Mostly clear

Mendocino County awash in alcohol

  • Children walk by at the Water Trough bar, and a convenience store advertising among other things, beer. A school is just south of the location and school children walk by the outlets on a daily basis. The bar has been at the location for decades, long before the school. The convenience store fits in to regulations of being so many feet from the school, though it was fought by at least one teacher, Thursday April 4, 2013. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

There's no obvious "ground zero" for alcohol sales or consumption in Ukiah, no skid row scene replete with liquor stores and run down bars. In fact, the landscape of this rural Mendocino County hub looks, for the most part, pretty dry.

And yet each convenience store, restaurant, pub, wine bar, gas station and pharmacy has led to a unique situation here: Mendocino County is drowning in alcohol.

The number of alcohol outlets per capita in Mendocino is more than twice that of the state, according to a public health impact assessment released to the public last week. There are currently 48 outlets per 10,000 residents, compared to 21 for the state.

With a total of 168 off-sale alcohol outlets, Mendocino's off-sales rate is 4.8 outlets per 2,500 residents, compared to 1.9 for the state. When compared to six other rural counties, including Lake, Mendocino County has the highest off-sale outlet density. Lake County has 3.6 off-sale outlets per 2,500 residents.

The impact assessment shows a correlation between the density of alcohol outlets and arrests for aggravated assault, drinking and driving and underage drinking.

"We're not claiming causation, but there is a link," said Linda Helland, program manager for the Mendocino County Public Health Services prevention and planning unit.

"We know that when they make roads, people drive on them," she said.

The health department conducted its health impact assessment between May 2010 and August 2010. The initial findings were shared with local officials in 2011 and led to the Ukiah planning commission prohibiting new off-sale alcohol outlets in the downtown area. Last year the Ukiah city council adopted the downtown prohibition as an amendment to the city code.

The county's high alcohol density has it running afoul with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which sets guidelines for acceptable levels of outlets per population.

ABC rules state that the maximum number of outlets should not exceed one off-sale outlet per 2,500 inhabitants. The impact assessment found that, to be in compliance with ABC rules, Mendocino's 168 off-sale outlets would have to be reduced to 35.

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