A longstanding debate about how convenient alcohol should be for gas station customers ended Monday evening when the Watsonville Planning Commission denied Ron Ince’s application to add beer and wine sales to .
Although the planning commission voted 6-1 to reject the application, the decision really came down to one man: Chief Manny Solano.
Solano declined to write a letter requesting that the state's Alcohol Beverage Control board grant Ince an exemption to the liquor licensing laws, and without Solano’s blessing, American Fuels can’t sell beer.
One gas station adding a beer cooler may seem like a simple request, but the issue downtown is complicated by high crime rates and the number of other alcohol vendors in the area.
Solano said there’s an “over-availability of alcohol” on that end of Main Street, and he’s not supportive of Ince offering beer to his customers.
In fact, Solano wants to reduce the number of alcohol vendors in that census tract from the current 10—nine of which are active—to seven, the number the area is authorized for. Then, the chief said, he would entertain options of transferring licenses among stores.
Hector Solis, who's lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, had told the planning commission in Spanish that he was against the change. He said there's already too much alcohol in the area.
“Listen to the voice of the community,” Solis said. “Let’s keep some control.”
Ince has worked to add alcohol sales to his convenience store for a decade.
The gas station owner said he’s invested time and money in improving his business and the surrounding community, and that his plan to buy a liquor license from a more problematic alcohol vendor, market—which has been sanctioned by ABC in the past—would further those efforts.
Solano said the number of vendors, not who is selling, is his issue.
Ince said he hoped his well-lit store with security cameras could be part of the solution.
“I’m here to assure you my goal … is to be a positive influence in the city of Watsonville,” said Ince, who purchased the property in 1997 and spent three years cleaning up the contamination caused by leaky gas tanks, before reopening in 2000.
About 700 American Fuel customers and Pajaro Valley business owners signed petitions supporting Ince. A few, including some gas station employees, spoke at the meeting.
“I believe it would be good for the community if he did it," said David Jones, who owns a gas station in the county that sells beer and wine. “You need to have the complete service that the others have so you can compete.”
Ince said the additional sales would increase tax revenue, up his income so he could improve the store and would increase safety in the crime-ridden area, because his staff would be conscientious about who they sold alcohol to.
"I think my track record proves I will be responsible,” Ince said. “I’m not looking to become a liquor store. I’m just trying to provide a convenience for my customers.”