Fresno City Council dais at Fresno City Hall, October 2020
Written by Edward Smith
Fresno was once designated the drunkest city in the United States. The Fresno City Council Thursday took what members called the “first step” in mitigating that title with a ban on new liquor licenses.
The Responsible Neighborhood Market Act passed by six votes to one requiring that any new store planning to sell off-site beer, wine and hard liquor can only get a license by buying a previously-issued license.
Councilmember Mike Karbassi voted against the act.
The goal is to lower what Council President Miguel Arias called a “saturation” of liquor licenses in the city.
In the City of Fresno, there are 481 Type 20 and Type 21 licenses issued as of June. A Type 20 license allows for beer and wine to be sold at stores and a Type 21 allows for beer, wine and hard liquor to be sold. That represents a rate of one liquor store for every 1,102 people. In Clovis, that ratio is one for every 1,534, one for every 1,338 in Visalia and one for every 1,257 in Bakersfield.
While the hope has been to limit liquor stores, one worry is about new grocery stores being affected in the fallout.
Without new licenses being issued, those business owners holding onto existing licenses would be able to charge whatever price they wanted, said Kaya Herron, director of community engagement and advocacy for the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce.
“We don’t want to add any additional barriers for the development that’s necessary in our community,” Herron said.
Herron added the Chamber requested a 30-day delay on passing the act in order to address that problem.
Councilmember Garry Bredefeld also echoed that concern, despite voting in favor of the act.
“When you limit something, the value goes up,” Bredefeld said. “They’re going to go somewhere where we don’t have those fees.”
He suggested a credit be made available to business owners who overpay for a license.
Arias supported the suggestion as long as it didn’t go to convenience stores “pretending to be healthy.”
During the public comment section, many spoke about the need for grocery stores in blighted communities.
Arias said that while he and council members Luis Chavez and Esmeralda Soria were researching the act, they heard concerns from grocery store owners about coming into areas saturated with liquor stores. Negative factors mentioned include crime and also lower disposable income in those areas, Arias said.
The Responsible Neighborhood Market Act also adds a yearly inspection to stores with Type 20 and 21 licenses by City Code Enforcement.
Chavez said he is already looking into what it would take to exempt grocery stores from having to buy old licenses in order to sell liquor.
The problem is defining what exactly a grocery store is, he said. One idea would be to use a percentage of shelf space dedicated to snacks and liquor.
Karbassi voted against the bill saying it did not go far enough. “We keep passing these feel-good bills saying ‘we’ll fix it later,’” Karbassi said.
He said it does nothing to stop the sale of beer, wine and liquor, specifically calling out single-serve liquor bottles.
Mayor Lee Brand called the bill a “big first step.”