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Awash in Alcohol and Missing the Point

April 12, 2002

Dear Editor:

Great Special Report series on drug and alcohol use by Teresa Rochester ("Drug, Alcohol Use Up Among Older Teens, District Survey Finds," April 8, and "Prevention Programs, Involvement Key to Tackling Teen Drug, Alcohol Use," April 9, 2002). However, I didn't see any mention of the fact that Santa Monica has the third highest concentration of alcohol licenses, per capita, in the State.

Numerous studies indicate a direct correlation between alcohol abuse in a community and availability of alcohol. In other words, the easier alcohol is to acquire and the more it is available, the more alcohol becomes a problem.

There are 356 California State Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control alcohol licenses issued in the city. According to the ABC, as of June 31, 2001, alcohol was sold at 294 locations. Sixty-nine were licensed off-sale or take-out stores and 220 locations were either restaurants, clubs, bars and/or taverns.

It is no surprise that 647(f) -- drunk in public -- is the "crime" that persons are most often arrested for in the city. In the year 2000, there were 1440 arrests directly related to alcohol and a large percentage of them were "transients."

The city of Santa Monica Police Department has two vice officers whose job it is to deal with prostitution, pornography, narcotics and gambling in addition to alcohol enforcement, so they are spread very thin.

The Inglewood district of the ABC, in which Santa Monica is located, has only a handful of investigators to cover the entire Westside, so ABC enforcement is almost nonexistent. It is easy to see why in many bars, clubs and restaurants, I.D. is often not carefully scrutinized for underage drinkers.

Many of our take-out and convenience stores sell to minors, drunks and inebriates with impunity. They do this because they can get away with it.

The city doesn't seem to be too concerned about alcohol enforcement and apparently has not indicated to the Police Department that more needs to be done in this area. In fact, the City has done virtually everything in its power to be accommodating to licensees and applicants, alike.

Rarely has a city alcohol Conditional Use Permit ever been revoked. Permit holders who are out
of compliance are often issued revised CUPs to enable them to be "legal" again. And, a City-approved alcohol CUP virtually assures an ABC license to sell alcohol.

In a recent case, where 107 complaints had been filed against a local dance club in just one year, planning staff still recommended approval of the club's request to up a "beer and wine" CUP to include the sale of hard liquor.

Last September, the Bayside District Corporation, with the urging of the planning department, asked the City Council to change ordinances to allow beer and wine CUPs for 3rd Street restaurants with under 100 seats, including transferring of CUPs to new locations, without the public input now required. Wisely, the council shot it down.

The City's planning commission has been studying alcohol in the community and has asked staff to look into developing a "citywide alcohol policy." Yet, they continue to issue alcohol CUPs to each and every new applicant that comes before them -- because, in the words of one commissioner, "we've always done it and it would be unfair to applicants for us to stop now."

Santa Monica is awash in alcohol and we can see the results on our streets, in our doorways and in our parks, which are constantly littered with drunks and inebriates "sleeping it off." Then there is the cost to the city in terms of medical care, enforcement and social programs. It is estimated that over 100 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are held weekly in Santa Monica.

What is more hidden from public scrutiny are our children who are also consuming alcohol in ever increasing numbers and amounts -- and paying the price, as your Special Reports so well illustrates.

Bill Bauer
Santa Monica

April 10, 2002

Dear Editor,

Your article ("Suspense, Intrigue, Politics as Council Appoints Members to Promenade Task Force," April 10, 2002) completely missed my point with respect to the appointments to the Promenade Task Force.

I did not complain that only one seat had been reserved for a property owner. Rather, I complained (and continue to be astounded) that the Council limited its consideration of applicants to the Task Force to persons who own property in the area. In other words, the Council policy was that if you don't own property, you couldn't be considered for appointment.

This goes against the basic values of our democratic society. Each of us should have the same access to government -- and an equal right to participate in governmental decision making -- whether or not we own property.

I am not suggesting that property ownership should not be a factor in evaluating applicants and deciding who should be appointed. Nor am I questioning the qualifications of Merlyn Ruddle, who was appointed. But I am very concerned that the Council chose to exclude from consideration other community members who might be equally qualified, even though they are not interested property owners, and may "merely" be residents who care about the Promenade and the future of our city.

Ken Genser,
Council Member.

PS: I think you also missed the message when you described the City Attorney's advice to Mr. Katz, with respect to his potential conflict of interest. She said that he "may" have a conflict - words that should raise caution when you consider they came from an attorney advising her client in public.

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