BOOZE PROTEST: Two Santa Barbara men say a California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) licensing agent jumped the gun and decided that a proposed mega-liquor store was a good idea, even though the period for protests hadn’t even ended.
In an email to Mayor Helene Schneider and the City Council, longtime San Roque resident Jerry Vigil said ABC agent Melissa Rice phoned him from Ventura to urge him to “drop your protest,” and that “[the license application] is already approved … you do not want to pursue this and go to a hearing.”
Vigil’s email to City Hall also said that Rice told him to “stop contacting the police chief and City Council, because they do not have any say in this matter.” Rice’s supervisor disputes Vigil’s account, but when I called John Reynolds, who lives across the alley behind the former Thomasville furniture building at 3052 State Street, he said that during a 30-minute conversation with Rice, he came to the conclusion that “she has pretty much made up her mind, and tried to sell it to me that it’s a great idea.”
“I didn’t think that was the role of the ABC,” to argue in favor of an application even before the legal protest period ends, Reynolds told me. “She really seemed to be on the side of BevMo,” the giant Beverages & More wine, beer, and liquor chain that has applied to take over the now-closed furniture store.
“I have no comment,” Rice replied when I asked her about Vigil’s accusations. Her supervisor, ABC District Manager Leslie Pond, told me, “I feel confident that it was not an accurate representation of the conversation. I have absolute confidence” in Rice, whom he characterized as “an excellent employee.”
Vigil said Rice tried to talk him out of protesting. “Furthermore,” Vigil said in his email to City Hall, “is it the ABC’s normal way of conducting business to contact every person that files a protest and to discourage them from doing so?” The protest period ends today, February 18, Vigil said.
BevMo, with $500 million in sales and more than 100 stores in California and Arizona, according to the San Francisco Business Times, also has filed renovation plans with the City of Santa Barbara but is not seeking rezoning or a planning modification, according to plans I saw on file. It intends to demolish a separate rear warehouse and part of the main building in order to provide the required 35 parking spaces.
Besides selling take-out beer, wine, and spirits, BevMo will offer beer and wine tastings for up to 30 persons to promote sales. But it will face strong competition from numerous nearby outlets, including Trader Joe’s, just around the corner on upper De la Vina Street; the new Whole Foods Market, with its huge beer selection; and the popular, decades-old San Roque Market & Liquors, a half-block away, with a wide variety of wines, beer, and Scotch.
Sam Taham, clerk at San Roque Liquors, predicted that BevMo is “not going to make it” and his place might even thrive. But he was under the impression that the megastore wouldn’t be selling take-out spirits. When I reported to Taham that ABC’s Pond told me BevMo seeks a license to allow not only liquor sales but beer and wine tastings, he shrugged sadly. “What can I do?”
“People will come from all over the county because they have a big selection and cheaper prices,” Taham said. “The traffic will be crazy.” He predicted problems with customers parking in the narrow alley and in lots owned by adjacent businesses. The location is at the busy intersection of State where De la Vina Street T-bones into the main north-side street.
Reynolds was filling out his protest form when I called. He lamented that demolition of the separate warehouse removes his “sound wall” protecting him from traffic noises. It will also mean that “every headlight from vehicles coming down De la Vina will shine into my bedroom.” Reynolds, who works in receiving at Scolari’s on Milpas Street, warned that vendors will be making numerous trips a week, apparently via the alley past a row of homes, beeping as they back up. As for BevMo, “It’s an unneeded element in our nice San Roque neighborhood. My neighbor, who is directly behind the building, doesn’t like the idea either.”
Vigil, determined to continue the campaign against the store, said instructions for protesting to the ABC can be found on its Web site, abc.ca.gov. Grounds for protesting include a location within 100 feet of a residence and “within the immediate vicinity” of a school. Vigil expressed “grave concern” that the store is within about 150 yards of Peabody Charter School, and across the street from MacKenzie Park.
Still, it can be argued that this is a suitable location for a liquor store, with an entry off the business section of upper State Street, where customers can zip in and out. It’s also near at least three marijuana dispensaries, Vigil said.