As a member of the High Desert Community Coalition (HDCC), I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about alcohol-related problems in our communities. Several of our coalition members have shared similar experiences as we work to make our community safer and healthier for everyone.
One misconception we hear frequently is that most people expect the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to prevent problems and to address the troublesome issues when they arise. Unfortunately, we’ve found that this isn’t always happening, and it will be up to our local cities individually to respond to some of the public health and safety problems that affect us all.
For example, ABC has a recommended number of alcohol licenses that should not be exceeded for every census tract in the state. This number is based on population. However, ABC will not necessarily stop issuing licenses once they reach their recommended number of liquor stores in any given area. If the city approves the application, ABC will usually issue the license. This is one reason why several areas in the High Desert have multiple liquor stores within walking distance of one another. Many of the stores are located in areas where students pass by regularly to and from school, and many of them are located in high crime areas.
To their credit, ABC has done some positive things. For example, they sometimes coordinate Minor Decoy Operations to determine if retail stores are selling alcohol to minors, and they support comprehensive responsible beverage service and sales (RBS) training for retail employees in those roles.
But this doesn’t mean that underage youth are not able to access alcohol from local liquor stores. When the HDCC completed our own pseudo minor decoy operations in 2014 and 2015 in Victorville, our youthful-looking volunteer attempted 21 alcohol purchases and the clerks on duty only checked for identification seven times. This indicates to us that store clerks need to be better trained at checking for ID. And while the RBS training provided by ABC is excellent and readily available for employees who wish to take it, the training is NOT required in any of our High Desert cities and many employees never take it. Most people we talk to assume the RBS training is required.
The bottom line is, ABC has been unable to hold all alcohol outlets to responsible operating standards in our communities. We need to give our local law enforcement the tools they need to work with alcohol retailers to solve problems when problems arise. Until this happens, issues like trash, vandalism and aggressive panhandling and sales to underage youth will continue to spiral out of control.
The HDCC has been working toward a Deemed Approved Ordinance that would better equip law enforcement to handle these issues locally.
To learn more about advocating for a healthy community, join us at the next High Desert Community Coalition meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 18. Meetings are held in the third-floor training room at 15428 Civic Drive in Victorville.
We will be taking a holiday break this month, but hope to see you in January! For more information, visit the HDCC Facebook page at www.facebook/HighDesertCommunityCoalition or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Grabhorn is a member of the High Desert Community Coalition.