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Council moves to deny Big T of permit to sell alcohol

Residents packed the council chamber on Monday night to hear a debate on Big T Mini Mart’s request to sell beer and wine. On one side, the Alhambra Police Department and the Alhambra Unified School District supported an appeal of the store’s permit to sell alcohol, citing Big T’s close proximity to Alhambra High School. On the opposing end, the Alhambra Chamber of Commerce and employees of Big T said they felt the store is a victim of uneven treatment, since other establishments in the nearby area are allowed to sell alcohol. 
The council, after hearing presentations from both sides, as well testimonials from residents, decided to move forward with appealing the Planning Commission’s earlier decision to grant Big T a permit to sell alcohol. The Planning Commission had voted 6-to-2 on Oct 19 to grant Big T a conditional-use permit to sell beer and wine. This decision came in spite of city staff’s recommendation to deny the permit. The AUSD soon filed an appeal of the decision.
Police Chief Mark Yokoyama speaks to the council | Photos by Leo Wu
Superintendent Laura Tellez-Gagliano said during Monday’s meeting that the main issue is the store's proximity to Alhambra High.  “Parents send us their children to be educated in the AUSD. It is our responsibility to make sure we keep the temptations and enticements as far away as possible,” said Tellez-Gagliano.
There is a small alleyway behind Big T that connects with the school. An iron fence separates the two properties, but, as noted by some speakers, students regularly scale the partition. “The fact is that students do jump the fence. I know people who do that,” said Tiffany Chiang, a senior at Alhambra High.
Police Chief Mark Yokoyama said that while alcohol related crimes have been on a general decline, the APD still gets calls about such incidents around Main Street. He added that growing homelessness and the rising number of mental-health calls—a “170 percent increase” since 2011— were factors in the department’s decision to support the appeal. Yokoyama said there is “a nexus between transients and addiction to drugs and alcohol or both. Not in all cases, but certainly in many cases.” Top red pin is Big T Mini Mart; bottom red pin is Alhambra High School | Screenshot of Google Maps
Yokoyama brought up a crux of the debate when he made a distinction between Big T and larger markets like the former Super A, saying that the homeless are more likely to shop for alcohol at smaller convenience stores. “They aren’t getting their alcohol from Target or Costco or grocery stores,” said Yokoyama, adding that it has been his experience that “convenience store-type locations” are more appealing to the homeless and the youth.
Trent Yamauchi, owner of Big T Mini Mart, noted that the upcoming Lohas Fresh Mart is only a block away from Big T’s location, and yet Lohas was granted a permit to sell alcohol within 19 days of filing for one. “I just want to be treated fairly as a businessman,” said Yamauchi.
“The city needs to be consistent in dealing with its citizens,” said Tim Buchanan, an Alhambra resident and frequent visitor to Big T.
Earlier in the meeting, Yokoyama had said that comparing Big T with Lohas was like "comparing apples and oranges," as Lohas was a larger store.
Yamauchi said that, according to his calculations, his store averages three dollars for every student who walks into the store. He said he would need the high profit margins of alcohol sales to keep pace with competitors. Trent Yamauchi speaks to the council | Photo by Leo Wu
Owen Guenthard of the Chamber of Commerce said that the number of high density developments on Main Street is bringing in new residents, and stores like Big T are needed to accommodate this younger population. He added that the “nearly 200” members of the Alhambra Downtown Business Association are also in support of Big T’s application for a permit.
“The area’s new residents have been grossly underserved by the city when it comes to convenience shopping,” said Guenthard.
Yamauchi said that he’d reached out to the school board and proposed to lock up the alcohol coolers during the early morning and the hours right when school has let out. He said that the board declined this proposal.
A similar scenario happened five years ago when a former café on second street attempted and failed to obtain a license to sell alcohol. Because of this incident, some residents had alleged that nepotism was in play when Yamauchi was granted a permit by the Planning Commission; Yamauchi is the son of councilmember Gary Yamauchi, and commission members are appointed by the council. Trent Yamauchi said the allegations were “the farthest thing from the truth.” 
“Out of all the councilmembers, he’s the only person that hasn’t stepped foot in my store,” Yamauchi said, referring to his father.
As the room is packed, some residents had to stand outside council room | Photo by Leo Wu
After the comment period was concluded, Mayor Luis Ayala asked City Manager Mary Swink if Yamauchi was ever promised a permit to sell alcohol when Big T was first proposed to the city. 
Swink said that in the beginning it was understood that “there would be no alcohol or tobacco.” 
“As we progressed in conversation with him, he wanted alcohol and tobacco,” said Swink. She said that staff had told Yamauchi “numerous times” that they would not recommend the Planning Commission to grant him a permit to sell alcohol.
Ayala made the distinction between Big T’s situation with Lohas’, saying that in Big T’s case  “there was an investment with no guarantee that beer and wine would be available for sale.” Swink added that, in contrast, the city had an understanding with Lohas from the beginning that the store would be granted a beer and wine license.
Ayala, councilmember Barbara Messina, and councilmember Steven Placido all voiced their intention of appealing the Planning Commission’s decision to allow Big T to sell beer and wine.
Councilmember Stephen Sham declined to state his decision. Councilmember Gary Yamauchi was not in attendance. 
City staff is expected to draw up a resolution that will grant the appeal that the AUSD requested. The resolution will be presented to the city council on December 14. 

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7 thoughts on “Council moves to deny Big T of permit to sell alcohol”

  1. I am the owner of Big T Mini Mart. We are not a liquor store. We will only be selling beer and wine. No hard alcohol. So, there will be no difference of my store than any of the 6 7-11’s currently selling beer and wine in Alhambra. Many of those 7-11’s are closer to schools than my store too. Everyone agreed that I will not sell to minors and am a good businessman, but they think the kids “seeing” the beer and wine is detrimental to their safety???? Doesn’t make sense to me, especially with all the alcohol already on Main Street.

  2. I agree with Gilda and Afriend. Let the family run their business, they never sold to minors. Trouble with kids jumping the fence near this store? That’s AHS’s problem!

    Richard, this isn’t LA south central. First people complain about the Asian markets now you’re saying we are south LA over this one store? Puh-leeze……

  3. I’m a bit late to this party, but here’s my 2 cents. There’s absolutely no reason he should not have a liquor permit when half the restaurants and clubs on Main Street sell booze. They are all also within blocks of High School grounds. The penalties for selling alcohol in California to a minor are staggering. No one is going to sell to underage kids and I commend Mr. Yamauchi’s offer to lock those cabinets during student high traffic times. Though I think it’s sad that I’ve talked to people who cited liquor thefts from Super A as a reason not to allow it. As if stealing is the fault of the vendor.

  4. I have four concerns:
    1. The Planning Commission, I think is supposed to represent what’s better for the city; then why did they approve liquor license to this store if it’s to close to Alhambra High School? Doesn’t make sense.
    2. Even though Yamauchi downplayed his father’s connection with the city, I’m very sure members of the Planning Commission were swayed by that connection since some are appointees of councilman Yamauchi, and I’m also sure the Yamauchi name carries some implications in the city, favoring the family.
    3. Why are supporters of the liquor license more concerned about the welfare of residents in the new condos, instead of families that live in the city and send their children to Alhambra High School. I’m pretty sure if a 7-11 store wanted to open one in that area, selling liquor, they would not be welcomed…but again the “Yamauchi connection.”
    4. Allowing liquor license to this store would open the floodgates to more liquor stores in the area, eventually becoming like a “Los Angeles south central area” where liquor stores flourish, homeless. gang members, teenagers hanging around the area, making life hard for businesses and residents. BEWARE!

  5. Super A used to sell booze.

  6. If there is no clear policy, let him sell beer and wine. If he sells to underage people, prosecute him under existing laws. What’s the problem?

  7. Is there a stated policy or city regulation on what constitutes “too close” to a school to sell alcohol?