Liquor stores and mini-markets throughout Santa Barbara would be affected by the proposed ordinance to regulate alcohol sales.
Liquor stores and mini-markets throughout Santa Barbara would be affected by the proposed ordinance to regulate alcohol sales. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Ann Hefferman lives near Milpas Street in Santa Barbara and can testify to the trouble she experiences firsthand related to alcohol sales in the area.

A resident for more than 30 years, Hefferman’s house is on a corner, surrounded by a hedge, and near about five alcohol-selling establishments.

“Every week I find alcohol containers stuffed into the hedge, into the bushes, into the gutter and on the ground, and these very small, airplane-sized or pint-sized bottles, or cans of beer or malt liquor,” Hefferman said. “To me, this speaks to the fact that they are easily accessible, easily consumable and easily dispensable.”

Hefferman is one of the people who supports the City of Santa Barbara’s proposed ordinance to regulate alcohol sales at mini-markets, liquor stores and other businesses that sell alcohol for of-sale consumption. Although the state Alcoholic Beverage Control regulates liquor licenses, the local governments can regulate alcohol sales via land use policies.

The ordinance intends to reduce “nuisance behaviors” such as public drunkenness, harassment, loitering, littering and public urination around mini-markets and liquor stores. 

Officially called a “Deemed Approved Ordinance,” current businesses would be grandfathered in, but they would be required to maintain their businesses in a lawful manner or risk fines, or suspension of their alcohol sales.

Santa Barbara has about 141 off-sale establishments. If the city determines that a business is not taking good care of the surrounding area, the matter would go before the Planning Commission to “suspend, modify or revoke” the deemed-approved status.

New businesses would need to get a conditional use permit to sell alcohol, as determined by the Planning Commission. The commission, based on information from the staff, would determine whether the new business gets a CUP based a variety of factors, including whether selling alcohol in the spot would aggravate existing neighborhood problems, such as loitering, public drunkenness and littering. Essentially, the new place must fit into the neighborhood. 

The city is also proposing an annual fee for the establishments, to pay for enforcement, but has not yet released the amount. In a previous version of the ordinance, the city said the fee would be based on the volume of alcohol sold, hours of operation and public safety-related calls for service. It could range between $75 and $5,000, but most likely around $1,000 annually.

About 5% of the Santa Barbara Police Department’s activity is related to calls for service at liquor stores.

Ultimately, the city is trying to target the sale of 50-milliliter, or “airplane,” bottles of hard liquor, which are relatively inexpensive, that are consumed near the establishments.

Patrick Morris, an attorney representing several small corner markets and liquor stores, spoke at a May 13 Planning Commission meeting on the topic. He called for the commission to delay action on the matter, of which it ultimately did. He said the city notified his office the latest version of the ordinance only three days before the scheduled meeting, which he said was unfair. 

“We feel a great many of the concerns that the prior speakers have raised are addressed by a more holistic approach, and this hands on, police enforcement, people with guns coming into the liquor stores to determine whether they are following some rules they didn’t have to follow before, is an inappropriate way to handle this.”

For Hefferman and others who live in the Milpas area, it’s time to take action. 

“Instead of coffee shops, we have stores that sell alcohol on almost every block,” Hefferman said. “There is a need for more control of how alcohol is sold in our city.”

Assistant City Attorney John Doimas said that once the city figures out an ordinance for liquor stores and mini-markets, it would then move to places that serve alcohol for on-site use. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.