Where WERE you? Has the passion ebbed? Don’t you care?
Only three, THREE, residents had the deep desire to talk booze with the city council and staff Monday night, March 29. There was no regular city council meeting, but councilmembers all attended what was called a discussion/listening session with city staff and a mere trinity of citizens.
What the city is anxious to know, Dear Readers, is what YOU think of permitting beer and wine “off” sales (as in “off premises,” as in “liquor store”) in the city. They are trying to take your pulse, but you keep shoving your hands in your pockets.
The Passover holiday may have kept people from showing up. Councilmember Josh Wright said 4 of his constituents told him they would have attended otherwise. Another reason may be, as councilmember Dan Robinson speculated, that residents are “fairly ho-hum about it.” He said perhaps people see it as an inevitable step, given the changing demographic of the city over the last couple of decades.
The issue is being pushed by the Old Town Business Association, which says a number of business people interested in opening a beer and wine store in Old Town have approached them.
With only a handful of citizens contributing to the discussion, the session was largely a repeat of previous council talks on the matter. Read those accounts here (scroll down to “Choose or Lose Booze”) and here (scroll down to “How Dry We Are”).
A New Idea!
One new idea was offered by a resident. He suggested setting up a public/privately run liquor store governed by a board of directors that would represent the community. This would address, he said, the concern that once the city allows “off” sales, the county would handle all the licensing, and the city and community would have little say.
Another attendee was Lorig Charkoudian, Takoma/Silver Spring Coop President. The Coop might be interested in adding a beer and wine section. However, as information was shared in the discussion, she became concerned that the coop might not be able to get organic, small-producer products through the county’s Department of Liquor Control. All liquor sales in the county must go through the DLC. It has a reputation, as recounted by a number of city staff and councilmembers, for not supplying more obscure products. At one point, said Suzanne Ludlow, Deputy City Manager, the DLC would not allow brew pubs to make their own beer on premises, because the beer had to be purchased and distributed via the DLC.
Chief Ricucci spoke up for the DLC, saying they are trying to accommodate all requests now, but he agreed they do have a notorious reputation.
The third resident Roland Halstead from Ward 1 did not have a strong opinion one way or the other, he said it is ” too early to do anything drastic.”
Where is Fair?
As before, police chief Ronald Ricucci described problems that often arise around businesses that sell alcohol. He allowed that location and clientele would affect how serious those problems, fights, public drunkenness, and drunk driving, might be.
[Your Gilbert digresses here, as did the Chief when he noted something interesting. He said there are fewer arrests for underage drinking parties in Takoma Park than the rest of the county – he handed kudos to the city’s good parents. Take a break to feel all smug and superior, Dear Readers!]
Councilmember Colleen Clay again brought up her misgivings about people in affluent areas being allowed to have services denied those in less affluent areas. She cautioned against limiting liquor stores to a certain geographic area. Including all of the city’s commercial areas would be more fair, she said.
Those commercial areas are largely along the city’s border, observed one participant, with the exception of Takoma Junction and a small section of Maple Avenue – which was singled out as a location most people did NOT want a liquor store.
Fred Schultz said he was disappointed with the resident turnout. He noted that if the discussion had been about marijuana, “the line would have been out the door.”
A few councilmembers reported the tally of calls and email they’ve had on the subject. Bruce Williams said he’s heard from 10 people in favor of allowing liquor stores, one against. Josh Wright, whose ward includes Old Town, the location most advocates have in mind for a gourmet wine and beer store, sent out an email requesting his constituent’s opinions on the matter. He said the response was 80-90% in favor. Councilmember Snipper said his responses have been split 2/3 in favor, 1/3 opposed.
More feedback from citizens is needed, agreed those at the session. The sound of head-scratching echoed about the room as everyone pondered how to get it. If people don’t bother to show up at a public discussion session, what can be done? Several dubious schemes were proposed by one or another of the councilmembers, then rejected by the rest.
So, Dear Reader, you really should send them your thoughts. AFTER you carefully review Your Gilbert’s reportage and opinions on the issue.
PS. Did you write them yet? Huh? Didya?