CITY HALL — The next time Planning Commission ends at 12:30 a.m. and the Commissioners are in need of a nightcap, they’ll have three new choices in Santa Monica.
The five and a half hour meeting on Aug. 27 took an unusual turn from almost the first minute as the commission chose to hold full hearings for each of three consent items and move one action item to the consent calendar.
Consent items are usually considered routine housekeeping. They are often items that have already been discussed once or are considered less impact than the action items. However, due to the amount of public interest in three proposed conditional use permits for the sale of alcohol, and a lack of controversy over redeveloping a carwash on Wilshire, the Commission chose to switch focus for the night. All three applications were eventually approved albeit with differing conditions.
Before launching into the triptych of applications, Commissioner Himmelrich asked staff if the burst of booze requests had a specific cause.
“The economy is very strong and a lot of vacant spaces are filling up,” said Planning Director David Martin. “Often times when a new restaurant comes in, they change the operation and they need to apply for a (conditional use permit).”
He said businesses must apply for an alcohol license if they are asking to serve alcohol at a location for the first time, if a prior license has expired or if they are making significant changes to a site. With regards to the applications that night, reasons included all of the above.
The first applicant was Andrew Kirschner, owner of Tar and Roses who has taken over a second restaurant space on the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and 7th Street. Kirschner said he plans to open a new restaurant named the Santa Monica Yacht Club and he asked for a license to sell beer, wine and spirits to as late as 2 a.m. every day.
“By no means am I opening a night club or a rowdy environment,” he said. “I’m a chef first and foremost, that’s what I’m trained in.”
He said he had every intention of creating a local tradition that would be embraced, not opposed, by the neighborhood. His current business does not have a license to sell hard alcohol and he said the full permit would significantly increase the new restaurant’s appeal.
“We’re naming it the Santa Monica Yacht Club in the hope that it becomes an institution and sticks around for 15 years, which is the terms of my lease,” he said.
The commission questioned the need to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. every day and also asked for additional restrictions on alcohol service on the restaurant’s patio.
Commissioner Richard McKinnon expressed support for the 2 a.m. cutoff as the city’s planning documents specifically list the area as being an active use but said he was open to compromise.
“One thing about the City is we do have people that work later and are looking for places to eat later and enjoy a drink with their dinner,” he said.
McKinnon eventually supported a motion by Commissioner Newbold that would allow alcohol service until 2 a.m. Friday – Saturday and cut service at 1 a.m. the rest of the week. Commissioners Himmelrich and Parry opposed the measure with Himmelrich citing a desire to allow for later hours during holidays.
The Commission also supported an application by restaurateur Bob Lynn of LGO Hospitality for a new alcohol license the current site of Callahan’s Diner. Lynn recently purchased the building and he said the current owners of Callahan’s have chosen to close on December 31. Lynn, whose company owns several restaurants nationwide including the Misfit in Santa Monica, plans to open a new restaurant in the same location.
Lynn lives on 18th Street and said he is committed to opening a business that serves the neighborhood that will be his actual neighbors. He described his request to serve alcohol as an economic necessity not a path to the bar business.
“Santa Monica is our home town and we absolutely love this building and think it’s a huge opportunity,” he said. “Quite frankly, to make the economics make any kind of sense, if they do at all, we have to drive a healthy dinner business and that’s not going to be possible if we have the veto vote for a group of six that comes in and wants to have a drink.”
While two residents protested any additional alcohol licenses in town, most speakers were in favor of the proposal. Andrew Hoyer, representing the Mid-City Neighbors, said he understood the desire to serve spirits in a restaurant and the reduction in operating hours from midnight to 10 p.m. solved many problems.
“Any objections I had, I feel have been pretty well addressed,” he said.
In approving the application, the Commission supported a staff proposal that reduced the restaurant’s operating hours and allowed alcohol sales from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The third applicant, Starbucks, was issued a conditional use permit to implement its new “Starbucks Evening” program at the corner of Olympic Drive and Main Street. The new program, rolling out nationwide, expands the store’s food service and adds alcohol sales during evening hours.
Charlie Utter Regional Director for Starbucks Coffee said the program had been operational in Calabasas for two year, serving between six – ten alcoholic drinks a day with zero problems.
“This really is an add on and particularly for groups that come in where two people might want coffee and one person wants wine or beer,” he said. “The character of Starbucks is very similar, in fact, in my experience in most of those stores you have to look pretty carefully to see that there’s beer and wine being served.”
He said the store does not employ anyone under the age of 21, that employees are trained to watch for potential problems and that Starbucks corporation isn’t going to risk it’s reputation by operating a business that causes problems.
The Starbucks is part of a mixed-use development recently opened on the site. According to the Development Agreement, of the 20,000 square feet of retail space, up to 17,000 will be restaurants with alcohol. Starbucks is the first applicant but the developer’s representative said an upscale general store, Jones on Third, and a new restaurant concept, Seersucker, are both expected to open soon and also apply for alcohol permits.
Commissioner Gerda Newbold expressed support for the broadest version of the application. “I’d approve it as it stands,” she said. “I actually think this seems totally reasonable, it’s exactly the location where this should be, near a lot of hotels and not a lot around it right now.”
Other Commissioners struggled with the concept of a coffee shop expanding into an evening café and questioned if the business served enough food to qualify as a restaurant but they eventually approved some alcohol sales in the store.
“I’m not sure what we’re concerned about, that there’s going to be a rowdy crowd of people drinking at Starbucks? I don’t see that,” said Commissioner Amy Anderson.
Several residents opposed the permit arguing that Starbucks should be prohibited from selling alcohol due to its history as a coffee shop, that the location was too close to Tongva Park and that the program would be a problem for the nearby Santa Monica High School.
Utter said the company’s history selling non-alcoholic drinks shouldn’t be held against it as they expand their business.
“We do understand that for part of the population, this is a shift in how they understand Starbucks,” he said. “They’ve been coming to Starbucks for 20 years and if you haven’t been to one that served beer and wine, that can be a shift and I’m not sure we’re going to be able to change that perception.”
The application was approved, but with several conditions including a mandate that alcohol and food be brought to tables (not passed across a counter), alcohol must be purchased with a food item, alcohol sales cannot exceed 15 percent of total revenues and alcohol can’t be openly displayed.

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