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  • Edward M. Higginbotham

We must work together on liquor stores

Inside Bay Area

THIS letter is in response to the criticism directed at our neighbors who operate small grocery stores in Oakland. Only one side of the story has been told, and as the attorney for several of these liquor stores, including San Pablo Liquor, I feel compelled to respond.

It is true Oakland has too many liquor stores, but let's lay the blame where it is deserved. In order to sell liquor, a person must get a liquor license from the state of California and a conditional-use permit from the city of Oakland.

Where were city leaders when this proliferation of liquor stores materialized? Who knows, but the hierarchy at Frank Ogawa Plaza failed to realize the correlation between increased accessibility to alcohol and an increase in social ills, especially crime.

The first failure belongs to the city of Oakland; the second belongs to the Oakland police. As crime rates grew, the police were incapable of handling it, so the city decided to shift the responsibility of patrolling the streets to the business sector, specifically the small-business owner.

When you read about the drug dealing, prostitution and gang activity around any business, is it not the responsibility of the Police Department to take the lead? What are taxpayer dollars being spent on if public safety is not that safe? Where is the $1,500 yearly tax paid directly to the police by every grocer in Oakland going?

As the attacks on grocery stores increase, let us also keep in mind that Safeway, Albertsons and all other similar outlets have left many of our lower-income communities — and the word is they aren't coming back.

They would rather open brand-new stores in upper-middle-class communities featuring gelatos and olive bars. So many of these grocers are the only source of dairy, produce and medicine for many residents in Oakland.

The only solution is to work together. Terrorizing innocent people like a mafia will not solve the problem, nor initiating nuisance actions. Only through creativity, good will and a commitment to resolving differences and understanding one another will a long-term solution be forged.

Edward M. Higginbotham is a San Francisco attorney.

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