In the past year, the 7-Eleven corporation — which now holds more than 20 percent of the beer and wine sales licenses in the county — has launched a push into at least five San Diego neighborhoods and into El Cajon, though all but one are already over-saturated by state Alcoholic Beverage Control standards with stores selling beer and wine.
Although reps say that beer and wine sales provide just 10 percent to 15 percent of store revenues, the company won't open a store without a type 20 liquor license, representatives have said at meetings.
That they have to seek planning group approval indicates their application triggered the need for conditional use permits that are only required when there are problems, according to ABC rules.
7-Eleven currently holds at least 200 of approximately 950 such licenses in San Diego County, according to John Carr, spokesman for the state Alcoholic Beverage Control department. The stores hold a handful of the type 21 licenses permitting sales of all legal alcoholic beverages, according to the ABC database.
Most of the licenses are in the corporation's name and not the franchisees' who operate the stores, according to ABC records. Craig Block, a Los Angeles broker who helps clients buy and sell the type 21 licenses, says that makes sense.
"If a franchisee decides to leave and owns the license, then the corporation has to start over, with their old license raising the concentration in the area," he said. "If you check, you'll probably find the company own the physical stores, too."
Block said that a type 21 license in California goes for between $25,000 and $35,000. Type 20s aren't bought and sold because it costs about $650 for the application, and the numbers aren't as strictly limited.
The 7-Eleven corporate offices in Dallas did not respond to three requests for comment and interviews. (7-Eleven's parent company is based in Japan and its stock is traded on the Tokyo Exchange.) The company's consultants who have been giving the presentations, Steve Laub from Land Solutions Inc. and Kristy Duncan, a Las Vegas-based consultant, declined to comment or answer questions.
However, their presentations and the careful notes taken by planning groups in Linda Vista, Ocean Beach, City Heights and Otay, and those from El Cajon help piece together the picture of a corporation push for more stores — in addition to the 250 already established — in San Diego County.
The presentations at the planning groups signal that the ABC has concerns, according to Mary Baum of Say San Diego, a nonprofit group that supports the physical and mental health of communities, including substance-abuse issues. The group maintains information on alcohol licenses and establishments.
When the ABC gets an application, among the things it looks at are the concentration of licenses per census tract and the amount of alcohol related crime there. So, in an area where either the alcohol-related crime is higher than average or the number of licenses is higher than ideal, the applicant is required to get a conditional use permit — a process that includes selling the idea to the neighborhood planning group, Baum explained.
"If they're at a planning group, their application triggered the conditional use permit process," she said. "It's an opportunity for the neighborhood to put stringent conditions on the permit, like ending sales at 10 pm or having some kind of security."
In February, the North Park Planning Committee voted unanimously to approve a new 7-Eleven in the 2500 block of El Cajon Blvd., an area that has twice the recommended three liquor stores. Planning group members asked for sales hours to end at 10 pm, and were told that the 7-Eleven representatives would have to consult with the Dallas area headquarters before they could agree. The unnamed representative told the panel that there are 90 7-Elevens in the area and all sell until midnight, according to meeting notes.
Former chairwoman Vicki Granowitz indicated that 7-Eleven is more convenient for millennials than going to Vons. The group asked for limited hours and plenty of trash cans, and security cameras as conditions for the permit, the notes indicate.
In City Heights, the response to siting new beer and wine licenses has been strong and loud. There was a community backlash against the planners approving a new store at 39th and University that resulted in the September meeting being abruptly ended.
When 7-Eleven representatives returned to seek a permit for a store at 37th and El Cajon Blvd., they faced an organized community that sought fresh produce and local goods — and no liquor license.
"City Heights is very organized around alcohol licenses because they're tired of being the place where alcohol sellers are dumped on the community," Baum said, noting that there are more licenses in the neighborhood than in any other.
The regional Neighborhood Market Association, in a written statement, said its members do not oppose new 7-Eleven stores, but do object to new liquor licenses.
"Many of these stores serve with the intent of providing much needed services to areas in San Diego who may not have the benefit of a nearby grocery store or mini mart. But the NMA does oppose the introduction of any new liquor licenses for the foreseeable future due to over-concentration in areas like El Cajon," the statement says. "Taking a stand against the addition of any new liquor licenses is part of upholding our pledge to the neighborhoods we serve.... While a 7/11 with a liquor license may be of benefit to the pocketbooks of many, it does not promote the livelihoods of those in the community we are so invested in."
In Linda Vista, the planning group is fighting a recently granted approval that it voted against twice. The company's advocates found a favorable hearing officer and got the store approved through the city.
The store is in a corner of one census tract that is not overly saturated with type 20 licenses — but two adjoining tracts are. The two nearest licensed stores are 200 feet and seven-tenths of a mile from the site.
In August, 7-Eleven made a presentation to the Ocean Beach Planning Board on the proposed store at 1801 Sunset Cliffs, and the type 21 — all-alcohol — license the corporation wants. According to meeting notes, 26 members of the community showed up to raise issues and oppose the store and no vote was taken.
But there is at least one 7-Eleven that isn't fighting for footing in a community. The company is interested in taking over the Green Cat Liquor Store license, at what locals call the 'Four Corners of Death,' the intersection of Euclid and Imperial avenues.
"The Green Cat was so sketchy that people think a 7-Eleven could be an improvement," a local said.