Wine, Wine, Wine (Beer Too): Once More, a Petition Push to Make All of Dallas Wet

A little while ago, Rudy Bush posted an item about a new push to allow beer and wine sales citywide, thus eliminating the so-called "dry" parts of town in which booze can't be sold for off-site consumption. Big news, to be sure, but also old news: I called Gary Huddleston, the Dallas market's director of consumer affairs at Kroger, to ask him if this was related to a similar push made in October 2006 -- which, at the time, was limited solely to lifting the booze ban in Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 in North Dallas. And, sure enough, it is.

Huddleston, who's also the treasurer of the group hoping to get the initiative on the ballot in time for the November election, reminds Unfair Park: Back in the fall of '06 the group got plenty of signatures -- more than 100,000 -- only the Dallas County Commissioners Court refused to put the initiative on the ballot after claiming the precinct boundaries had been changed and that, sorry, the petitions weren't valid. Ultimately, it turned into a court case that landed up in the Supreme Court of Texas, where justices denied the petition in August 2008.

This time around, Huddleston tells Unfair Park, "We believe it's much better to have the election held within the city of Dallas." His group also wants to eliminate the need for a Unicard in restaurants located in dry areas -- though, most eateries have already done that if you've got, ya know, a driver's license.

Huddleston says he's not sure folks will be asked to sign the petitions; Arlington-based Texas Petitions Strategies has been hired to collect signatures, and their efforts will begin "in the near future."

Update at 2:58 p.m.: John Hatch at Texas Petition Strategies sends today's media release concerning the formation of Progress Dallas, which includes statements from Huddleston and Jamee Jolly, executive director of the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association. It follows.

Huddleston says restaurant owners and retailers are just tired of conforming to an antiquated law -- and a confusing one, for that matter.

"We respected it for a number of years, but it is confusing for the customer," he says. "Think about the store as Mockingbird and Greenville, where we sell beer and wine, and then just up the street at Greenville and Forest. At our store there, we can't sell beer and wine. It makes no sense."

Huddleston expects this initiative will spark the same arguments heard when Irving voters allowed beer and wine sales; he knows this is just the beginning of a long fight. As Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson wrote in the summer of '08, "Both our state and nation have struggled with regulating the sale of alcoholic beverages, vacillating between outright prohibition and widespread legalization. In parts of Texas, the debate rages on."

Below is the release sent from John Hatch in Austin.

Dallas Group Forms to Support Local Businesses
Group considering Local Option Petitions

Progress Dallas a special purpose political action committee has been formed to consider the feasibility of asking voters to support limited alcohol sales in the city limits of Dallas. The group consists of local residents, business and community leaders and many local businesses, and is considering two referendums to call for an election this November. The election would be called if the group collects approximately 68,000 signatures in sixty days, making this the largest petition drive in Texas history.

One proposition being considered is to allow a vote for the legal sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption only. This will only allow beer and wine sales in grocery and convenience stores and will not allow package liquor sales. The second proposition would be "for the legal sale of mixed beverages in restaurants by food and beverage certificate holders only." This will only allow state recognized restaurants to serve alcohol without requiring the "private club" memberships. This will not allow stand alone bars or nightclubs.

Statement by Gary Huddleston
Director of Administration, Kroger Grocery Company
Chairman, Texas Retailers Association, Food Council
Treasurer, Progress Dallas

"Many customers have requested the convenience of purchasing beer and wine at a supermarket. In addition, we have some supermarkets within the City of limits of Dallas legally selling beer & wine and many that are not allowed to sell beer & wine. In many cases this causes confusion. Also as we look at future locations for new stores, the ability to sell beer & wine is a factor in our decision. Having beer & wine in a supermarket provides for a sales increase for those products as well as other products within the store. As we grow our sales, then we hire more associates. As we grow our sales, more tax revenue is generated."

Statement by Jamee Jolly
Exec. Director, Greater Dallas Restaurant Association

"According to the Texas Restaurant Association it costs restaurants between $ 10,000 to $20,000 per year to comply with state regulations of being a "private club". This does not generate one dime of sales tax revenue for the city nor does it create jobs. This is just an expense to the restaurant and a nuisance to our customers. We would hope the City of Dallas residents would support an effort to eliminate the private club rules for all Dallas restaurants."

Progress Dallas has retained Texas Petition Strategies, the top ranked firm in Texas to conduct local option alcohol elections. The group has conducted nearly 200 proposition efforts with an 85% approval rating.

Statement by Sissy Day
Partner, Texas Petition Strategies

"We are proud of the fact we have helped so many Texas communities change their laws to allow limited alcohol sales which have generated millions of dollars in sales tax revenues without having to raise local property taxes. We are pleased to be working with Progress Dallas Paid for by the Progress Dallas Committee 5665 Mockingbird Lane, Dallas, TX 75206

to study the possibility of having all parts of Dallas under one common set of rules concerning alcohol sales in grocery and convenience stores and eliminating burdensome red tape for restaurants. Collecting nearly 70,000 signatures would make this the largest petition drive in Texas history."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky