Fresno moves to reduce liquor licenses in 'drunkest city in California'

Experts say in parts of Fresno, there are multiple liquor stores right across the street from schools.

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Friday, September 25, 2020
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The city of Fresno is moving to cut down on the number of liquor licenses in the city, especially the inner city.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The city of Fresno is moving to cut down on the number of liquor licenses in the city, especially the inner city.

Young people helped create a new policy, but some developers are already complaining about unintended consequences.

People have called parts of south Fresno 'food deserts' because of the limited number of grocery stores.

But within the deserts you'll find an oasis of liquor licenses.

Some parts of the city have as many as one license per 300 residents.

"This is the evidence of the highest concentration of alcohol licenses in the state of California," said Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias.

Youth leaders have complained about the saturation of liquor stores and the city has taken at least eight years working on possible solutions.

Those leaders are growing older watching not much change.

"You know, we have parts in Fresno where there are three liquor stores that are right across the street from a high school," said Jose Espinoza of the Youth Leadership Institute, who has been working on the issue since 2012.

And some business owners complained about the density of liquor licenses too.

"And that's not healthy for the city," said convenience store owner Serge Haitayan. "We were the drunkest city for many years. We're still in the Top 10 and we started this process to clean up the city."

A group of city council members have now worked out a plan to slowly reduce the number of liquor licenses in the city without affecting any businesses currently licensed.

They want to limit new licenses and put some distance between businesses selling liquor - doubling it to 1000 feet between licenses in saturated areas.

Some business owners, especially developers, said the restrictions could lead to unintended consequences - like preventing new grocery stories from popping up near old liquor stores.

"The general plan calls for a more walkable city," Darius Assemi of Granville Homes. "This needs you to have a grocery store that can pop up, is more neighborhood-friendly."

But the council members who crafted the plan say they'd embrace new grocery stores and work to make sure they can be built in sensible locations.

"The overall goal of this policy that's being just introduced today for a hearing is to improve the neighborhood quality of life while supporting the small businesses operating with licenses given in the past," Arias said.

The city council will vote on the proposal at its next regular meeting in mid-October.