Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nic Nak Liquors--At What Cost to Our Youth

As many of you know, the proposal to open Nic Nak Liquors at 6400 Shattuck Avenue has stirred a tremendous amount of controversy in North Oakland. Many of those opposed to Mr. Ashrious Pannell's proposed liquor store cite an over abundance of existing liquor stores in North Oakland and the nuisance many have become in terms of loitering, public drunkenness, litter, graffiti, drug dealing and violence. They point to the many existing liquor stores, such as T and K Market which is less than 80 feet away from Nic Nak, and note that North Oakland and South Berkeley do not need more liquor stores. Those in support of Mr. Pannell's application praise him as a good businessman and former Alameda County Sheriff that runs a tidy store and will not tolerate any of the problems that typically plague other liquor stores and convenience markets.

Nevertheless, we have raised the question--who profits and who pays the cost of another liquor store in our community? Our conclusion is that if Mr. Pannell is granted a Major Variance to locate another liquor store within 1000 feet of an existing liquor store, he will reap the profit at the expense of the community. As you will see, the costs to the Community include our children.

In researching the link between crime and the concentration of liquor stores, we came across a really interesting study, Oakland on the rocks, Surveying Teens about Alcohol 'n Oakland. This report was published in 2005 by the Environmental Prevention in Communities (EPIC) and Alameda County Public Health Department.

The report concludes that Alcohol use among Oakland youth is a serious problem that requires creative environmental prevention interventions. Oakland youth are significantly influenced by media messages and over-concentration of alcohol outlets.There are major disparities by race, gender and age such that older boys are likely to drink more often and binge drink; and White and Hispanic youth drink more often than Black or Asian youth. The good news is that young people (87%) are aware of the consequences of drinking and driving and perceive it as dangerous. The difficulty is that underage drinking is still considered a rite of passage, a lesser evil than drugs and a social norm. The mixed messages young people receive about drinking are prolific. TV, billboards, peers, sports events, movies and possibly even parental behavior all contribute to mixed signals. More environmental prevention efforts are necessary to challenge the media and alcohol industry’s dominance over our youth’s sensory environment. Strategies include limiting access to alcohol, and providing creative options for healthy youth development.

Drinking Patterns

• About 1 in 4 Oakland youth has had a drink in the last 30 days.

• Boys drink more often than girls (22% vs. 13%).

• White & Hispanic youth have significantly higher rates of drinking than Black and Asian youth.

• Binge drinking is a major concern. The majority (42%) say it takes 5 or more drinks to get drunk.

• On average, 22% of Oakland youth started drinking alcohol before the age of 11. More than 50% had their first drink by the time they were 13.

Access to Alcohol

• Most youth in Oakland report getting their alcohol from a liquor store or supermarket (46%), friends or at party(33%), or parents/house (25%). Many report that relatives/siblings (20%) or older adults (18%) also play a major role in providing access to alcohol.

Reasons for drinking

• Most young people drink because of stress (59%), because it feels good (57%), or peer pressure (56%).

• Most say that being aware of the consequences (38%), accidents (38%) or the stories they have heard (33%)related to alcohol use would prevent them from drinking at all or too much.

Environmental influences

• More than 60% of youth on average have seen alcohol ads on TV or magazines and sporting events.

• Youth report most parents (62%) are not comfortable with their youth drinking anywhere.

Consequences of Drinking

• An astonishing 41% have gone for a ride in a car with a drunk driver. A significantly higher proportion of youth who have had a drink in the last 30 days have ridden in a car with a drunk driver (58%), compared to 34% of non-drinkers.


The youth at EPIC have put together these recommendations for local communities to take into consideration:

• Reduce young people’s access to alcohol through their parents and other adults by developing an educational media campaign on underage drinking directed at adults.

• Reduce young people’s access to alcohol through the retail environment by requiring strong enforcement of laws against selling alcohol to minors.

• Provide funding for grassroots youth organizations to take action on community alcohol problems. Support and expand youth programs that foster youth empowerment and education.

• Limit alcohol ads in the media, especially on radio stations that play popular music. Promote alcohol-free sponsorship at community events.

• Place store liquor ads away from the clear sight of children and youth. These ads should be at least 4 feet high, and out of windows and doors to improve visibility into and out of stores.

• Raise awareness among government and lawmakers that alcohol use is a serious problem. Make it a priority to educate adults and young people about the consequences of drinking.

What is interesting about the study is the conclusion that Oakland youth are significantly influenced by media messages and over-concentration of alcohol outlets. Additionally, an astonishing 46% of youth report getting their alcohol from a liquor store or supermarket. The recommendations include limiting access to alcohol and educating government and lawmakers about the serious problem of alcohol use among Oakland youth. Despite these type of studies, the City wants to add to the already overwhelming number of liquor stores in North Oakland and South Berkeley.

The City of Oakland Planning Staff had proposed approving the convenience store, but denying Mr. Pannell a Major Variance to peddle liquor in North Oakland. Then the Planning Commission, led by the now departed Commissioner Anne E. Mudge, requested the Planning Staff return with findings for approval of the alcohol sales, despite opposition by the East Lorin Neighborhood, the Shattuck Crime Prevention Council and nearby business owners. This was based on Mr. Pannell's portrayal of himself as a victim of the City bureaucracy, racism, and gentrification. While there is not a shred of evidence in the administrative record that the property qualifies for a Major Variance, the Planning Commission is poised to approved this project and add to the already overwhelming number of liquor stores in North Oakland and South Berkeley.

Mr. Pannell, we ask again, who pays the cost and who profits? As a self-proclaimed pillar of the community and a former Sheriff, you of all people should know the cost to our community and to our youth.

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