Allied Gardens took a step backwards earlier this month when another of its beer and wine shops turned into a full-fledged liquor store.

Some might welcome the addition, but taxpayers should be reserving their elation. As a community, we had a chance to limit our liabilities. Unfortunately, antiquated liquor licensing procedures prevailed and we fell short.

Anyone who has patronized Fast Break Food Store, at the corner of Zion Avenue and Waring Road, knows beer and wine have long been available. And when the owners of Fast Break applied for a full-service liquor license, some community members saw it as rare opportunity to slow alcohol-related crime — including me.

Before Fast Break’s upgrade application there were few conditions on the store’s license and it was free to sell single-serve beer of varying sizes. In most cases, these containers are sold cold and are ready for immediate consumption.

Here’s where community risk comes into play. Research shows the sales of single-serve beer disproportionately affect alcohol-related crime like fights, loitering, gang-related activity, serial inebriates, public intoxication, driving under the influence, public urination, litter and other disruptive behavior. Many police departments across California back up this claim, including our own.

In Allied Gardens alone, alcohol-related crime jumped 53 percent from 2005 to 2010. While single-serve beer may not be the culprit in every crime — experts do say it contributes to crime nonetheless.

A groundbreaking study in San Bernardino recently linked the sales of single-serve beer to violent crime. The study revealed that neighborhoods with a disproportionate number of alcohol outlets had a higher rate of violent crime. More important, those areas with higher rates of single-serve cooler space also had higher rates of violence.

Unfortunately, Fast Break meets the threshold of that study — it allots more than 10 percent of its cooler space to single-serve beer.

Knowing this, our community’s city-sanctioned planning and zoning authority — the Navajo Community Planners — recommended that Fast Break be allowed to sell hard liquor but that future sales of single-serve beer be prohibited.

Seems fair. Give up the right to sell the more problematic beer products and get the right to sell hard liquor, which is not proven to disproportionally affect alcohol-related crime.

I attended Fast Break’s Business License hearing at City Hall to ensure that the community’s sentiment that single-serve beer sales be prohibited. I was excited to perform my civic duty and testify before the hearing officer during public comment. It worked.

Kind of.

The city threw Allied Gardens a curve ball. They gave Fast Break a new business license, recommending that the state allow them to operate as a full-scale liquor store. The city also instructed Fast Break to now stop selling single-serves.

According to the new city business license, while Fast Break can no longer sell single-serves, the store is now perfectly within its right to sell beer, malt beverages or wine cooler products, regardless of container size, as long as it was sold in multi-unit quantities of not less than three.

That’s right. Just sell ‘em three at a time.

When it comes to beer, nothing’s really changed. As for hard liquor, you can now buy that off the shelves at Fast Break too.

Frankly, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this one. The community wanted single-serve beer off store shelves. Not only is it still there, but who is going to monitor Fast Break to ensure that the store doesn’t sell a single-serve beer?

My bet is no one.

San Diego police resources have been cut thin. There’s only one Alcohol Licensing Officer in the San Diego Vice Unit. She’s responsible for overseeing more than 2,000 alcohol licenses. I’d say she’s pretty busy.

How about the state? There are only four Alcohol Beverage Control Officers in San Diego County for more than 4,000 alcohol licensees.

The point — the upgraded license can’t be adequately enforced. That means our alcohol-related crime because of single-serve beer may continue.

I can’t tell if the city’s compromise — which put this business’ interest above the community’s — is a sign of things to come. But I urge other San Diego neighborhoods to keep an eye out. Alcohol-related crime isn’t limited to Allied Gardens and it won’t disappear on its own. The next license application could affect the health, safety and quality of life of your neighborhood.

Correction: We incorrectly edited a word that was a typo originally in this letter when submitted. To reflect what actually happened, we’ve changed this line “The city also instructed Fast Break to not stop selling single-serves.” to this “The city also instructed Fast Break to now stop selling single-serves.”

Anthony Wagner serves on the Allied Gardens Community Council and recently was elected to the Navajo Community Planners.

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Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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