When City Council approved the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) zoning code updates, there were a number of issues that didn’t sit well with residents.
The decoupling of parking requirements, renovation height bonuses for historic buildings and operation of child daycare centers in single family neighborhoods were cited for being too business/developer friendly and harmful to neighbors.
One code update that inflamed neighborhood leaders and that was strongly criticized in this space concerned alcohol conditional use permits (CUPS). City Council’s change to the code did away with public review of alcohol applications and made the granting of alcohol permits an administrative function under the discretion of a zoning code administrator and/or the Director of Planning.
The new “fast track” code states that prior notice of an alcohol application is no longer required. Now, here’s the kicker: residents living near the applicant address are “informed” that a permit to serve alcohol was approved, after the fact, via U.S. Mail.
That determination is a standard form letter and not required to provide details relevant to the application including specific findings or conditions that led to the granting of a permit.
It appears that the city planners and both the Planning Commission and City Council demonstrated a zero concern for the welfare of residents. In the “Drunkest City in California,” (Roadsnacks.net, Oct. 1, 2015) our council has made it easier for our boulevards to be jammed with even more alcohol outlets. Well done, guys!
Previously, a public hearing was required on alcohol applications. Residents could comment about the application. Input on conditions such as times alcohol can be sold and even the kinds of alcohol sold — beer and wine or full bar — were on the table before an alcohol CUP was issued. Not anymore.
By the way, City Hall approval of alcohol sales/service is precursor to obtaining a mandatory California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) license to dispense alcoholic beverages. State law mandates that an ABC license is tied to an address, not a property or business owner.
Neighbors or interested parties can appeal the decision to grant an alcohol sales permit. However, an appeal must be filed with the city planning department no more than 14 days from the time the permit was officially approved. And the cost to appeal? $458.66. Keep in mind that neighbors and potential appellants never had an opportunity to be heard on the application to begin with.
All of this came to a head recently with the approval of an Alcohol Exemption (15ADM-0033) Permit for Mendocino Farms at 631 Wilshire Boulevard. The application was approved by Acting Zoning Administrator Paul Foley on Oct. 14. The location was previously a low-traffic hair salon.
Incidentally, staff was late in mailing notices to neighbors of an Oct. 13 Montana Avenue determination which made it virtually impossible for impacted parties to file an appeal before the appeal deadline. Again, another planning screw up.
The “Alcohol Exemption Zoning Conformance Permit Determination,” for 631 Wilshire states that a “request for a Type 41 (on-sale beer and wine) in conjunction with the establishment of a limited service restaurant (Mendocino Farms) with 78 indoor seats located in the ‘mixed-use boulevard’ zoning district” is approved.”
Among the 26 conditions noted in the “Determination” is that alcohol only be served in conjunction with food service. “Hours of alcoholic beverage service shall be 9 a.m to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday… Alcoholic beverages must be removed from outdoor dining area no later than 10 p.m. (Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday).
Other conditions implemented require ABC employee training, marketing restrictions (no pub crawls) and prohibitions on entertainment, amusement games and disposable cups. The operator is also responsible for controlling “noisy patrons leaving the restaurant.”
While I feel that Mendocino Farms will be a good and responsible operator, the issue here is lack of public input on something that has a potential to greatly diminish the quality of life for adjacent neighbors. Remember, the state issued ABC permit goes to an address and if Mendocino Farms leaves and an irresponsible or inept operator takes over the license, there could be big trouble.
City government has opened the door to a whole raft of potential problems – as has happened many time before in similar situations – especially when the permit holder is irresponsible. Look at “South” and “The Parlor”– both on Wilshire and now closed, “Busby’s Sports Bar” that cleaned up its act. Nevertheless, complaints about alcohol-serving establishments are still major quality-of-life issues.
It’s obvious that neighbor input should be included in the process before an alcohol permit is granted and not after when it becomes much more difficult or impossible to rescind or modify previously approved conditions.
Council’s “OK” of the removal of public input on alcohol permits is an absolute travesty. What on earth were they thinking? Were they even thinking or was this another in a long series of bones negatively impacting residents that elected officials have been tossing to business interests?
Alcohol generates revenue for the city – application fees, business license fees, sales taxes and other forms of revenues fill city coffers. It’s one reason why Santa Monica has one of the highest ratios of “alcohol outlets to residents” of any municipality in the state.
Who is going to be first on council to correct this? Who cares enough to give us a voice on alcohol permits?
Bill Bauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.