TORRANCE — Saying alcohol and gasoline don't mix, the City Council this week voted 6 to 1 not to issue new permits for the sale of beer or wine at gasoline stations.
The Torrance council followed the recommendation of its Police Department and joined more than 40 cities and two counties statewide that have made it harder to buy a cold six-pack at the same place a person fills up the gas tank.
Gas stations in the city that already sell beer and wine will not be affected by the ban. However, no new permits will be issued under the emergency ordinance that takes effect immediately.
"Those uses are not compatible," argued Councilwoman Katy Geissert, who introduced the ordinance.
"Forty other cities have found that it was not compatible," said Geissert, who is running unopposed for mayor in the March 4 municipal election.
In November, the City Council imposed a moratorium on issuance of permits for sale of beer and wine at gas stations after police officials expressed concern that there were too many liquor outlets in the city and that the sale of alcohol at gas stations encouraged drinking and driving.
According to police, of the 125 outlets licensed to sell alcohol for off-site consumption, 14 also sell gasoline.
Police said they feared that the other 72 gas stations in the city might seek permits to sell beer and wine and argued that an increase in the number would result in an increase in drunk driving and other crimes and a depreciation of property values.
Police Lt. Nolan Dane said that between January and November of last year there were 612 arrests for drunk driving, 176 alcohol-related accidents, 795 arrests for public drunkenness and 187 arrests or citations for liquor law violations.
Dane said that allowing more gas stations to sell beer and wine would "present a threat to the health, welfare and safety of the community."
Dane also presented studies that he said indicated that gas stations are popular places to buy alcoholic beverages and that there is a high incidence of immediate consumption.
Dane pointed to a study by the Orange County Alcoholism Advisory Board that indicated that 43% of those enrolled in drinking-driver schools had purchased alcohol at gas stations and immediately consumed it.
Police 'Made Their Case'
"I think the Police Department made their case," Mayor Jim Armstrong said in explaining his vote.
But Don Davis, franchise manager for Arco Petroleum Products Co.'s AM/PM Mini-Marts, said he did not think gas stations caused any more problems than other liquor outlets. He called the ban a "knee-jerk reaction."
"It's hard for me to believe that 14 of 125 places that sell liquor are causing all the problems," he said after the meeting. "They do not have an active problem, they have an active fear."
Bob Seitz, general manager of the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce, spoke out at the meeting against the restriction, saying it was unfair to single out gas stations as the major source of problems related to drunk driving.
U.S. Study Cited
Seitz said he could find no evidence to link gas station beer and wine sales to such problems and pointed to a conclusion in 1983 by the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving that the best long-term approach to such problems was education. And he cited a conclusion by the national office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving that there was no strong link between where liquor was bought and drunken driving.
"To think that singling out gas stations is addressing the problem is wrong," he said. "They should have looked at the whole situation."
Seitz and Davis favored a proposal by Councilman Dan Walker, who voted against the restriction, to adopt a Planning Department recommendation that would have regulated the number of gas stations selling beer and wine by requiring a conditional-use permit that would impose restrictions, including where such establishments could be located. Under that plan, gas stations that sold alcohol would have had to be at least 300 feet from each other. However, no one else on the council supported his proposal.
The City Council also delayed for 30 days a vote on a second proposal by the Police Department that would require conditional-use permits--including the 300-foot limit--for any business wanting to sell liquor. No conditional-use permit is now required.
Controls in Other Cities
Most other South Bay cities use conditional-use permits to regulate the number of businesses that sell liquor. Only Gardena is exploring an ordinance similar to the one Torrance adopted.
The Gardena Planning Commission held three public hearings on the issue and concluded on Feb. 4 that there was no evidence that the sale of beer and wine at gas stations encouraged drunk driving more than sales at other outlets, according to Community Development Director Hayward Fong. The commission recommended at that time that no such restriction be imposed.
However, the Gardena City Council last week directed its planning staff to compile information from those hearings into a report so that it could reconsider the matter. Fong said it will take at least two months to complete the report.