PASADENA — A controversial proposal to ban the sale of beer and wine at gas station mini-marts in the city was abandoned last week by the Board of Directors, which said it would have been ineffective and unfair to the existing seven such businesses.
The proposal, made by Director Jess Hughston, was aimed at eliminating what he said was a dangerous combination of selling both alcohol and gasoline at the same store.
But the majority of directors said they saw no evidence of a connection between drunk driving and the mini-marts, and added that they were reluctant to approve a plan that singled out only seven of the hundreds of businesses in Pasadena that sell alcohol.
"I don't see a ban on seven little businesses as a rational solution," Director William Thomson said. "They're like a gnat on the camel's back."
Instead of a total ban, the board unanimously decided Wednesday to pursue a compromise proposal that would enable the city to control the sale of alcohol through a permit process.
Gas station mini-mart owners said they welcomed the compromise as a fair and reasonable solution to the proliferation of businesses selling alcohol.
"I've got no quarrel with trying to control the number of outlets in the city," said Gary Bottemer, owner of Gary's AM PM Mini Market on East California Boulevard. "As long as they treat everybody equally, I'm satisfied."
The compromise would follow the guidelines of a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Gary A. Condit (D-Ceres) that would prohibit any categorical ban on the concurrent sale of alcohol and gasoline, but would affirm the authority of city governments to regulate alcohol sales through land-use permits.
Condit's chief of staff, Mike Lynch, said the bill, AB 937, has won the endorsement of the League of California Cities and several industry groups.
The idea of restricting alcohol sales through a permit process won Hughston's grudging approval. While not the best option, he said, it would at least keep the problem from getting worse.
Hughston's proposal for a total ban made its official debut Monday during a public hearing that featured a video made by two of his political science students from Pasadena City College. To illustrate how lax mini-marts were in observing laws against liquor sales to minors, the students filmed a teen-ager as he bought six-packs of wine cooler from three mini-marts in the area.
"The problems are monstrous," Hughston said. "We've got to act now before there are 12 or 30 (mini-marts), because that's coming next."
Beer Next to Register
Hughston argued that selling alcohol and gasoline from the same store encourages people to drink and drive. He said that some markets place cold cans of beer next to the cash register, and that it would be naive to believe that all the people who buy them wait until they get home to drink their beer.
Hughston added that the city must act to control not only gas station mini-marts but also the growing number of other businesses that are beginning to sell beer and wine.
"It's got to stop somewhere," he said. "Is McDonald's going to be the next place where you can buy beer and wine?"
Hughston said about 50 cities in the state have enacted ordinances limiting the concurrent sale of alcohol and gasoline.
Board members and the owners of several mini-marts said they were shocked at the apparent ease with which the teen-ager in Hughston's video bought wine from the mini-marts.
But they contended that a total ban was not the way to solve the problem.
Using a Sledgehammer
The owners of the mini-markets, along with representatives from Arco Petroleum Products Co. and 7-Eleven Stores, argued that Hughston's proposal was like using a sledgehammer against a fly.
"I'm just saying why ban seven people when you have 273 licenses out there," said Joe Logsdon, the owner of Joe's Mini-Market on East Orange Grove Boulevard. "If the city wants to ban me, ban everyone else in town."
T.L. Everett, an Arco representative, said that gas station mini-marts sell only 1% of the alcohol in the state and that a total ban would unfairly penalize them.
He said several studies have shown little or no evidence that gas station mini-marts encourage drunk driving.
"You can drive into a Lucky (market) or a liquor store and buy alcohol," he said. "The only thing that will stop drunk driving is stiff legal penalties."