The board voted 8-2-1 in support of alcohol at a future CVS at its monthly meeting Dec. 4, citing a “community benefits package,” in which the pharmacy chain had pledged to be a responsible tenant and active member to the community.
But opponents said CVS would be a poor fit because Ocean Beach lacks a supermarket and already has a pharmacy in Rite Aid, a few blocks away.
The OBPB plays only an advisory board to the city but, in this case, could play a big role in determining whether liquor may be sold at CVS. The state department of Alcohol Beverage Control, which rules on liquor license applications, has said the building is located in a census tract that has exceeded its allotment of licenses. Such a condition requires an additional approval from San Diego police — known legally as a finding of “public convenience or necessity” — and police say community support is an important factor in making that determination.
The ability to sell alcohol is all-important to the pharmacy — corporate officials said CVS won’t move in without a liquor license. If police eventually make a finding in CVS’ favor, the pharmacy will formally submit a Class 21 liquor license application to the state, which triggers notification and public comment requirements.
The OBPB’s vote to support CVS came as a surprise to many. Just one month earlier, in front of an audience of more than three-dozen citizens largely opposed to CVS, the board tabled the matter to wait and see how police would decide. State law gives police 90 days, placing the deadline to sometime in January.
But OBPB chairman Tom Gawronski said waiting for police to go first amounted to an abdication of the board’s role to represent the community and asked fellow board members to take the matter off the table earlier. He also cited the newly released benefits package, which had been negotiated between CVS representatives, Ocean Beach Town Council president Gretchen Kinney Newsom and the Ocean Beach MainStreet AssociaNeetion.
The push for a benefits package began in November, when Newsom brought the matter up before the OBPB. She cited Rite Aid as a less-than-enthusiastic civic booster, charging the outlet had declined to host receptacles for the Town Council-sponsored Food and Toy Drive, and feared corporate policies could similarly undercut CVS’ participation in the community.
“We wanted to know how CVS could be beneficial to the community. And that’s why the Town Council stepped in. (CVS) accepted everything the OB Town Council requested,” Kinney Newsom said.
Kinney Newsom highlighted several CVS pledges for particular emphasis:
• It agreed to host receptacles for community donations of money, food and toys for seasonal events;
• It will restore the existing mural on the building’s north side, less the Apple Tree name, or replace it using a community artist or community fair;
• It publicly endorses a ban on plastic carryout retail bags;
• It will “participate with the community in efforts to make any surplus parking open for public use;”
• It will “evaluate the feasibility” of selling a limited amount of fresh fruits and vegetables; and
• It will develop a process to allow local vendors to sell their wares.
Denny Knox, executive director of the MainStreet Association, said CVS was a more-than-willing negotiating partner.
“It was really refreshing to see a corporation wanting to be a member of our community,” she said.
But opponents said it wasn’t enough to address concerns citizens expressed a month earlier.
“We have a Rite Aid I can throw a whiffle ball to from the parking lot of (the proposed) CVS. I don’t think they need a liquor license,” said board member Andrew Wilson.
“They (CVS) are appeasing us by giving us a list of terms. What’s to say another company wouldn’t give us the same deal, if not better?” he asked.
Wilson said when people who know about the CVS plan approach him, “They want to know what I’m going to do to prevent it. If I can prevent it, I‘m going to prevent it by voting no.”
Board member Bill Bushe complained the OBPB did not know about the ongoing negotiations and did not attend a meeting hosted by the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association to discuss the matter.
“This process is corrupted. There’s something not right here,” Bushe said.
But Board member Ronson Shamoun said he was happy with the results.
“I support CVS and think that’s the best tenant we’re going to get. What they’ve offered is amazing,” he said. “Although we want a supermarket, I think (CVS) is going to be an asset and clean up the neighborhood.”