Tarzana Treatment Centers

LANCASTER — Stephen Updyke and Desirae Tainatongo of Tarzana Treatment Centers sought the Lancaster Criminal Justice Commission’s support for a voluntary Merchant Committed program designed to help merchants prevent sales and access of alcohol to minors and help diminish its appeal among the Valley’s youth.

Businesses that sign up for the Merchant Committed program would follow a code of conduct that includes the posting of six signs, including no loitering signs, “We ID” signs, no open container and tobacco warning. Merchants enrolled in the program also would not carry any drug paraphernalia, nor place alcohol near or in front of exits.

The three-step program begins with confirming that all employees completed Responsible Beverage Service training, which Tarzana Treatment Centers offers for free to any merchants that need it.

“It’s just a way to try to prevent them serving alcohol to already intoxicated people or to minors,” Tainatongo said at Wednesday’s meeting.

The merchant would be required to keep a record of all RBS cards in the store.

A City ordinance requires all employees who serve or sell alcoholic beverages to successfully complete a responsible beverage service training program that meets the requirements of the State ABC within 90 days of hire

Tainatongo said they presented the Merchant Committed program to some of the businesses in the City over  the past month. So far, only one merchant has committed to doing the program.

“Hopefully, when more merchants see that at least one store has done this, that will incentivize (other merchants to follow along as well,” Tainatongo said.

The second step of the Merchant Committed program calls for retailers to remove all holiday alcohol-related promotions such as those for Cinco de Mayo or St. Patrick’s Day. They would also ask merchants to ensure that no more than 33% of their window-space is covered.

They would also ask merchants to remove all advertising four-feet high and below.

The third step of the program would call for a store makeover that asks merchants to remove 25% of alcohol advertising from the storefront; remove 25% of alcohol ads from inside the store; and move alcohol away from groceries and non-alcoholic beverages.

“We don’t want alcohol near things that are youth-related,” Tainatongo said, adding such placement helps normalize it for children.

Updyke said they would like for the City to provide certificates of recognition along with a presentation of the certificate to merchants who participate and successfully complete all three levels of the program.

“We feel it’s certainly a win-win for the City as a public safety issue and reduction of underage drinking doing nuisance-type calls,” Updyke said.

Commissioner Howard Harris said he liked the program but expressed concern about removing holiday promotions in stores.

“I just feel that you’re actually stopping them from making with legal adults buying the alcohol. I’m in favor of keeping it away from minors but at the same time I have concerns about restricting their marketing capability,” Harris said.

Chairman Jeff Little said the City already has a lot of the program’s requirements in place for new businesses.

“A lot of these things that you’re saying here I agree with you. Those are conditions that the City has set forth, ti’s very strict on layouts and how it can be set up,’ Little said.

Updyke said since Merchant Committed is a volunteer program the goal is to partner with local businesses to reduce alcohol access to youth.

“We are willing to compromise on some issues if there is a difference of agreement,” Updyke said.

Public Safety Director Lee D’Errico said many of the elements in the program already exist in City ordinances.

“I think the thing is for us is what makes sense. The focus here is really looking at the businesses that are focusing on that compliance issue as well as the underage drinking,” D’Errico said.

Commissioner Tim Fuller said it is worthwhile to separate the mandatory and voluntary aspects of the program.

“I’m a little concerned that if the standards that you present are less than are required that we’re giving a false impression,” Fuller said. “For example, that we want to see 33% of your windows uncovered when the law states it’s up to 25%.”

Fuller added if the goal of the Merchant Committed program is to diminish the appeal and perception of alcohol it would be good to measure it to see whether the program works.

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