Mall management declines alcohol permit for new tenant

Proposed business at Pacific View Mall in Ventura was one of three granted alcohol licenses approval by the city’s planning commission

By Paul Sisolak 06/10/2010

Two months after it was issued by the city’s planning commission, representatives from the Pacific View Mall in Ventura have declined an alcohol permit granted to one of the mall’s prospective tenants, which was being appealed by a local resident.

Officials from Macerich, the mall’s management company, said that they decided to turn down the commission’s conditional use permit and leave it up to the as-yet unnamed retailer to apply at a later date.

“We are very close to finalizing a deal with a retailer for this particular use, and it makes sense for them to go through the process themselves as they can answer the questions that will be specific to the anticipated use and operations. This will be a more seamless process in the end,” said Patti Hazlett, Macerich’s assistant vice president of developmenl relations.

The tenant is rumored to be a “big box- style, alcohol-exclusive store in the vein of a BevMo, and is set to join a Trader Joe’s and another unnamed tenant, a restaurant, at the north end of the mall on Mills and Telegraph roads. Both Trader Joe’s and the restaurant have also been granted alcohol permits.

In her initial sobering message to local officials, a local resident, Patricia Barrett, reported she had filed an appeal of the city’s decision last month, saying members of the city’s planning commission were in the wrong this April when issuing one of the three permits. The Ventura City Council had planned to deliberate over the complaint at its June 14 meeting. Although the permit has been withdrawn, Barrett plans on attending the meeting to discuss it and other issues related to alcohol in Midtown.

Macerich would not comment about whether the withdrawal was related in any way to the stir caused by Barrett’s appeal.

Although her appeal now stands voided, Barrett, a community activist and alcohol prevention advocate, stands by her position: The proposed liquor store will be a magnet for crime. Officials, she says, should have taken other things into consideration, like its proximity to nearby Anacapa Middle School and the neighboring residential community, that support barring liquor in an area of town already saturated with alcohol sales.

She calls the move an “accelerant to violence,” an easy spot for robberies to take place, in addition to crime being brought to the area through a local transit center adjacent to the mall.

Current confirmed plans call for a 12,000-square-foot Trader Joe’s to occupy the former Circuit City location at the north end of the plaza, facing Mills Road.

Barrett worked recently with Dan Hicks, a prevention manager with the county behavioral health department’s alcohol and drug programs division, to compile statistics correlating alcohol to crime in the city.

Numbers from the 1999 grant-funded study revealed that alcohol was connected to 18 percent of all police calls, 43 percent of all arrests by Ventura police, and 53 percent of all fights, disturbances and assaults.

Derek Donswyk, the city’s current Alcohol Beverage Control officer, was unavailable to provide updated statistics.
“It’s the worst location they could pick in the whole city,” says Barrett. “I want it to be a safe place for kids to go and hang out. To add this is mostly disturbing.”

City officials used the same reasoning when denying mall tenant Target a liquor license in November 2008.

Then-Mayor Christy Weir, who could not be reached for this story, was the most outspoken in the City Council’s decision process, expressing the belief that accessibility to liquor in a kid-friendly environment like the mall makes for a bad cocktail.

Weir, along with Barrett and Suz Montgomery, formed the Prevention Alliance, concerned about the sale of alcohol in Ventura.

Montgomery fought hard to adopt legislation granting local power for the issuance of alcohol permits, which had previously been a state function. According to Montgomery, the alliance discovered that Ventura was third in the state for the most alcohol permits — 300 — behind only San Francisco and Santa Barbara.

“It’s called prevention, and prevention is a very difficult concept to embrace. We really had to educate the entire town,” Montgomery said.

“I think those are still issues of concern to people,” says City Council member Neal Andrews.

But officials are also in a position to be convinced about getting the run down, north end of the Pacific View Mall occupied.

“The argument that can be made is, it is time to revitalize that end of the mall,” said Andrews. “In these times of economic difficulty, it may, in fact, be important to have additional traffic in the mall for all the stores.”

Rick Cole, Ventura’s city manager, says there are distinct differences between allowing alcohol sales at a store like Target, and allowing liquor at the newer, proposed vendor at the northern end of the center.

“It was a controversial issue when it (Target) came up,” Cole said. “It had to do with retail liquor sales inside the mall, which attracts a very large clientele of young people, especially teens, [which] was different from a store that’s going to obviously not have teens streaming through it. It’s geographically different and demographically different.”

Planning commissioner Scott Boydstun backed up the commission’s April 6 decision.

“The big difference between the Target and this project was that this building is not physically connected to the mall. It’s not a place where kids hang out and traverse,” he said. “In that vein, we didn’t see it as a whole lot different, in that crime would be higher for that kind of use.”

Officials from the Ventura Unified School District did not oppose alcohol sales at the mall, a block away from Anacapa School.

“We really count on the city; that’s the city’s jurisdiction,” said Joe Richards, VUSD assistant superintendent of business. “We have direct input when we believe there’s direct input. But we count on the city to use their authority.”

Alison Mochizuki, spokeswoman for Trader Joe’s, says there are no plans to close the market’s current location on Victoria Avenue. The new Trader Joe’s is scheduled to open during the second quarter of next year.   

paul@vcreporter.com

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