Supervisor David Campos ended a heated discussion of the Mission’s liquor license ban Wednesday by promising community members that they could find a middle ground.
“Co-existence is not an easy thing to do,” Campos said. “The Mission is a very special place and we want this to be a place that works for everyone.”
A discussion over possible changes to the 16-year-old moratorium on new liquor licenses turned into an argument between residents who say they don’t want more alcohol in the neighborhood and business owners who say they need it to compete. Some argued that not allowing businesses to transfer licenses is the key issue with the moratorium.
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.
Those concerns still hold true for many residents today.
Since the ban 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.
“The amount of alcohol already exceeds anywhere else,” a man in the audience said. “We still have to live here. You have to think about the residents, not just the businesses.”
“Just last night I had to call the cops,” a woman said, explaining that she had to confront a drunk person on the street. “All I hear here is that you want to make a buck,” she said to business owners at the meeting.
Business owners, on the other hand, said that the moratorium is penalizing responsible establishments.
Yaron Milgrom, owner of Local Mission Eatery and Local’s Corner, said he has been having a difficult time opening a small market on Harrison and 23rd streets.
Supermarkets that are 5,000 square feet or more, such as Fresh & Easy, are exempt from the moratorium, he said. Milgrom’s market is smaller and therefore falls under the ban. One of the owners of Valencia Whole Foods said his store has run into the same issue.
“Why are we supporting this?” he asked. “We need more markets to feed our families, and to offer a full meal is also to offer wine and beer.”
Many business owners argued that transferring licenses should be allowed.
Jaime Maldonado, owner of La Victoria Bakery, wants to offer alcohol. His wife owns a bar in another neighborhood and would like to transfer the license, but the ban makes it difficult.
“We’re trying to move into a new direction. We want a Latino-themed lounge and a coffee bar,” he said.
Elixir would like to expand. Shea Shawson said the owner would like to open a lounge next door but hasn’t been able because of the restrictions.
The moratorium currently doesn’t allow a business with a liquor license to transfer within or into the neighborhood. However, a business owner who opens a “bona fide restaurant” — meaning that 50 percent of the sales are food — is exempt.
Erick Arguello, president of the Lower 24th Street Merchants and Neighbors Association, also wants to allow transfers.
“There’s plenty out there,” he said of the availability of alcohol in the neighborhood. He’s concerned about the number of people who are intoxicated on 24th Street. Organizations that help people with alcohol addiction are packed, he said.
If the law is changed at all, Arguello said, it should be to allow transfers within the district.
Campos agreed: “I don’t believe that we should eliminate [the moratorium],” he said, “but I do believe that there is some middle ground, especially with transfers.”
For some in the audience, the discussion was more about a changing neighborhood than the amount of alcohol available.
“There’s some essence of gentrification that we’re not talking about here,” a man said.
“We don’t want more fancy restaurants and fancy cheese shops. You say you’re serving the community, but what community are you serving here? Not ours.”
“It’s not about whites versus Hispanics,” another man said. “The question is, what can we all do? Maybe it’s about working together a little bit more.”
No future meetings have been scheduled, but Mission Local will post an update if one is announced.