The Menlo Park City Council last week denied the owners of the A&S Union 76 gas station on Willow Road a permit to sell beer and wine and operate longer hours.
The station's owners wanted to be able to sell beer and wine between 6 a.m. and 2 a.m. and operate 24 hours a day, but neither request was approved.
California's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control governs which establishments are permitted to sell beer and wine, and has to determine if the request would offer convenience or meet community needs. Since there are already three establishments in the neighborhood that sell alcoholic beverages, the department would consider adding a fourth license within the same census tract to be "over-concentrated," according to staff.
Generally, the department looks to the Planning Commission to avoid creating an "undue concentration" of alcohol vendors if the ratio of alcohol retail licenses to population exceeds that of the average census tract within the county, or it's in an area where there is a 20% greater number of reported crimes than the county average, according to a staff report.
Other locations selling beer and wine near the Union 76 station at 710 Willow Road are at El Rancho Market at 812 Willow Road and Hacienda Super Mercado at 1933 Menalto Ave. The Willows Market at 60 Middlefield Road sells beer, wine and spirits.
The Planning Commission previously denied the permit request in March 2020. City staff members recommended that the City Council deny the appeal of the permit request; and the council voted 4-0 vote, with Councilman Ray Mueller absent, to uphold the commission's decision.
A number of residents spoke in opposition to the permit at the appeal hearing on Aug. 31.
Resident Jeffrey Chen suggested that gas station patrons would not buy alcohol for a planned meal or event but instead to consume immediately, which could increase the risk of DUI-related accidents nearby. Resident Brian Gilmer said that the gas station "tends to attract problems" and that he's found trash in his yard including receipts from the gas station.
Gas station owner Aparna Saha and her son pushed back against the neighbors' concerns. They said that several other nearby businesses around the neighborhood have permits to sell alcohol, so it hardly seems fair to deny their request out of some concern that it would somehow be more dangerous or disruptive than selling it in other nearby locations.
"I don't think it's fair to say that (in) granting us a beer and wine license we're going to significantly cause the neighborhood to deteriorate," Saha's son said.
He added that the pandemic has roughly halved sales for the family's business at the gas station, and being permitted to sell beer and wine on the premises could help them increase their income.
"I'm not in support of giving a permit for increased hours or for alcohol sales," said Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor.
Email Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]