In a move to help the local economy recover after stay-at-home orders are lifted, Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday voted to relax regulations on alcohol service for many restaurants and encourage nightlife on the Third Street Promenade.
Restaurants in commercial areas other than the Promenade will be allowed to serve alcohol from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. each day, rather than just on Fridays and Saturdays, and generate half of their gross revenue from alcohol sales — the state’s legal limit. The city previously capped alcohol sales at 35% of revenue.
The council also voted to extend a coronavirus-era rule that allows restaurants to offer alcoholic drinks for takeout and delivery.
Councilmember Greg Morena, who runs The Albright restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier, said alcohol sales help restaurants survive on razor-thin margins. When restaurants reopen with physical distancing and infection controls that increase operating costs and cut customer capacity, their margins will be even thinner.
“To revitalize our economy, we have to open it up to these operations,” Morena said.
While he acknowledged that rowdy restaurants have caused problems from time to time, he noted that residents can report a restaurant or bar to the city if it becomes a nuisance.
“There have been challenges in the past, but if we look backwards we can’t see the opportunities in front of us,” he said.
Businesses on the Promenade will operate under a looser set of rules as the city tries to foster nightlife and entertainment in the shopping district, which had already been hit hard by the shift away from brick-and-mortar retail before the pandemic.
Promenade restaurants and bars will be able to obtain alcohol permits through an administrative process and serve alcohol on their premises and for takeout and delivery until 2 a.m. each day.
Restrictions on live entertainment, television screens and games will be removed, and food halls and light manufacturing — such as breweries or artisan studios — will be able to open without a conditional use permit.
Businesses will no longer have to maintain alley loading docks, which councilmembers said would free up the alleys for pedestrians and cyclists. The city is also planning to allow small businesses to open onto the alleys.
The council also approved several rule changes for other commercial areas of the city that will make it easier for restaurants and stores to open in vacant buildings, ease parking and loading requirements, and conditionally permit food halls.
Restaurants will be able to occupy spaces up to 5,000 square feet without a discretionary permit. Previously, restaurants trying to open or expand in spaces larger than 2,500 square feet had to obtain a permit. Appeals of alcohol permits will be prohibited for restaurants with more than 50 seats.
The council voted to do away with a rule that limited the number of restaurants on Main Street to two per block, which planning manager Jing Yeo said has made it difficult to fill vacancies.
Yeo said city staff will bring a plan to the council next month to allow more outdoor dining throughout the city, and Councilmember Gleam Davis asked staff to develop regulations that allow restaurants to expand to accommodate physical distancing requirements.
The city is also planning to streamline the process to open or renovate businesses.
“We are laser focused on economic recovery for all in our community,” Interim City Manager Lane Dilg said in a statement. “Every council meeting will include at least one agenda item that protects vulnerable residents or supports our struggling local business community.”