At a recent community meeting it was clear that Mission residents are split over potential changes to the neighborhood’s 18-year-old moratorium on liquor licenses. Supervisor David Campos promised to hold more public meetings before agreeing to any amendments.
“The question that I have is, are we OK with the way it is?” Campos asked the crowd.
Yes, three people in the audience quickly answered.
“I would like to get more info about statistics that put it into place,” another person said.
Business owners were all in favor of more alcohol and more ease in selling it. Having a full bar is the only way small businesses can compete with new establishments moving into the Mission, they said, and the moratorium makes it difficult to buy a liquor license.
“You cannot stay in business only selling food,” one business owner said.
“What do we do to survive as a mom-and-pop when people don’t come in to buy sweets any more?” another asked. “If we didn’t own a bar in District 8, we wouldn’t survive.”
But many residents felt differently. “We’re being flooded with alcohol,” said one. “How will this change improve public health?”
The Mission Alcoholic Beverage Special Use District was put in place in the mid-1990s, in part because residents were concerned about public drunkenness and crime.
Then-Supervisor Susan Leal proposed making a temporary ban permanent. “Mission residents and businesspeople have been troubled for years about the problems of crime, loitering and harassment outside liquor stores,” Leal said at the time. “We are now putting into place permanent legislation to … make the Mission a safer place to live.”
But the ban hasn’t stopped liquor from pouring into the neighborhood. Since it went into effect in 1996, data gathered from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control shows that 156 restaurants have been licensed to sell beer and wine in the neighborhood, 39 restaurants obtained a full liquor license, two new bars have opened and three more stores sell beer and wine.
That’s because the ban restricts new liquor licenses but doesn’t prevent a business owner from buying a license from elsewhere in the city. The ban does not apply to beer and wine licenses.
The Mission’s moratorium is the city’s oldest ban on liquor licenses and also the strictest, AnMarie Rodgers, manager for legislative affairs at the San Francisco Planning Department, told residents at the meeting.
Allowing businesses to transfer liquor licenses within or out of the Mission District could make it easier for businesses, Rodgers said.
Transfers are allowed in other neighborhoods, including the Haight, where a similar moratorium has been in place since the mid-1990s. The Mission’s moratorium prohibits liquor license transfers.
As previously reported by Mission Loc@l, several recently opened establishments, including West of Pecos, Mission Bowling Club and Tacolicious, were able to transfer licenses from within the neighborhood or from other areas of the city because at least 50 percent of their revenue is from food sales.
While allowing transfers was important to many business owners at the meeting, most residents worried that the practice would only bring more alcohol into the neighborhood.
“The issue is that we see a lot of people drunk on the street,” said one man.
“They bought the alcohol at a store, not at a restaurant,” said another audience member. “They sell to anybody. To me that’s more detrimental.”
“Why is it important to have more alcohol?” asked a man who brought his young daughter to the meeting. “Why not have healthier foods?”
“I’m really concerned about the preservation of the neighborhood,” he added.
“As a community, we still have to pick up the pieces,” a woman said. “You know how Mission Street and Valencia Street are on a Friday or Saturday night. It’s wild out there.”
“If they’re intoxicated, you can’t serve people. They can be shut down,” Rodgers said.
“But they do,” two people answered.
“Enforcement seems like it’s a big issue today,” Rodgers said, adding that budget cuts have decreased the city’s ability to properly penalize businesses that don’t follow liquor sales laws.
But things will get better, she said. A few years ago there was no enforcement team; today, four people are responsible for enforcement in the city. That means employees can’t go check on establishments but will respond to complaints, she said.
But residents were still concerned about potential changes to a ban that some said is not appropriately enforced as it is.
“If the legislation changes, how can we be confident that things will be regulated?” someone asked.
The discussion then turned to gentrification.
“With all the gentrification, we’re just opening the door to more boutique, high-end places,” a woman said. “My Brownies don’t go to Bi-Rite.”
“No matter what color you are, alcohol is going to affect you,” replied Erick Arguello, president of the Lower 24th Street Merchants and Neighbors Association.
“The intent in ’96 was public health, it was to save our kids. It doesn’t matter if they’re Latino, Samoan or white. But who gets hit first? It’s the low-income kids.”
“The overall goal here is public health,” a man in the audience said.
Wrapping up the meeting, Campos promised that no changes would be made without a community consensus.
“I don’t feel like I’m at a point where I can make changes to the legislation,” he said. “There remains the question, should anything change?”
Campos said he plans to hold more public meetings, but no dates have been announced at this time. Mission Loc@l will publish the dates as soon as they are available.