By Pastor Rolland Slade
For some time now, alcohol retailers in the city of El Cajon have been under pressure to conduct their businesses more responsibly. But despite all their efforts, irresponsible business practices such as selling to minors and already intoxicated homeless people have continued to be a problem.
We shouldn’t really be surprised; such problems have been plaguing our city for years. But as Mayor Bill Wells has pointed out, each time the city council has tried to address these issues, local alcohol retailers have opposed any action, insisting they be allowed to police themselves.
The current situation dates back to 2011 when local residents and businesses banded together to form a coalition, insisting that the city pass strong alcohol regulations. In response, Councilman Gary Kendrick introduced a practical law, known as a Deemed Approved Ordinance, which would have given the city more power to deal with problem alcohol retailers.
But retailers argued strongly against the proposal, claiming that any kind of regulation would be a fatal blow to local business. Instead, they maintained that self-policing was the only viable solution. Wanting to be fair, the city gave them a chance to clean up their act, but they also gave them a time limit: six months to turn things around.
The six months passed and a lot more, but the promised reduction in problems never happened! The concept of “self-policing” has proved itself to be ineffective, doing very little, if anything, to decrease public intoxication, underage drinking, and other quality of life issues we have in our city.
So, in August 2013, the El Cajon City Council passed the long-awaited Deemed Approved Ordinance, establishing a set of responsible operating guidelines and giving the city more power to crack down on businesses that don’t comply. The process involves a public hearing before any action can be taken, but ultimately the city now has the power to restrict a wide range of irresponsible business practices. These include advertising that appeals to youth and selling the cheap, fortified beer and wine that comes in single-serving containers, the fruit-flavored beers and other sweetened alcohol products, and the hard liquor that is sold in the small airplane bottles.
Many people may not realize it but such products are the drinks of choice for underage youth as well as the segment of the homeless population that is repeatedly intoxicated in public, partly because of their low price, partly because of their sweet taste, which appeals to youth, and partly because of their high alcohol concentration. This can lead to rapid intoxication, often in public places; and, as most people know, public drunkenness is a real problem in downtown El Cajon.
Store owners who sell these large single-serving containers of cheap beer with high alcohol content, especially when it is sold cold, ready to consume; or who sell other inexpensive, single-serving alcoholic beverages, like the small airplane bottles, are enabling serial inebriates to continue to fuel their addictions. This, in turn, leads to public intoxication, aggressive panhandling, public nuisances and other criminal activity.
Like most citizens of El Cajon I’m concerned about the problem of homelessness. As pastor of the Meridian Baptist Church, I am also involved in trying to help the homeless turn their lives around, to recover from their addictions, find employment and get resettled in appropriate housing. But if business owners keep selling these high-risk products to the people we’re trying help, they’ll never be able to get off the street.
I’m also concerned about underage drinking and the threat is presents to the health and safety of our kids. With stronger alcohol policy, like the Deemed Approved Ordinance, the city finally has a tool to deal with businesses that are contributing to underage drinking as well as homelessness.
A recent report published by the El Cajon Police Department in March of this year shows that the Deemed Approved Ordinance has been working. It has been able to stop bad business practices, not by shutting down businesses, but by turning them into responsible operations.
However, the battle is not over. Wells is looking for the strongest law he can get, one that will be incorporated into the city charter. If we want a healthier and more prosperous El Cajon, we should all join together and support him in that effort.
Pastor Rolland Slade of Meridian Baptist Church is working in cooperation with East County Transitional Living Center to provide a place for people to go if they wish to enter a recovery program, designed to treat alcohol and drug addictions.
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