A long-running discussion on alcohol sales at will continue in October.
At the very end of their Wednesday meeting, the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission approved a motion to delay a decision on Target's appeal for a permit for alcohol sales. Earlier in the meeting, commissioners decided to take no action on Target's appeal of a zoning administrator's refusal to grant a conditional use permit for the sale of alcohol, but changed course after seats had emptied and the meeting drew to a close.
Target's request for a permit to sell alcohol for off-site consumption was denied in April on the grounds that alcohol sales at Target would not serve public convenience and might be detrimental to the community. Target appealed that decision.
"We didn't think it was a necessary merchandise item for them to sell," said Jim Tokunaga, senior city planner.
Selling alcohol in Los Angeles requires a conditional use permit from the city as well as a liquor license from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Alcohol at restaurants and bars is classified as "on-sale," while alcohol in retail stores such as Ralph's is "off-sale." Five off-sale liquor licenses are currently valid in Westwood — the maximum number allowed in the Westwood Village Specific Plan, which guides development and business in the community. A sixth would result in "over-concentration," the term applied when the ratio of liquor licenses to population in the neighborhood exceeds the ratio in the county as a whole. In order to receive a conditional use permit to sell alcohol, and subsequently to obtain a liquor license from the state, Target would need to prove to the city that its alcohol sales would satisfy "public convenience or necessity."
Beth Aboulafia, a lawyer representing Target, said alcohol sales account for less than one percent of overall Target sales and almost all stores in California sell alcohol. Aboulafia stressed the concept of "one-stop shopping" at the Westwood store, arguing that offering liquor along with Target's other goods would be convenient for Target shoppers and therefore convenient for the Westwood community. She refuted concerns about Target selling alcohol next to a college campus, pointing out the close proximity of Ralph's, a grocery store with one of Westwood's five off-sale alcohol permits.
Regarding Westwood's over-concentration threshold of five off-sale liquor licenses, Aboulafia brought up the numbers of on-sale licenses: Although only seven are permitted by the on-sale threshold, 28 have been granted with city approval.
"That number is not a limit," she said of the over-concentration threshold.
Several members of the community expressed their support for Target's appeal.
"The Village is hurting," said Roxane Stern, who said she has lived in Westwood for 13 years. She noted the area's vacant storefronts. "We need to make it easy, not difficult, for businesses to thrive."
Chris Pearson, senior director of policy at the Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Office for Economic and Business Policy, delivered an endorsement for Target. "Our office has taken a strong position supporting retail-based businesses," he said, adding that Target has "a community mindset" and has been "socially responsible throughout Los Angeles."
Members of the Westwood Community Council and the Westwood Neighborhood Council were opposed to alcohol sales at Target.
Community Council Chair Steve Sann said that while he's glad Target has come to Westwood, he thinks granting another off-site liquor license would negatively impact the area and endanger the integrity of the Westwood Community Plan. He said that a similar request by a local CVS had also been denied on the grounds of over-concentration of off-sale liquor licenses.
"If they open Pandora's box and say there's no limit [to permits] in Westwood, that precedent setting is dangerous," Sann said in an interview with Westwood-Century City Patch. "It's of no consequence to Target, but it's a big consequence to Westwood.
Getting Target to consider a location in Westwood was a project Sann started more than three years ago. After "calling Minneapolis incessantly," exhausting every contact at the company's headquarters, Sann said the current scuffle over the alcohol permit is infuriating.
"Target, why are you pushing so hard for this when the community has told you it's against it?" Sann said. "It's very disappointing for a company like Target to turn a deaf ear to customers and the community."
Sann said it is wrong to describe this Target as a "one-stop shop" when the location will not have a pharmacy or full grocery store.
"What's the beer, wine and liquor to complement [in Target's inventory]?" Sann said.
Westwood shoppers will have to visit the Ralphs, Rite Aid or Trader Joe's to get everything they need, Sann said.
Katie Hunt, national accounts manager for Constellation Wines, said that Target's No. 1 product is diapers, and its average shopper is a 41-year-old mother with children. She criticized the zoning administration for assuming the company would be targeting college students.
Because CityTarget is a smaller version of the company's standard Target store, some residents said they would prefer that the limited CityTarget space be dedicated to household items instead of liquor.
Others mentioned the downside of "one-stop shopping," saying it discourages walking around the village. "We want people to circulate in Westwood," said Constance Boukidis, co-chair of the Westwood Neighborhood Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee. Mike Metcalfe, chair of the Westwood Community Council's Planning and Land Use Committee, said he felt Target did not understand Westwood's values.
After hearing from Target's lawyer and the public, the commission was ambivalent. "The issue for me that I'm still undecided on is the issue of over-saturation," said Commissioner Glenda E. Martinez. The rest of the commission voiced the same opinion, but later changed course at the end of the meeting and decided to push back the issue to a hearing on Oct. 3. Had the commissioners decided to take no action Wednesday, it would have effectively denied Target's appeal.
Do you think Target should be granted a permit to sell alcohol at its Westwood Village store? Will you consider it a place for "one-stop shopping"? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.