Earlier this year, the city instituted a new Restaurant Beverage Program (RBP), to help streamline the liquor permitting process for restaurants that meet a very specific set of application and operating conditions. The program supplements the city’s older Conditional Use Permit (CUP) process that provides liquor permits for other new and currently operating restaurants, and those which don’t qualify (or don’t choose to apply) for the RBP. But there are still a number of restaurants, liquor stores, and other sellers of alcoholic beverages out there – around 400 throughout the city, and nearly 30 in the Wilshire area – that have been selling liquor since before the CUP process was established in 1977, and which are not covered by the operating conditions or enforcement procedures that a Conditional Use Permit or Restaurant Beverage Program permit provide.
But the city is now looking to close that gap, and to provide a better set of operating and enforcement procedures for these legacy alcohol vendors, by covering them under a new “Deemed Approved” ordinance. The proposed new ordinance would consider these pre-CUP-era businesses grandfathered – or “deemed approved” – for alcohol sales, but would also hold them to some basic operating rules similar to those set out in Conditional Use Permits, and would provide a specific structure for handling complaints and violations, similar to those outlined in a CUP.
A draft of the new ordinance is scheduled to be released “before the end of the year,” according to the city, and in November, the Department of City Planning conducted a brief webinar to provide some basic information about the proposal.
According to the city, the new ordinance is based on a similar law established by the City of Oakland, CA in 1993. The purpose is to establish specific general operating conditions, improve enforcement, and align safety practices for older businesses selling alcoholic beverages, most of which are “long-standing legacy businesses,” with no operating problems, and which would continue operating as usual under the new ordinance.
To qualify for permission to operate under the new Deemed Approved ordinance, businesses selling alcohol (including restaurants, liquor and convenience stores, bars and nightclubs, entertainment venues, and others) would have to have a state-issued license for alcohol sales, but no city-issued Conditional Use Permit…and they would have also have to have begun selling alcohol for on-site consumption before 1977, or for off-site consumption before 1985.
According to the DCP webinar, this includes more than 400 businesses citywide, some of them operating since the 1920s, with the most (41) in the Hollywood Community Plan area, and the second most (29) in the Wilshire Community Plan area. (Potentially eligible businesses were identified by looking at the dates of their general business licenses, and then cross-referencing those listings with businesses that already have Conditional Use Permits. Those with active older business licenses, but no CUPs, were considered to be potentially eligible for the new Deemed Approved provisions.)
Also according to the November webinar, while specific provisions of the proposed ordinance have not yet been released, it will consist of four major components: Performance Standards, Operating Standards, Administrative Provisions, and Enforcement Procedures.
The first section, Performance Standards, will focus on things like nuisances, public health and safety, employee and patron behavior, and compliance with local, state, and federal laws. These provisions will largely model similar provisions from Oakland and other cities that have adopted similar ordinances.
The next section, Operating Standards, will include items commonly found in Conditional Use Permits, including requirements for noise limits and control, cameras and surveillance systems, indoor and outdoor lighting, and the need to follow state department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and other laws. The provisions may vary a bit, depending on whether a business sells alcohol for on-site consumption, off-site consumption, or both. In either case, though, no sales to minors or obviously intoxicated individuals would be allowed.
The Administration and Enforcement section will cover rules for when a CUP would be required instead of the Deemed Approved status (e.g. if there is a change in state alcohol license type, such as from beer and wine to a full line of alcoholic beverages, if there is a “substantial change” in the “mode or character” of the business, if the business is closed for more than a year, or if there is an increase in the percentage of the square footage devoted to alcohol). It would also assign enforcement responsibility to the LA Department of Building Services and LAPD, specify a one-year grace period for enforcement, and specify penalties for repeated violations (such as losing “deemed approved” status), and it could require on-site inspections in certain situations to remedy violations.
Finally, because the city does recognize that the new ordinance might require at least some Deemed Approved businesses to invest in physical changes or new equipment for their facilities, there will also be a Resources section to help people find assistance for these kinds of upgrades. They include programs run by the city’s Food Policy Council, the Economic & Workforce Development Department (including its Legacy Business Program), and the Mayor’s office.
The more specific provisions of the new ordinance have not been presented yet, but according to the Planning Department a draft is scheduled to be released before the end of this year…with staff-level hearings, and then public hearings at the City Planning Commission, City Council PLUM Committee, and full City Council, to follow in 2023.
In the meantime, more information can be found at the city’s Deemed Approved Ordinance website (with a useful FAQ here), the City Council File for the proposal, the recording of the November webinar, or by contacting Roberto Luna at the Department of City Planning at (213) 473-9701 or [email protected].
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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