Last week, the City Council passed the final piece of its new Restaurant Beverage Program – an ordinance that will allow many restaurants to obtain permits to sell either beer and wine or a full line of alcoholic beverages with a simple administrative review instead of the traditional, and much longer and more costly, Conditional Use Permit process that was previously required.
Very briefly, the new program allows restaurants meeting more than 50 very specific requirements and operating conditions to skip the public review process and receive their permits to sell and dispense a full line of alcoholic beverages in what could be just a matter of weeks, instead of the months or years involved in the traditional CUP process.
Among the long list of requirements, restaurants that would be eligible for the new program are those that operate very traditionally and:
- Offer full meal service, with alcohol sales incidental to the sale of food
- Maintain a full kitchen and dining room, with continuous sit-down food service during hours of operation
- Limit hours of operation from 7 am to 11 pm
- Have no live music, pool/billiard tables, dancing, or adult entertainment
Also, there are even more rules for restaurants in areas where there are already large concentrations of liquor permits, where applicants would still have to go through at least one public hearing, and would be subject to a one-year provisional approval period.
The new permitting program will be available to new restaurants, existing restaurants that have not previously had liquor permits, and existing restaurants with wine and beer permits that would like to upgrade to “full line” alcohol permits (as long as they meet the program’s qualification and operating conditions; restaurants that do not meet the conditions will not be available for the new program). Restaurants meeting the strict criteria can apply for the new program at any time, providing they already have the appropriate type of liquor license from the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. And if they are upgrading from a beer and wine permit, they would surrender their old permit when the new one is issued. (Restaurants do not have to wait for their previous CUP to come up for renewal to apply for the new program.)
Before taking the final vote last week, several Councilmembers spoke in strong support of the new program and the benefits it will provide especially to small restaurateurs, who were particularly hard hit by closures and other operating restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Paul Krekorian, who introduced the original motion for the program back in 2017, said before the vote that he believes the final version of the ordinance both makes it easier for people to open new restaurants in Los Angeles, and – because of its many qualifying conditions – offers even “greater protection to neighbors than the normal CUB process.” In particular, Krekorian said he especially likes that the new program will be “opt-in” – allowing each Councilmember to request which parts of their district will participate – rather than a more comprehensive blanket or “opt-out” process.
Councilmember Nithya Raman said she believes the new program is “absolutely so necessary” because the traditional CUP process tends to “stack the deck” against small restaurant operators who often don’t have the money or resources to delay opening while they complete the very lengthy and expensive CUP process, which causes many potential restaurants to fail before they ever open. So “I’m really excited to vote for this,” she said.
Mitch O’Farrell, whose 13th District now includes our Larchmont Village area, where several restaurants have beer and wine permits but none have ever offered a full line of alcoholic beverages, said he thinks the new program is “well thought out.” “When we reduce bureaucracy and red tape in terms of permitting, it translates into real jobs in our neighborhoods, for our local economy, and it also translates into a more livable street life,” O’Farrell said. So “I couldn’t be more supportive.”
Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson said he, too, likes the opt-in aspect of the program, because different parts of the city have different characteristics and need different policies…so “I feel good about what we’ve come up with.”
Bob Blumenfield, who co-sponsored the original motion with Krekorian, said he strongly supports the new ordinance because “restaurants are important to local neighborhoods, and help to make a sense of place” in the community. Blumenfield also said he would soon introduce a motion to include his entire district in the new program.
And finally, Councilmember Paul Koretz also spoke in strong support of the ordinance. Restaurant permitting has been “an area of frustration for me for many years,” he said, because he sees so many restaurants either sitting empty or never opening because of the time and cost involved in obtaining liquor permits. But this program, he said “is a win-win for everybody — a huge win for our economy, a win for our business community and, obviously, a win for our neighborhoods because this will encourage more restaurants that open more routinely and don’t disrupt the rest of the neighbors.”
The vote to support the new program was unanimous, with all 13 councilmembers in attendance voting in favor.
About Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.
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