Monday, Aug. 28, 2006 | Concerned residents and health experts rallied in National City’s Kimball Park recently calling for the City Council to require training for all alcohol outlets in the city, including bars, restaurants, stores and markets.
The training, known as Responsible Beverage Sales and Service (RBSS) training, is intended to prevent sales to minors and intoxicated customers, said Charissa McAfee, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving San Diego. The training is intended to help communities reduce problems such as DUIs, single-vehicle car crashes and a variety of alcohol-related crimes, she said.
“All we’re asking is that all people who sell and serve alcohol get the best training available,” said McAfee. “National City residents need merchants and their workers to help head off problems before they ever become problems. This ordinance gives them the ability – and the responsibility – to do just that.”
Police records show that drunk-driving arrests in National City are on a record pace this year – up 33 percent since 2003. Health experts say 180 drunk drivers are expected to be arrested here, based on police figures.
The City Council is scheduled to consider the training requirement at its Sept. 5 session.
The rally Aug.22 was necessary because a statewide grocers association is seeking to exempt so-called “off-sale” alcohol outlets, such as markets and convenience stores. Such a move would leave 45 off-sale stores out of the equation.
Many health experts, including members of MADD and the San Diego County Policy Panel on Youth Access to Alcohol, say they are concerned that the council will embrace a watered-down version of the ordinance due to pressure by the California Independent Grocers and Convenience Stores association.
“That wouldn’t make any sense,” said Patty Drieslein of the San Diego County Policy Panel on Youth Access to alcohol. “Of the businesses cited for selling alcohol to minors, it was the stores and markets that are leading the way.”
National City police have cited 54 outlets for selling alcohol to minors between 1999 and 2004. While bars and restaurants were cited, the majority of citations were given to stores and markets, by more than a 3-to-1 ratio, according to police records.
Nearly half the alcohol licenses in the city are held by off-sale outlets, according to the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control.
National City has been considering an alcohol training ordinance since its Jan. 17 session.
It was deemed necessary by the Police Department, which concluded that “bars, taverns, liquor stores and convenience stores account for a disproportionate number of calls for police service and alcohol-related arrests,” according to a report submitted to the City Council.
However, representatives from the grocers association and the California Restaurant Association are strongly opposed to the measure, arguing that it would place another level of bureaucracy on local businesses and saddle them with additional fees.
Health experts disagree.
“There is a real need for this training,” said Drieslein of the San Diego County Policy Panel on Youth Access to alcohol. “Kids are buying alcohol from local stores and, overall, drunk driving arrests are on the rise in National City.”
“That’s why we’ve been working with the city and the police department for three years on this.”
In National City, 10 percent of ninth graders and 18 percent of 11th graders who drink buy alcohol themselves from local stores, according to the California Healthy Kids Survey 2005.
While voluntary alcohol-server training has been offered in San Diego County for many years, the turnout is often small, with only responsible retailers showing up to train their employees, according to Drieslein. For example, when a recent training was offered in National City, only 10 or 20 people showed up when 100 people were invited to attend.
If it required the training, National City could ensure responsible service is given at local alcohol outlets, a move that would reduce police and emergency costs associated with alcohol fueled crimes and injuries.
“A lot of workers are required to be trained and certified – mechanics, hairstylists, nail technicians, food handlers. So I think this is very appropriate,” said Drieslein. “This type of training will mean less public drinking, less rowdy behavior, fewer fights, and less property damage. That translates to improved quality of life for the community, something we can all appreciate.”
Tuesday’s rally featured National City residents, as well as speakers from MADD San Diego and the Policy Panel on Youth Access to Alcohol. Afterward, participants marched to the City Council chambers to call for all alcohol outlets to receive training.
Jeff Stinchcomb is the communications manager for the Institute for Public Strategies, which is involved in the campaign to persuade National City to pass a law requiring Responsible Beverage Sales and Service Training.