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Council Raises Cap on Downtown Santa Monica Alcohol Licenses
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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

 

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

May 27, 2016 -- The Santa Monica City Council gave City staff the go ahead for an experiment to determine if the area including the Third Street Promenade and surrounding blocks would benefit from an increase in the cap on alcohol licenses from 50 to 60.

Council members unanimously approved the temporary measure, which will be in effect through August 2017. Only restaurants will be able to acquire the licenses.

City staff had proposed the cap be lifted entirely for a trial period, but council members and some public speakers objected to this.

“Once we turn off the toggle and say there’s an unlimited number of liquor licenses, then if we change our mind, taking them away is really hard to do,” said Councilmember Kevin Mckeown.

He later said, “I think we owe it to the residents of our city to be a little bit cautious here.”

Two public speakers mentioned how Santa Monica was named the “Drunkest City in California” last fall by the website RoadSnacks based on its per-capita number of places serving and selling alcohol as well as other factors ("Santa Monica Tops Dubious Drunken City List," October 6, 2015).

Planning staff told council members that there have not been many complaints of excessive noise or public drunkenness near places that serve alcohol in Santa Monica. McKeown said he has received some complaints.

The City has had a limitation on alcohol licenses in the Promenade area since 1996. The 50-limit rule has been in effect since 2014.

David Martin, Planning and Community Development director, told the council that alcohol licenses are almost essential for restaurants.

“We find that it’s really critical and that most restaurants won’t open or they won’t commit to a lease in a space without knowing they could seek an alcohol license,” he said.

This measure was approved as an amendment to the interim zoning ordinance defining downtown development and planning rules.

The council needed to renew the ordinance on Tuesday while the draft Downtown Community Plan (formerly known as the Downtown Specific Plan) goes through the review process ("Revised Downtown Santa Monica Plan Set for Friday Release," February 11, 2016).

A second amendment was also approved that triggered far less discussion than the alcohol issue.

It prohibits regular restaurants in the Promenade area from being converted into fast-casual restaurants, which are eateries where customers order and pay for their food at a counter and a server brings it to them.

This measure, also temporary through August 2017, will allow City staff to study the impact of fast-casual restaurants and whether they should be considered fast food businesses, which are not allowed on the Promenade outside the food court.

No council member spoke about this amendment. Brian Dolber, research analyst for the restaurant and hotel employees union UNITE HERE Local 11, praised the measure when addressing the council.

“We support the legislation because we’re hopeful that full-service restaurants will provide more quality jobs, both in terms of their number and how good they are to their employees, than fast food or fast-casual restaurants will,” Dolber said.

Meanwhile, the process for finalizing and approving the Downtown Community Plan is in the opening stages.

The draft plan is available at downtownsmplan.org, and a workshop titled “I Love Downtown Because” is scheduled to take place June 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the Civic Auditorium.

At least one more workshop is expected to take place. Focus group sessions are also planned.

The Planning Commission and City Council are expected to hold public review sessions of the document later in the summer.


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