City Council tackles Houston’s infamous booze desert problem

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Mayor Annise Parker and her City Council this week gave two Houston moneyed interests (big grocers and developers) a very generous Happy New Year gift.

The pretext for the move was tackling the city’s poorly defined “food desert” problem (a classic example of pols asserting enough times that there is a problem and something must be done until local media just come to accept the poorly supported assertions as fact). Here are some excerpts from Mike Morris’s reporting for the Houston Chronicle on the specifics of the effort to tackle Houston’s booze deserts:

Supermarkets now can sell beer and wine next to schools and churches, an exemption to city regulations Houston City Council granted unanimously Wednesday, hoping to encourage grocers to locate in neighborhoods that lack access to fresh, healthy food.

[snip]

The exemption had been discussed last month, but was delayed into the new year amid concerns that “grocery store” was defined too vaguely and would allow stores relying more on alcohol or packaged food than fresh produce to use the exemption.

The language passed Wednesday defines a grocery store as covering at least 10,000 square feet of floor space, and excludes businesses that allow alcoholic drinks to be consumed on site and those that derive more than 25 percent of their gross receipts from booze sales.

The move probably won’t do all that much to entice Big Grocers to move into bad, high-crime neighborhoods where “food deserts” are allegedly prevalent. Indeed, one of the grocers that City
Busybodies have been encouraging to move into an allegedly under-served area wouldn’t be affected at all by the new booze-desert change:

The store proposed in south Houston is by independent grocer John Vuong, a Vietnamese immigrant who bought his first market in 1994 and now, with his family, runs 11 groceries, almost all of them in low-income, under-served areas. Vuong is negotiating the terms of a $1.3 million, performance-based loan of federal dollars from the Houston Redevelopment Authority.

The proposed 20,000-square-foot store would sit at the corner of Scott and Corder Avenue, about half a mile north of the South Loop. The change in alcohol-zone rules does not affect that location.

You know who probably will be MOST pleased by City Council’s booze-desert move? Big Grocers and Developers, who now have much greater freedom to build new stores all over town without regard for those quaint old regulations of alcohol sales near schools and churches.

What a clever maneuver to package the change as one aimed at “food deserts” and the poor, though — That’s the Houston Way cherry on top of the *ahem* dessert!

Kevin Whited
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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX