Photo taken by East County Youth Coalition during walking tour of Sweetwater Springs Blvd.

By Bethany Mudge, Mariah Whitehead, Eric Lagasse and Nicole Robershaw

If you could walk in our shoes for one day and see what our daily commute to school involves, you would be shocked. You would see big advertisements inviting kids for an ice cream cone and then right next to it not only one, or two, or three but a wall plastered with alcohol specials.

Around the 1.5-mile radius from our school there are six other schools and 19 liquor stores that are in a constant promotional battle for who can sell the cheapest beer. And as we walk to and from school each day, we see it all.

Having to view a high number of alcohol advertisements can affect teens. According to the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, a greater exposure to alcohol advertising contributes to an increase in drinking among underage youth. And 40 percent of kids who start drinking before age 15 are likely to have alcohol-related problems later in life, according to the Substance Abuse Journal.

Neighborhoods with a higher density of alcohol establishments also have more violent crime than neighborhoods with a lower density, according to another research study, “The Association Between Density of Alcohol Establishments and Violent Crime Within Urban Neighborhoods.”

As members of the Monte Vista High School East County Youth Coalition — a local group of high school students who work to increase their community’s health and safety by reducing underage drinking and drug use in East County — we are concerned about how many of these stores we have in our neighborhood. We also think they are sending the wrong message to our community and having a negative influence on the kids in the area, which has a student population of more than 2,000 teens.

To better document these problems, the four of us decided to survey the liquor stores down Sweetwater Springs Boulevard, which is the street most of us walk down on our way to and from school each day. We assessed 12 liquor stores in all, checking to see if they were in compliance with all the regulations they are supposed to follow. It turned out that none of the stores were totally in compliance with the operating standard mandated by California state lawas each of them had at least one violation and more than half had four or more violations.

For example, we noticed that several of the stores had excessive alcohol-related advertisements on their windows, more than the 33 percent allowed by state law. And in 9 of the 12 stores surveyed, the cash register was not visible from the street, which is necessary so law enforcement can see what’s going on and perhaps stop a robbery. Other common violations were having trash and graffiti outside, which is also prohibited by the law. The owner is supposed to clean those things up.

To make a fair comparison, we decided to go to La Jolla and do a similar survey, and we were dismayed with what we found. We only saw two liquor establishments and both were 100 percent in compliance with the same operations standards that we used in our community. In addition, the nearest school to these liquor establishments is nearly one mile away, a 13-minute walk.

The East County Youth Coalition wants to know why so many liquor establishments surround us? What does this say about our community?  And why should our businesses act any differently than those in La Jolla?

We would like to urge business owners in our community to take more responsibility for alcohol advertisements in their stores. Start complying with state law; there are a lot of kids in the neighborhoods and they deserve a better environment.

The East County Youth Coalition is planning to present their survey findings at the Valle De Oro Planning Group meeting at 5:30 p.m., June 2, at 2554 Sweetwater Springs Blvd. in Spring Valley

The authors are junior year students from Monte Vista High School in Spring Valley and members of the East County Youth Coalition, a local youth group that works to reduce binge and underage drinking and other drug-related issues in the community.

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