As was first reported by Texpatriate last month, there was a pending proposal before the City Council to combat food deserts (areas, predominantly within poor neighborhoods, that lack a meaningful number of healthy grocery stores) by loosening restrictions of who could sell alcohol where in the neighborhoods. While these two issues may appear unrelated, the logic behind the push is actually quite sound. Simply put, current alcohol ordinances in the City prohibit stores from selling alcohol within 1000 feet of a school or church. In many lower income neighborhoods, churches often have a ubiquitous presence in strip centers alongside other stores. Accordingly, Mayor Parker and others on the City Council argued that these restrictions should be loosened to 300 feet in order to attract new grocery stores to the area.
This morning, the City Council approved the relaxed regulations. They only apply to stores with at least 10,000 square feet of retail space, forbids establishments that allow onsite consumption (sorry, Whole Foods!) and excludes any stores that obtain over a quarter of their profits from the alcoholic sales. The move was largely the brainchild of Councilmember Stephen Costello, who has dedicated a fair amount of time recently to combating the negative effects of food deserts. The regulations were put in place to make sure only actual large Grocery Stores could take advantage of the new rules, and not stop-and-go convenience stores or otherwise any sort of bar.
Costello went on to laud the predicted success of this ordinance in helping to alleviate some of this unpleasantness:
“We’re making progress. This item was one of the last variables we were trying to overcome. We’re talking to them about how the city can help them come into these under-served areas because, obviously, they’re taking a risk. There’s a reason they’re not there in the first place. And we’re figuring out ways to try to peel back the onion to get them to come into these areas.”
The Houston Chronicle also has a story on the topic of the booze ban in food deserts.
In other Council news, a proposal to bring advertising to the airport has been tagged and thus delayed from consideration for at least one week. The proposal, which would have created a $10Million contract, would be used to “develop and maintain digital displays, static displays, banners and wraps, power station poles, shopping and dining directories, interactive information kiosks and other media.”
This proposal has generated no small amount of controversy recently because of who the contract was awarded to. A large firm (JC Decaux) and a smaller one (Cavazos) have been tentatively awarded the contract in the current deal, rather than the better-known Clear Channel. While an initial deal saw Clear Channel assuming advertising at one airport, the firm rejected the deal and has been trying to stymie progress of the alternate deal ever since.
Since it was tagged by a Councilmember, it will be back on the agenda during the January 15th meeting. Once again, the Houston Chronicle has the full story.