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Fresno Unified, duly schooled by little guy, tries trump card to stop liquor store

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Fresno Unified School District, like any laggard in the classroom, has learned a valuable lesson the hard way.

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.

The district has sent a letter to the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control asking that it take a hard look at a Fresno convenience store owner’s application for a liquor license.

In a nutshell, the district wants ABC to give an unequivocal “no” to applicant Gurvinder Ghuman. The reason: Ghuman’s store on the southeast corner of Cedar and Clinton avenues is too close to McLane High School.

Alex Belanger, assistant superintendent/facilities management and planning, sent a letter dated Feb. 4 to Susan Medrano, licensing supervisor at ABC’s Fresno office.

Belanger said the district is responding to City Hall’s request for comments on a pending conditional use permit (CUP) for Ghuman’s store.

Belanger notes that Ghuman wants a Type 20 liquor license – sale of beer and wine to be taken off the store site.

“As per the State of California’s Alcohol Beverage Control Act,” Belanger writes, “an alcohol license can be refused by the State if the location is ‘within at least 600 feet from schools.’ The District does not support (emphasis their’s) this project and continues to have concerns regarding potentially dangerous interaction between our students and the proposed operation. FUSD’s response on this project is subject to the Alcohol Beverage Control Act and the Fresno Police Department’s review and support of the project with regard to the concentration and use of alcohol-related business in close proximity to school sites.”

The letter was received at ABC’s Fresno office on Feb. 8. ABC’s Sacramento office received it on Feb. 10.

Ghuman’s store is about 270 feet from McLane – well within the 600-foot range mentioned in Belanger’s letter.

There’s just one problem with Belanger letter. It’s too late!

Well, just about nothing is too late when it comes to government process.

Let’s back up for a minute.

CVObserver reported a month ago about the brouhaha over Ghuman’s store.

The local businessman had spent big bucks on what he thought was a convenience store with solid corporate backing. This support was supposed to include help in getting a Type 20 liquor license.

The corporation wasn’t nearly as stable as Ghuman thought, and soon he was left pretty much alone and with no liquor license. To make matters worse, there was that 600-foot rule. It’s not set in stone, but it’s pretty close to guaranteed death for liquor license applications that fail the test.

Ghuman hired veteran land-use consultant Dirk Poeschel. Lo and behold, Poeschel delivered a miracle.

The Planning Commission on Jan. 6 heard testimony on Poeschel’s proposed CUP. If the commissioners would give a thumb’s up to the liquor license application, Poeschel said, Ghuman would agree to all sorts of conditions on the sale of beer and wine.

Perhaps the most notable condition was no alcohol sales from 30 minutes before McLane’s classes begin to 30 minutes after afternoon classes end.

The Police Department initially was skeptical of Ghuman’s application. The cops changed their mind in the wake of Poeschel’s proposal.

Fresno Unified had sent a letter in December 2014 opposing Ghuman’s application. But no one from the district showed up at the January 2016 CUP hearing to personally express a protest.

The commission approved Ghuman’s CUP, with only Commissioner Randy Reed voting no.

Fresno Unified didn’t find out about the hearing or the commission’s decision until I told them nearly a month later. By that time, the deadline for filing an official protest was long gone.

But the district has one more trump card to play.

Ghuman may have survived his battle with City Hall, but he still doesn’t have his liquor license. ABC officials in Fresno and Sacramento are still reviewing the matter.

John Carr, ABC spokesman based in Sacramento, told me in an email: “ABC cannot accept the letter as a valid protest since it was sent in after the deadline of November 9, 2014. The issues raised in the letter have already been given some consideration by ABC and the department is sensitive to community concerns. The license application investigation is ongoing and no final decision has been made.”

A Fresno Unified official told me recently that the Planning Commission in its deliberations didn’t give enough weight to the unique nature of modern education. Simply put, the official said, school-sponsored activities at McLane carry on long after the day’s final bell.

We’re talking extra-curricular activities.

On top of that, McLane is home to one of only two football stadiums in the district.

I told the official he should have been at the Jan. 6 meeting and delivered that message to the commissioners.

I’m not sure he heard me.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

2 Comments

  1. Great article, what planning commissioner? City or County? It would be interesting to see this challenged, as there should be absolutely no liquor stores within school vicinities. In LA, then councilwoman, Maxine waters was successful at removing liquor stores around schools the time of the Rodney King riots in Compton and Watts areas. City council voted and it was passed. I’d like to see how many of these liquor stores occupy space with our schools within the city of Fresno. Is there an ABC map? I could put a student intern on it.

  2. Great article, what planning commission? City or County? It would be interesting to see this challenged, as there should be absolutely no liquor stores within school vicinities. In LA, then councilwoman, Maxine waters was successful at removing liquor stores around schools the time of the Rodney King riots in Compton and Watts areas. City council voted and it was passed. I’d like to see how many of these liquor stores occupy space with our schools within the city of Fresno. Is there an ABC map? I could put a student intern on it.

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