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Santa Rosa City Council denies Big Lots' bid to sell booze

Big Lots won't be able to sell cheap booze in Santa Rosa.

The City Council on Tuesday rejected the discount retailer's request to sell beer and wine over fears that the sale of inexpensive alcohol was unnecessary and might create problems in the high-crime area north of Santa Rosa Junior College.

"I'm in that area a lot, and unfortunately public intoxication is all too common," Councilman Gary Wysocky said. "We don't need another outlet there."

State alcohol laws require the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to deny a license to sell alcohol "if issuance of that license would tend to create a law enforcement problem, or if issuance would result in or add to an undue concentration of licenses."

The department can still issue a license if the local jurisdiction concludes that the "public convenience or necessity would be served" by the license. In this case, there isn't an overconcentration of licenses in the area, but there is a crime problem, according to Santa Rosa police.

The store is at Mendocino Avenue and Steele Lane, and crime statistics from that area make it a "high- crime reporting district," according to police. That's defined by the state as an area where crime reports are 20 percent higher than other districts. The district had 225 crimes reported in 2012, or 57 percent higher than average.

Calls for service in 2011 showed public intoxication to be the No. 1 problem reported in the area, according to police.

Big Lots is what is known as a closeout retailer, meaning it sells products discounted by the manufacturer or retailer in an effort to reduce inventory.

The company is based in Columbus, Ohio, and has more than 1,500 stores in the United States and Canada, including 170 in California.

The Police Department stressed that Big Lots would get its beer and wine from other retailers and would sell it at a discount.

"The Police Department believes that allowing another off-sale alcohol establishment in this area would serve to perpetuate the already criminal and nuisance type of behavior taking place in this area," Lt. Jerry Soares wrote.

Company officials argued that most of its other stores in California sell beer and wine; it would only display alcohol in a 20-foot-long area of its 22,500-square-foot store, and that it would sell popular beer and wine brands and not fortified wine.

Additionally, while its prices would be low, they would not be "overly discounted" in an effort to create a "separate demand" for alcohol purchases, but rather for the convenience of its existing customers, the company said.

But city staff remained unconvinced, and said they noted that "the lower-cost beer and wine would be sold in an area that is already stricken with alcohol-related problems."

The company appealed to the council, which rejected the request 7-0.

(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.)

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