Why it might get twice as hard for you — and teenagers — to buy alcohol in Fresno

Fresno pastor cites liquor stores on every corner as community problem

Pastor Elias Loera of Christian Temple near Cedar Avenue and Kings Canyon Road shows liquor stores on many corners in his Fresno neighborhood.
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Pastor Elias Loera of Christian Temple near Cedar Avenue and Kings Canyon Road shows liquor stores on many corners in his Fresno neighborhood.

Sunnyside High School students can walk to any one of several nearby gas stations or liquor stores and try to buy a tall can of beer. They may or may not be carded.

In a survey taken last year, a quarter of nearly 900 students at Sunnyside said it was “very easy” for someone their age to get alcohol. About one-third said it was “fairly easy.”

Not too far away at Roosevelt High, there are 35 liquor stores within a 1-mile radius of the school. Most store windows are plastered in advertising for alcohol products.

Those are a few statistics Friday Night Live student leaders Lily Vang and Valeria Salazar rattle off, citing the need for action by city leaders.

70 percent of sit-down restaurants licensed for a full bar in Fresno are located north of Shaw Avenue, but 70 percent of liquor stores are located south of Shaw.

That action could happen this week, when the Fresno City Council will vote on a proposal combating the “saturation” of liquor licenses in Fresno – particularly in the southern parts of the city.

Councilmembers Miguel Arias, Luis Chavez and Nelson Esparza are proposing to cap the number of liquor licenses issued in Fresno. Any business that wants a new license must buy one or more licenses and surrender at least one existing license. Permits granted by the city would expire, and store owners would have to apply for renewal.

The legislation also would create an inspection program to ensure existing stores that sell alcohol are meeting rules for advertising and selling single-serving alcoholic beverages. Fresno has more licenses than recommended by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, by a long shot.

As of 2016, Fresno had 468 active alcohol sales permits in the city. Supports of the proposal hope to cut that number in about half.

“Essentially it’s the Wild Wild West when it comes to how they operate,” Arias said about liquor stores.

The number of liquor licenses are highest in Esparza’s east-central Fresno district, where he pointed out it’s easier to buy alcohol than groceries.

The proposal likely will change before gaining key support. The American Petroleum and Convenience Store Association asked for a number of changes in the proposal. And, Mayor Lee Brand said in a statement he cannot support the legislation the way it’s currently written.

“While I agree with many parts of this proposal, there are other parts of it that would add unnecessary and extraordinary burdens on small businesses,” he said. “As we all know, small businesses make up 99.7 percent of all businesses in the United States, and they account for 64 percent of net new private sector jobs. Until those issues are resolved, I cannot support the current proposal.”

Councilmember Garry Bredefeld, who represents northeast Fresno, said he opposes more regulations for businesses and adding another level of government bureaucracy through the inspections.

Bredefeld said the “free market,” not a “government bureaucrat” should determine if there are too many stores.

“Lastly, there are numerous laws regarding these stores that the city doesn’t even enforce,” he said. “Let’s enforce those, not create more.”

If you go

What: Fresno City Council meeting
When: Thursday, 3:30 p.m. hearing on liquor license proposal (meeting begins 9 a.m.)
Where: City Council Chambers
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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.