LONG BEACH — One grimy section of downtown Anaheim Street is a drinking man's paradise.
It runs between Magnolia and Pine avenues and covers about a third of a mile. Jammed into that short stretch are nine businesses that sell beer, wine or liquor.
Because of areas like downtown Anaheim Street, the City Council voted unanimously last month to impose a six-month moratorium on alcoholic beverage permits in the inner-city 6th District. The moratorium gives city officials time to consider changes in municipal laws governing alcohol sales.
Since then, city planners have completed a study that concludes that the 6th District is "over-saturated" with liquor stores, bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.
Based on population standards of the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the study says, the 6th District should have 41 bars and restaurants that sell alcohol and 37 stores and markets that sell liquor. But the 6th District now has 47 bars and restaurants serving alcohol and 44 liquor stores.
The study, accepted Tuesday by the council, found that some census tracts with high concentrations of liquor stores also have high crime rates. The study, however, drew no conclusions, although it does suggest ways to tighten city laws governing businesses that sell alcohol.
Planners are now making a similar study of the other eight council districts, although a citywide moratorium on alcoholic beverage permits is not under consideration, said city Planning Director Robert J. Paternoster.
The moratorium was imposed at the request of District 6 Councilman Clarence Smith, who said that the oversupply of businesses selling alcohol in his district has contributed to its high crime rate. "Most liquor stores have folks hanging around them; winos and other alcohol abusers," Smith said, saying they "invite the criminal element."
A spokesman for the Police Department agreed with Smith. "There's more than a casual connection between alcohol and crime," said Lt. Richard Lacey, who oversees the vice section. "If you have an over-concentration of bars and liquor stores, you have a higher incidence of crime. That's the perception."
One businessman, though, disagreed, saying that council members are seeking an easy target to make political points with voters.
"They are doing something that sounds politically favorable and attractive and means absolutely nothing," said Eddie Snow. He is the owner of Eddie's Jr. Market on Anaheim Street, one of 25 liquor stores he owns in Long Beach, Compton and Lakewood.
Snow said current city laws are sufficient to control the growth of businesses that sell alcohol.
Bryan (Whitey) Littlefield, who owns a Carson distributorship that supplies 60% of Long Beach's beer, said the council should not impose any hardships on new businesses, but should instead "welcome businesses to town."
Since 1983, the city has attempted to regulate the growth of alcohol sales by requiring a conditional-use permit for new and expanding alcoholic beverage businesses that are within 500 feet of residential areas. Previously, the city had no zoning restrictions on alcohol sales, except for requiring that such businesses be in commercial and industrial zones.
The study shows that in the past three years, the city has granted 35 of 55 conditional-use permits for alcohol sales, including four of seven permits sought in the 6th District.
To obtain the permit, owners must provide adequate parking, lighting and security and prevent loitering, city officials said. The permit requirement does not apply to businesses more than 500 feet from residential areas, nor does it apply to existing restaurants, department stores and flower shops (which sometimes include bottles of wine or liquor with floral baskets).
Since 1983, the state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control has approved 58 of 104 applications for alcohol licenses citywide that did not require the city's conditional-use permit, the city study said. Those figures include five of nine permits granted in the 6th District.
The city report concludes that the permit process has "discouraged many from applying, due to cost, delay and uncertainty as to approval." The city now requires a non-refundable fee of $1,300 for the permit, which takes six months to process, the city report says.
To strengthen the ordinance, the city report suggests requiring a conditional-use permit for any businesses that are transferring or selling alcohol licenses. More than 400 licenses have been approved citywide in the past three years and are now exempt from the conditional-use permit, the report says.
The report also suggests eliminating current exemptions for restaurants, department stores and florists that want to add alcohol sales, as well as the exemption for businesses more than 500 feet from a residential area.
Those proposals drew objections from Councilman Warren Harwood, who proposed the 1983 city ordinance requiring the permit. Harwood said that last month's opening of a Giant supermarket in a former Zodys department store is an example of how the current law benefits both businesses and residents.
Harwood said that the Giant store is marketed as an all-purpose grocery store, "and if people could not purchase wine for their dinner, it (Giant) would not be a one-stop" operation.
He added that it would be a hardship for store and restaurant owners to go through the conditional-use permit process merely to add alcohol sales.
According to city officials, another section of the city that has a surplus of bars and liquor stores is Belmont Shore.
Councilwoman Jan Hall, whose district includes Belmont Shore, said she favored the existing ordinance and was opposed to any moratorium on alcohol licenses in her district.
"We have a law in place, and what we have to do is enforce it," she said.