By Gary Walker
Venice and its world renowned boardwalk have long been a favorite tourist destination and a popular playground for locals, especially during the spring and summer months.
Those from outside California who visit Venice are not typically interested in attending a poetry reading as much as they are in visiting Venice Beach, interacting with the boardwalk’s multitude of performers and hanging out in the beachside community’s many bars and night spots.
And while local officials are aware of the attraction to Venice and the need to have a wide array of businesses to serve the tourists and local population, including many that serve alcohol, a recent study on the concentration of outlets that sell liquor and wine in the coastal enclave has some of them very concerned.
According to data collected by the Westside Impact Project, a Los Angeles County campaign that is seeking to lower the number of alcohol-related problems in Santa Monica and Venice, both communities have substantially higher densities of outlets where liquor can be purchased than other areas of the county.
In Venice, there are 106 businesses licensed to sell liquor, beer and wine within the seaside town of 3.17 square miles, which equates to 33 outlets per square mile on average. The county average, according the Westside Impact Project, is 16 alcohol outlets per square mile.
Venice’s neighbor, Santa Monica, fares equally as dense as far as the number of bars, liquor stores and restaurants where alcohol can be purchased. The state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control says Santa Monica ranks sixth highest in the county for its concentration of on-premise alcohol establishments. There are 330 businesses that sell beer, wine and liquor within the city’s 8.42 square miles, and Santa Monica also has an average of one alcohol outlet per every 294 residents, according to ABC.
The latter statistic is more than double the county average.
Westside Impact Project Manager Sarah Blanch said county surveys have also shown that it is easier for minors to purchase alcohol in Santa Monica and Venice than almost anywhere else on the Westside.
“What we’ve found is that when we see teenage drinking it’s often because in many cases adults enable teens to engage in underage drinking,” Blanch said. “Alcohol at home is the primary access point for teenage drinking.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls underage drinking “a major public health problem.” A 2011 study found that people aged 12 to 20 years drink 1 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States, and more than 90 percent of that alcohol is consumed through binge drinking.
And a recent Alcohol-Related Disease Impact study concluded alcohol is responsible for 4,700 underage deaths annually. In 2010, approximately 189,000 underage drinkers were admitted to emergency rooms for injuries and other alcohol-related conditions.
Approximately 5,000 people under the age of 21 die each year as a result of underage drinking, 1,900 of those deaths are from automobile accidents, according to statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. And approximately one in three high school students has been a passenger in a car driven by someone who had consumed alcohol.
Luciana Carvalho, teen services director at the Boys & Girls Club of Venice, says she sees the effects of underage drinking among teens at the club.
“We see how much kids struggle with it and recognize this is an issue that is perpetuated by many factors, including the lack of youth-friendly entertainment, adults who enable drinking, and a lack of empowerment among our youth when it comes to decisions around alcohol,” she said. “If our community works collaboratively, it’s exciting to think we can create a big shift in our attitudes about it.”
Some Venice community leaders think it is time to consider the number of applicants who apply for liquor licenses, given the county density numbers. While the approval of the city Planning Commission is required in order to approve plans for an establishment to sell beer, wine or liquor, the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee also reviews them.
“The Venice Neighborhood Council board has to look harder and closer before agreeing to alcohol licenses. Having the data on density of alcohol licenses to share with the community before we vote would have been important and may have changed the outcome of several recent approvals,” said Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks.
Elaine Spierer, who lives on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, has seen the transformation of the popular commercial and entertainment thoroughfare over the last decade or so. The hip and eclectic restaurants and bars have attracted a decidedly younger crowd on the weekends.
“My concern was that Abbott Kinney was going to become another venue for the young crowd to primarily drink rather than a street more balanced with diners and drinkers,” she said.
Her anxiety “escalated” after the Other Room, a popular night spot that caters to a younger crowd on Abbot Kinney, opened.
“It would be a gold mine if police were to set up (sobriety) checks on both ends of the street,” Spierer said.
Spierer, like Lucks, was unaware that Venice has such a high density of establishments that sell alcohol. “I had absolutely no idea,” she said.
Blanch, who also lives in Venice, said she was not surprised to hear that many people are unaware of the level of alcohol density or how it relates to other factors.
“The really interesting thing is that people don’t seem to draw a correlation between crime, drinking and driving and domestic violence,” she said.
Lucks thinks community pressure can help draw attention to what many have begun to see as a growing problem in Venice.
“If South Los Angeles can get together to limit the number of liquor stores in their neighborhood, so can we,” the neighborhood council president said.
Third District Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents Venice and Santa Monica, did not return calls for comment.