Department of Alcohol Beverages Control (ABC)
On June 9, 2020 the Department of Alcohol Beverages Control (ABC) made public a proposed Decision by Administrative Law Judge Alberto Roldan denying a request by the Dolgen Corporation for issuance of an off-sale beer and wine license for the relatively new Dollar General store located across the street from McKinleyville High School.
A hearing on the application was held in Eureka on January 29, 2020. A grass-roots group of interested citizens filed protests and appeared at the hearing to give testimony as to why the requested license should be denied. The group included neighborhood home-owners, former McKinleyville High School students, staff and current high school Principal Nic Collert, Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone, and a host of others. Local retired attorney Bryce Kenny represented the Mac High interests pro bono. Dolgen Corp. was represented by a San Francisco specialist in ABC matters.
Madrone and others argued that the Department had used the wrong census tract to determine whether there were already too many off-sale licenses in the area, which was an issue in the proceedings. The store is on Murray Road, in McKinleyville, which is the boundary for two adjacent census tracts.
After the Department representative rebutted the assertion that the wrong census tract information was utilized, the judge steered away from his initial inclination, which was to keep the hearing open, so this issue could be double checked. After the hearing was concluded, the Department notified all parties in writing that it had indeed made a mistake, and used the wrong census tract information.
Because of the Covid 19 situation, rather than schedule a new hearing, the judge invited interested parties to submit additional written argument as to the import of the acknowledged error.
In the Decision, the judge mentioned not only the erroneous information, but also the compelling testimony of how an existing homeless camp in the area makes it likely that transients would be available to buy alcohol for underage students for a fee, thus thwarting the efforts by Dollar General employees to keep it out of the hands of underage students.
Special recognition should go to Supervisor Madrone and citizen Walter Paniak for refusing to accept the Department’s initial testimony that there was no issue as to the wrong census tract being used. Their perseverance paid off.
The spontaneous activist group, most of whom had never met one another before the hearing, was deeply gratified that their voices were heard, and made a difference in the outcome. Attorney Kenny said “My gut feeling told me we were on the right side of this one. Sometimes, you can fight City Hall.”
The Decision is subject to further administrative review before it is final. It is unknown whether Dolgen Corp. will appeal.