Wet or dry? November vote could impact LGBT neighborhoods

Posted on 29 Jul 2010 at 7:38pm

Liquor sales proposals could loosen restrictions, but mishmash of  laws, districts still leave some doubt

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Carolyn Beck
Carolyn Beck

Dallasites may vote to allow the sale of beer and wine throughout the city, including one of the largest LGBT neighborhoods, Oak Cliff, but even if they vote yes, questions could remain on the legality of liquor sales in some areas.

Two separate proposals will be on the November ballot in Dallas. Either would loosen but not eliminate the dry laws in parts of East Dallas, North Dallas including all areas of the city in Denton and Collin counties, West Dallas and everything south of the Trinity River including all of Oak Cliff.

One proposal will allow grocery stores throughout the city to sell beer and wine. The other will let restaurants that have liquor licenses sell drinks without issuing memberships.

Package stores and bars will still be illegal in those areas.

From Oak Cliff’s gay neighborhoods, the closest available stores currently allowed to sell liquor, beer and wine are those that line Industrial Boulevard within blocks of each bridge that crosses the river.

However, Carolyn Beck, Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission’s liaison to the LGBT community, said she has heard from several sources questioning the validity of the citywide election.

“I’ve gotten questions about whether or not the election would apply to Oak Cliff,” she said.

She is referring to section 251.72 of the Alcoholic Beverage Code.

That regulation states, “An authorized voting unit retains the status adopted until status is changed by a subsequent election in same authorized voting unit.”

Section 251.73 says that results from a Justice of the Peace district election prevail against a city election if the JP precinct is wholly contained by the city.

In 1960, JP 7 held an election that failed to make alcohol sales legal. The vote was 22,439 against to 13,768 for. That JP district included Oak Cliff.

A previous election in the 1890s banned alcohol sales in the city of Oak Cliff. In 1903, Oak Cliff was annexed by the city of Dallas. Prohibition intervened, but once repealed, all previously dry areas remained dry.

The current election is a citywide election, but according to the Alcoholic Beverage Code, the only jurisdiction that can change the wet/dry status of an area is the same one that voted previously.

Since 1960, JP precincts have changed. However, Brazoria County had an election in 2008 using JP boundaries from 1958. Montgomery County is holding one using 1937 boundaries.

Complicating things are Oak Cliff’s multiple dry elections. If an election held in JP District 7 using 1960 boundaries voted to go wet, there would still be a question about the 1890s city of Oak Cliff ban.

Beck said that annexation and de-annexation do not change the status of wet/dry areas.

She said that should the proposals pass, the city could certify grocery stores and supermarkets to sell beer and wine. Restaurants could apply for a license to sell drinks directly and membership organizations would relinquish their licenses.

TABC normally would issue liquor licenses to qualified applicants once certified by the city.

Someone opposed to sale of alcohol in Oak Cliff, however, could stop the process by suing the city for certifying a liquor license application, suing the location for selling alcohol in a dry area or suing TABC for issuing a license in a dry area.

Courts would have to decide whether Oak Cliff actually was still dry.

With millions of dollars at stake, Oak Cliff’s status could be up in the air for years.

Restaurants, including the gay-owned eateries in Bishop Arts District, will benefit if the proposal passes. They would no longer be required to keep records on memberships or hold regular meetings to approve those memberships.

Kathy Jack, left, and her partner Susie Buck of Jack’s Backyard.
Kathy Jack, left, and her partner Susie Buck of Jack’s Backyard.

“I don’t think Oak Cliff will boom while we have this private club thing,” said Nathan Castaneda, owner of Vera Cruz in the Bishop Arts District.

He explained the club membership process, noting that after swiping a driver’s license through a reader similar to a credit card machine, a receipt that’s printed has to be kept on file. He said he’s out of storage room in the restaurant for all the boxes of membership slips.

Casteneda said his neighbors are the private club owners who have to meet every three days to approve and drop members. Under his license, membership numbers need to be kept at about 250 people.

The restaurant cannot profit from liquor sales, which he said keeps salaries down.

“Many good employees move on to Duncanville, Cedar Hill or north of the river,” he said.

To thank his neighbors for being his membership committee, Castaneda said they all eat free.

Kathy Jack, owner of Jack’s Backyard, said that passing the proposals would bring a lot more people to the area.

“It will put us on an equal playing field,” she said.

She said that now she pays about $28,000 in higher license fees and taxes. She said beer costs her more and she also spends money to pick up alcohol herself or pays to send someone to get it since distributors do not deliver to dry areas.

Private clubs in dry areas buy much of their liquor from retail stores. For that reason and because free-standing package stores will still not be allowed to open in currently dry areas, liquor retailers oppose the proposals.

Competition is not something bar owners in other parts of the city are worried about.

“Caven Enterprises is not opposed to the ordinance and we hope the results will benefit the residents of our city,” said Rick Espaillat of Caven.

Gary Huddleston is the southwest division spokesperson for Kroger and chaired the PAC that gathered the signatures for the election.

“Many people are leaving the city to buy beer and wine,” he said.

He said the city’s study showed that Dallas could collect $11 million in additional sales tax revenue. Other studies that include the impact of hiring additional people and sales of additional products along with alcohol purchases showed a $31 million increase in tax collection.

Kroger currently has six stores in the city of Dallas. The two in wet areas — on Cedar Springs Road and on Mockingbird Lane — far exceed the others in sales.

He said the PAC chose to hold a citywide election because it seemed cleaner. JP districts have changed. Numerous areas of the city are dry. He believes a win on each proposal would apply throughout Dallas. He doesn’t foresee the election results being challenged.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

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