Residents in the neighborhoods surrounding El Con Mall scored a victory this week when the City Council voted to recommend denial of a liquor license at Tucson's newest Walmart, scheduled to open this fall.
But Walmart representatives vowed to make a strong argument for the license when the request goes to the Arizona State Liquor Board, which has the final say.
The board upholds the city recommendation about 50 percent of the time.
Neighbors voiced concerns to the city mostly over Walmart selling alcohol long after other mall businesses have closed for the night. They said they fear unsavory characters fueled by late-night binge drinking would spill into their yards and cause disturbances.
A Walmart spokeswoman said the company wants to offer the same products at the El Con store that it offers customers at its other locations.
"We are disappointed in the City Council's recommendation and are evaluating next steps," Delia Garcia said in an email response to questions. "Walmart strives to offer a broad assortment of goods and products to meet the needs and desires of our customers. This includes a variety of beer, wine and spirits where our stores are licensed to sell these products. Walmart is always seeking opportunities to expand our product base to better serve our customers."
Lee Hill, director of communications for the Arizona Department of Liquor and Licenses, said it's now up to the city or the neighbors to make the case before the board on why Walmart shouldn't be allowed to sell alcohol.
One council member believes the board rules against the city so often because the hearings are held in Phoenix, putting residents who want to protest at a disadvantage.
"If you're required to take off work, find day care for your kids and travel 200 miles to protest a liquor license, it's not likely that you're going to go through all of that just to protest," Councilman Steve Kozachik said. "But the company's lawyers will make the trip. ... Basically the state board is depriving people of their right to speech and comment on how these decisions affect the quality of life of the people living in the area."
Even though neighbors can file a written protest and avoid traveling to Phoenix, Kozachik said a piece of paper doesn't have the same effect as physically petitioning the board.
The board does hold periodic hearings in Tucson, but Kozachik said those few token meetings aren't enough.
He continues to call for the state to set up a permanent liquor board in Pima County so Southern Arizona residents can more easily air their grievances.
Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or email@example.com. On Twitter @DarrenDaRonco