’s Department of Planning and Land Use must determine that the retail outlet is compatible with community character and consider factors such as the number and proximity of other establishments selling alcohol, proximity to schools and playgrounds or other facilities serving young people, proximity to residential neighborhoods, and whether the store provides a wide range of desirable goods and services or a unique type of goods or services.

In April an off-sale liquor license was denied for a mini-mart in the 1000 block of South Main Street, and on June 19 the Department of Planning and Land Use denied not only the Fresh and Easy liquor license request but also an application for the Shell station in the 1200 block of Main Street. The determination that public convenience or necessity would not be served by a liquor license for Fresh and Easy was appealed to the Planning Commission; the appeal was filed on June 28.

Seven off-sale and ten on-sale liquor licenses exist within a half-mile radius. Five schools are within a half-mile radius, and the nearest residential zone is approximately 225 feet from the parcel.

“The department cannot find that the proposed outlet would be compatible with the neighborhood,” said Department of Planning and Land Use project manager Michael Johnson.

The Fallbrook Community Planning Group discussed the liquor license application on May 21, but no motion could receive the necessary eight votes to generate an official planning group position. During the August 10 hearing individual members of the planning group, speaking as individuals rather than as planning group representatives, spoke on both sides of the request.

Fresh and Easy describes itself as a neighborhood market, which is neither a convenience store nor a supermarket. “There’s nothing like this in Fallbrook,” said attorney Bruce Evans, who represented Fresh and Easy at the hearing.

Fresh and Easy is a subsidiary of Tesco, which is based in the United Kingdom. Tesco now has a worldwide presence, and the decision to look at potential expansion into the United States was made approximately 2 1/2 years ago. The market research determined that American consumers wanted more of a neighborhood grocery store rather than a supermarket. That research resulted in changing the store name and concept to suit the American public.

Fresh and Easy describes itself as similar in size to a Trader Joe’s, although differences are noted between the two markets. The neighborhood concept as well as the emphasis on healthy food provides marketing material for Fresh and Easy.

“One of the core values we have within our organization is that we are a good neighbor,” said Jon Stokes, the director of loss prevention and security for Fresh and Easy.

That “good neighbor” policy includes recruiting store staff from the local community, scheduling deliveries to the store to minimize noise and disruption, and an environmental commitment which includes solar paneling at the Riverside distribution center along with the use of biofuels in the delivery trucks.

The commitment to being a good neighbor also includes attempts to curtail criminal activity. Security will be installed to monitor the store, large windows in the front of the building would give police a direct view into the facility, and the property maintenance program includes timely graffiti and litter removal.

The Fallbrook store would include approximately 10,000 square feet of retail store space. Less than five percent of the premises would be devoted to liquor sales, and distilled spirits would occupy less than four linear feet of shelf space and would be placed near the back of the store.

“It’s important that Fresh and Easy satisfy the grocery needs of its customers, which includes alcohol, but it is not a liquor store,” Evans said. “Distilled spirits are a typical grocery item. We’re not emphasizing those, but it is important to serve the customers.”

The county can only approve a resolution of public necessity or convenience and cannot impose conditions upon a liquor license. The ABC can impose conditions, and Fresh and Easy has worked with the Sheriff’s Department to develop a list of conditions. “We’re not naive about the potential impacts of alcohol. We take these concerns seriously,” Evans said.

The 13 conditions proposed by Fresh and Easy include no sales of alcohol between 10:30 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., no sales of malt liquor or fortified wine, no single-can sales, no exterior advertising of alcoholic beverages, and no sales of distilled spirits under 750 milliliters or wine under 350 milliliters.

“We’re asking and appealing to your common sense,” Evans said. “Common sense tells us this is not going to increase crime.”

Pat Braendel, the founder and executive director of the Fallbrook Citizens Crime Prevention Committee, was in opposition to the resolution of public necessity or convenience but is willing to work with Fresh and Easy on additional conditions, including further limiting of hours of sale, training for clerks, and additional security including possible placement of distilled spirits in locked cabinets. “Whatever steps we take and whatever we do is better than nothing,” Braendel said.

While part of the argument in favor of the liquor license focused on the unique type of business, Evans and other supporters also noted that the ABC formula for the number of licenses in a census tract was based on population. “There is a very good reason that a commercial zone like this is going to end up exceeding this ratio,” Evans said. “That’s where you put the shopping centers, and that’s where you put the alcohol.”

Evans told the Planning Commission that any new business may result in an increased call for law enforcement services but that he doubted that Fresh and Easy would increase criminal activity just because the store sold alcohol. “It’s not a convenience market. It’s not a liquor store,” he said.

The Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce, which has approximately 650 business members, endorsed the liquor license. Chamber president Phil Delaney noted three issues. One was the convenience of a local market. “We have a lot of people shopping out of town because we don’t have the right mix in our community,” he said.

The second Chamber of Commerce issue of concern was redevelopment. “This is critical for us as we’re looking towards the future,” Delaney said.

The chamber’s final issue was the community plan which focuses commercial operations close to Fallbrook’s Downtown area.

“I think this is vital for our community,” said East Alvarado Street resident Robert Jacobus. “The owner is putting a lot of investment in this town.”

Jacobus feels that the small amount of liquor sold, along with the store’s customer base, won’t cause an increase in crime. “I believe the Fresh and Easy store is needed in town,” he said.

“The new store in Fallbrook will provide a convenient and a necessary grocery store,” said Eileen Delaney, who spoke as an individual but who chairs the Fallbrook Design Review Board.

Delaney feels that revitalization will actually reduce crime. “Their proposed location is an old shopping center,” she said. “We still have Fresh and Easy willing and ready to come to our town, which is a difficult feat sometimes.”

Delaney noted that a liquor license will allow law-abiding citizens to purchase alcohol as part of their grocery shopping. “A liquor license for this type of business is appropriate,” she said. “This is a specialty grocery store.”

Delaney added that producing jobs would also help reduce the crime rate.

“We’re concerned about the economic decline of various areas within our community,” said Fallbrook Area Visitors Bureau president Don McDougal.

The Fallbrook Area Visitors Bureau board voted unanimously to support the liquor license on July 27. McDougal added that Fresh and Easy would be an anchor to the shopping center and would contribute to the community.

Wisconsin Street resident Karen Entwistle noted that Fresh and Easy would serve prepared food other than fast food. “I think that’s an important consideration,” she said. “The type of store that this is is not the same type of store that the criminal element would be attracted to.”

The Fallbrook Village Association board also voted unanimously to support the application. Vince Ross noted that Fallbrook is 85 percent built up and commercial opportunities often involve renovating older buildings. “Let’s not get hung up on some of the formulas,” he said. “Let’s help the process of making things better.”

Roy Salomeh represented the ownership group of the shopping center. “We don’t want to give the box, the larger stores, a monopoly,” he said. “There are responsible drinkers out there.”

Salomeh noted that the ownership group was spending approximately $2 million to renovate the shopping center.

“We have a limited number of square miles for our commercial,” said Paul Entwistle. “We have a very defined center area.”

Entwistle noted that population increases lead to more businesses. “This is not pouring more liquor stores into one small part of town,” he said.

Entwistle noted that the town center helps contribute to Fallbrook’s community charm, thus warranting an exemption from the liquor license limit. “It just doesn’t take in the unique nature of Fallbrook,” he said. “Please don’t treat us like some community that has urban sprawl.”

Braendel’s office is approximately 200 feet from the shopping center, and she has witnessed rising crime in the census tract. “I have seen the results of undue concentration of alcohol outlets in my community,” she said. “Now is the time for our citizens to take the necessary steps to prevent crime.”

Braendel noted that liquor is available at Chalet Liquor, which is a walk of approximately 69 feet from the Fresh and Easy site, and at Happy Jug, which is approximately 110 feet away. She also noted that Ed’s Cocktail Lounge, which has an on-site license, abuts the shopping center.

“Schools are within walking distance. Parents and children walk by this center every day,” Braendel said.

Braendel noted that between January 1 and June 30 the Sheriff’s Department received 97 calls for service within 1,000 feet of the site. “I congratulate the Department of Planning and Land Use for showing courage the first time in denying the alcohol license,” she said.

“Overconcentration is linked to crime and blight,” said Brenda Simmons, a presentation specialist for the Institute for Public Strategies. “They weren’t arbitrary numbers.”

Simmons told the Planning Commission that crime increases exponentially with each additional liquor license. “It has to do with the increased access and normalization within the community,” she said. “The sheer numbers make it a threat.”

Manny Padilla of East Alvarado Road noted that he sees the effects of alcohol abuse in his line of work. “I don’t see why another alcohol license will promote public convenience to anyone,” he said.

“I see the influence,” said Carol Kroeger, who is a teacher and the wife of a pastor.

“Our young people are the ones at risk. Families are at risk,” Kroeger said. “If their package is so good, why can’t they do it without alcohol?”

Jack Wood and Harry Christiansen spoke as individuals rather than as planning group members. “The heart of this issue is the number of liquor licenses,” Wood said.

Wood fears that the resolution of public convenience or necessity will set a precedent. He noted that one commercial area in Santa Barbara has approximately 100 liquor licenses. “We don’t want that in Fallbrook,” he said.

“The rule has been there, and there’s something to be said for the uniform application of the rule,” Christiansen said.

Christiansen cited the denial of the other two applications. “There’s nothing in the rules that says you do it for something you like and you don’t do it for something you don’t like,” he said.

One of the suggestions was that Fresh and Easy purchase an existing liquor license, but that would require the closure of that business. “That may be a good idea, but it’s not feasible,” Evans said.

The Sheriff’s Department didn’t take a position, but Commander Kim Quaco, who oversees the Vista station and the Fallbrook substation, indicated that the Sheriff’s Department would ask the ABC for conditions on the license. Quaco appeared at the Planning Commission hearing to answer questions about crime effects. “I wouldn’t put a grocery store like a Vons in the same category as a liquor store,” he said.

Planning Commissioner Adam Day, who has shopped at Tesco stores while visiting England, doubts that a Fresh and Easy market will increase crime. “It doesn’t seem to make sense to me,” he said. “This establishment is totally different than anything else.”

Day noted that Fresh and Easy’s alcohol sales would actually be less than that of Trader Joe’s. “I think it will be of absolute benefit to the community,” he said.

Day noted that resolutions of public convenience or necessity are to be considered on a case-by-case basis. “We have to apply it with our discretion. It’s not just a formula,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to exercise our discretion.”

Day doubts that criminals will frequent Fresh and Easy and added that redevelopment may actually reduce the crime rate.

“To compare liquor stores and lounges with grocery stores, I think, is an unfair comparison,” said Planning Commissioner Leon Brooks.

Brooks noted that Fallbrook was a leader in the town center concept the county is promoting in General Plan 2020. “I have to take exception to the census tract rule,” he said.

“I think there’s also an important planning principle,” Pallinger said.

Planning Commissioner David Kreitzer has shopped at Trader Joe’s and at Henry’s and notes that he doesn’t see problems around those stores. “I think it’s a huge difference,” he said.

“I think in the end that the links to crime are more directly related to the cultural and physical characteristics of the community,” said Planning Commissioner Michael Beck.


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