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Passing the Bottle on Exceptions to ‘Single Sales’ Ban

Reading a recent article in the February 27th edition of the Sacramento News and Review (“Singles barred: How Sacramento banned craft beer”) raised some questions which weren’t addressed by the writer. My curiosity again got the better of me, and so I embarked on a quest to get my questions answered.

I started my quest to get my questions answered by going directly to the source of the quotes and information for the article used by the SN&R writer, Sacramento Police Department Public Information Officer (PIO) Doug Morse.

I started off my interview with a simple question (or so I thought): Since current city code doesn’t allow for the sale of less than six packs of beer by stores, on what basis has the SPD allowed certain stores to sell craft beers in two packs or “doubles”?

Officer Morse’s response, after looking at a copy of the original SN&R story, was, “These quotes are taken out of context. The Police Department does not have final say in the issuing of these permits or the so-called waivers. We only make recommendations to ABC who has the final say.”

The PIO then walked me through a hypothetical alcohol licensing scenario for a new licensee. It was all very straight forward and ended with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) making the final decision on the license including conditions of issuance attached for a particular application.

Officer Morse did say that because of the economic impact of the craft beer industry in the Sacramento area “that impact is taken into consideration for those type of applications.”

Great, I thought to myself, so my next step would be to contact the ABC to get their explanation and reasoning behind the waivers.

My next conversation and email exchange was with John Carr, Public Information Officer for the ABC.

After putting my information request in a written email form per Mr. Carr’s request and exchanging clarifying emails, I received a call from Matthew Seck, Supervising Agent for the ABC. We discussed the February 27th article and my information request. Mr. Seck directed me back to the Sacramento Police Department. “We [the State of California and the ABC] don’t enforce local ordinances regarding specific conditional permit requirements. You would need to contact the Sacramento PD to get your questions answered,” he said.

I pride myself on being able to read the handwriting on the wall. It is obvious that neither the Sacramento Police Department nor the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control were going to give me a straight answer to my questions.

So, I went back to the City Codes and found my answer. It was a paragraph in Chapter 5.08.010 Declarations of Purpose and Intent which made the reasoning perfectly clear: “The city council finds and determines that over-concentration of certain establishments selling alcoholic beverages poses a serious threat to the health, safety, welfare, security, economic viability and stability of the city. The city council also recognizes that certain establishments with licenses to sell alcoholic beverages do not detract from neighborhoods and may, when properly operated, enhance the stability and economic viability of a community. There is no single formula for determining whether public convenience or necessity are served by an additional use in an over-concentrated area.”

This is a nice way of saying that the Council and SPD and ABC are willing to allow exceptions to the ordinance if you are located in certain gentrified areas of the city especially if you have the economic resources to pay for ‘craft’ beers. Of course no politician or law enforcement official would come right out and say this in so many words. They would cover the same material with terms like ‘economic impact’, ‘not blighted’, etc. Which just so happens to be some of the words used in both the original SN&R article and my follow-up for this article.

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