City places moratorium on new stores as options weighed

A month after 90 elementary school students brought their concerns about tobacco to City Hall, the Crescent City Council on Monday enacted a 45-day moratorium on new tobacco retailers and liquor stores.

The Council unanimously approved an urgency zoning ordinance, which temporarily prohibits businesses within city limits from selling alcohol or tobacco for off-site consumption. The ordinance does not apply to existing businesses or any potential new restaurants with alcoholic beverages that will be consumed on-site, Taylor said.

The moratorium gives city staff time to develop zoning ordinances that apply to those businesses, Community Development Director Eric Taylor said.

"This has been on our radar for a while," he said, adding that the city doesn't intend to prevent new tobacco or off-site alcohol retailers from opening up in Crescent City. "We probably need to do a comprehensive update to our zoning code. One of the loopholes we have is we don't have any type of review process for alcohol or tobacco sales currently."

The Council can also vote to extend the moratorium another 10 months and 15 days if necessary, said City Manager Eugene Palazzo.

The Council's decision comes after the city received a request from a business owner who wanted to open a liquor store in the vacant space next door to Crescent City Cinemas, Taylor said.

Crescent City Police Chief Doug Plack received a letter along with an application from the Alcoholic Beverage Commission for the liquor store business but denied it due to the number of children that visit the cinema and its arcade.

Taylor also pointed out that the Jedediah Smith Shopping Center is home to Safeway, which sells alcohol and tobacco, and two restaurants that sell alcohol. Rite-Aid, another store that sells alcohol and tobacco, is also right across the street.

"In that letter the ABC had sent, they consider this area to be saturated," Taylor said, referring to the shopping center. "There are already more than enough off-site alcohol licenses that have already been issued."

Councilwoman Kelly Schellong said she supported the moratorium and was happy to see the liquor store's ABC application denied. She also asked city staff to come back to the Council with "much more productive" zoning for tobacco retailers and liquor stores that keeps them away from schools, parks and other places that attract children.

"I think having an alcohol and tobacco store right next to the cinema where kids are located is wrong," she said. "I also have to think about all these kids that have been coming to our Council meetings year after year after year showing us the number of cigarettes they're picking up in our parks. They have encouraged us, which resulted in us stopping smoking in the parks during public events and in front of local businesses."

Denise Doyle-Schnacker, an after-school coordinator at Pine Grove Elementary School who led 90 students in grades five through eight to City Hall in March, said she's happy about the Council's decision. But, she said, tobacco and alcohol sales and their effect on children is something the Council has been discussing for a long time.

Doyle-Schnacker said her students were disturbed to hear that tobacco companies actually market their products to young children. During their visit to City Hall, the students spoke with four out of the five City Council members as well as the city manager.

"I'm not sure our little visit drove them in that direction," Doyle-Schnacker said, referring to the moratorium. "But I'd like to think our kids have something to do with it."

The moratorium also comes after the Crescent City Police Department Explorers Post teamed up with the Del Norte County Department of Health and Human Services last summer to participate in a statewide campaign, Healthy Stores Healthy Community, which targeted the marketing of sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco products.

After surveying 24 stores, the campaign found that 75 percent have unhealthy exterior advertising with 43.5 percent advertising alcohol near candy and toys or positioning the ads three feet above the ground. About 60 percent of the stores surveyed advertised alcohol products outside.