The Los Angeles Department of City Planning announced this morning that – in response to the current COVID-19 crisis – it is working on a new Restaurant Beverage Program to simplify and fast-track liquor permit applications for restaurants.
According to the Planning Department statement, “The profit margin from sales of alcoholic beverages has helped restaurant owners stay afloat during sharp rises in rent and payroll costs and, more recently, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Restaurant Beverage Program would create an efficient and easy-to-navigate process, providing opportunities to new startups while also aiding the recovery of existing small businesses, once the stay-at-home orders are lifted…These measures are in line with Los Angeles’s broader efforts to help local and family-owned businesses prepare for the economic recovery ahead.”
To sell alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption, restaurants need both a license from the state-level Alcohol Beverage Control agency, and a Conditional Use permit from the City of Los Angeles. The Conditional Use Beverage (CUB) permit establishes specific operating conditions for each restaurant, on top of the state’s basic license rules, and results from what is usually a lengthy application and review process, including local neighborhoods and Neighborhood Councils, as well as public hearings with Planning Department officials. The process can take months, and sometimes even years, to complete.
Under the new proposal, however, while the state ABC licensing process would be the same, restaurants would be released from most of the time and expense of the current city CUB process, and the city would grant CUB permits “over the counter” instead.
According to today’s announcement, “The proposed Restaurant Beverage Program would shorten the time for City approvals from months to a matter of weeks,” and “restaurant owners would pay approximately $4,000 for a permit to serve alcohol—significantly less than the permit’s current price tag of $13,000.”
Planning Department spokesperson Nora Frost also confirmed to the Buzz today that the program would work the same way for restaurants seeking to sell a full line of alcoholic beverages as it would for those wanting permission for just wine and beer.
That said, however, it is important to note that the program would definitely be for restaurants only, and “Nightclubs, bars, and liquor stores would not be eligible to take advantage” of the new rules. According to a city Fact Sheet, “Only bona fide sit-down restaurants with a commercial kitchen, full menu, and continuous food service during all hours of operation are eligible. All food and beverages must be served to seated patrons.” In other words, Frost said, alcohol sales must be “incidental” to food sales at the establishment. Bars and nightclubs, which sell more alcohol than food, would still have to go through the full “discretionary” review and public hearing process.
There are also some other protective measures built into the proposal. According to the press release, in addition to the restaurants-only provision, there would also be “strict standards to hold participants accountable. Any operator found to be in repeat violation of these standards would be suspended from the program.”
So far, however, it’s important to note that this is all still just a proposal, and not something that will take effect any time soon. Before any new rules are enacted, the motion will need to go through the city’s usual full study, review, and voting process, at both the Planning Department and the City Council. But while that process of turning a motion into a finalized ordinance usually takes many months, if not years, Frost said Planning officials hope this particular measure will be nudged along as quickly as possible, and “We’d like it to be adopted by the end of the year.”
The Planning Department will host a webinar in May to share the details of the program and answer questions. The webinar does not have a specific date yet, but if you’d like to be notified when it’s scheduled, or if you’d like to receive news about the proposal as it develops, you can sign up to receive updates at https://planning.lacity.org/about/email-sign-up