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San Fernando Endorses Law Limiting Number of Liquor Stores : Alcohol: Residents applaud support of the ordinance to bar outlets until the city nearly doubles in population.


Residents in San Fernando have finally won their long battle to limit liquor sales in the city.

A standing-room-only audience roared its approval and gave council members a standing ovation after they unanimously endorsed an ordinance prohibiting new liquor stores from setting up shop until the city almost doubles in population.

"I'm like James Brown: 'I feel good,' " said Councilman Dan Acuna at the end of a nearly three-hour hearing late Monday. "There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears that went into this."

Community members hailed the proposed law as unique in attacking the concentration of liquor outlets in the community.

"I think what we have here is a landmark piece of legislation," said Raul Godinez, a leader of VOICE (Valley Organized in Community Efforts), as members congratulated and hugged each other after the meeting.

Since July, members of San Fernando Residents Council and VOICE have pushed for the city to use its land-use power to halt the proliferation of liquor outlets in the city of 23,000.

The city has 32 liquor stores and markets and 23 bars and restaurants within its 2.4-square-mile boundary.

Last year, the council passed an interim moratorium on new liquor outlets while it worked on a permanent ordinance. Nine months, three workshops and five council meetings later, the proposed ordinance came before the council for approval.

Before it passed, however, VOICE members pressed their case for a second time to drop an exemption for redevelopment areas. Residents, who say such a provision would render the ordinance useless, had lost before the Planning Commission on that issue last month.

"We're totally against redevelopment areas being exempted," Godinez said. He said VOICE members backed an exemption for new major retail centers that would allow developers to include establishments such as supermarkets. "This exemption gives enough latitude to the business community," he said.

During the hearing, two business members objected to some provisions, saying the ordinance might hurt the business climate. One said the sale of alcohol is necessary for some businesses to survive--an assertion that drew scattered boos from the audience.

"People are coming here with goodwill. They're not trying to ruin San Fernando," business owner Alma Gonzalez said.

But council members disagreed, embracing instead the VOICE position.

"This council is pro-business, but it is also pro-community," Mayor Jose Hernandez said.

Under the ordinance, stores that sell liquor to be consumed elsewhere would be prohibited until the city reaches a ratio of one outlet per 1,000 people. Since the city now has 32 such outlets, none could open until the city grows to 33,000 residents.

Such outlets also must be situated at least 600 feet from public schools, parks and playgrounds, 300 feet from churches and about a city block from other outlets. Restaurants that sell alcohol by the drink must meet similar distance requirements.

Such distance requirements are similar to those used by the city of Los Angeles to regulate liquor outlets, Deputy City Atty. Jeri Burge said.

The unanimous vote on the first reading of the proposal led backers to predict easy passage when the council takes up final action on the ordinance April 19.

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