Do we really need more of this in Santa Ana?
“Facing pressure from bar owners who are finding more success in a revitalized downtown district, Santa Ana officials are considering revising decades-old regulations on alcohol sales in the city,” according to the Voice of OC.
But the Voice of OC didn’t report the entire story. I got a hold of the packet that was prepared for the Planning Commissioners, regarding liquor licenses in Santa Ana. You can click here to read it too.
Here is the preamble to that report:
The issuance of conditional use permits to allow for the sale of alcohol is an application type that has always been the subject of scrutiny within the City of Santa Ana. The City has well-developed standards and conditions which regulate the sales of alcohol, both for stores (off-sale licenses), as well as for restaurants (on-sale licenses). The standards for restaurants were adopted by the City in 1988 in order to address the proliferation of bars that were supposed to have been operating as restaurants and to provide a clear mechanism, the conditional use permit (CUP), by which to regulate these businesses. In 1997 the City Council created a threshold to be used in the evaluation of liquor license applications for stores, requiring that stores less than 20,000 square feet in size be subject to an over-concentration standard. This ordinance was adopted in an effort to reduce neighborhood crime associated with a proliferation of liquor stores, particularly those that rely on single-can sales as a primary part of their business.
And here is part of the rationale for the study:
The City continues to receive applications for modifications to existing on-sale CUPs to allow for expanded liquor sales, hours of operation and/or live entertainment. Standards to regulate these types of requests are not well defined, leaving staff and the applicant without clear direction as to how to proceed.
During this year we have had four instances of a staff recommendation of denial for an off-sale liquor license being overturned by the Zoning Administrator or Planning Commission. While it is completely within the normal process of review for policy makers to overturn staff’s recommendation, in each case the Zoning Administrator or Planning Commission provided alternate findings that staff believes might form the basis for a reevaluation of the existing policies.
The report goes on to explain that three of the four decisions that were overturned by the Planning Commission involved stores, such as drug stores, where alcohol sales were not a majority of their business. Those decisions led the staff of the Planning Agency to recommend that the Planning Commissioners review the ordinance, as follows:
Staff recommends that a study be conducted to assess the appropriateness of the current square footage threshold (20,000 sq. ft.) in order to investigate the potential need for changes to the code regulating off-sale alcohol licenses.
The fourth case involved a grocery store – actually a “mercado,” that was unable to compete with other stores, without a liquor license. They were situated in a high crime area. The Commission decided that the store was not contributing to the crime, leading to another recommendation from the staff:
Staff recommends that a study be conducted to assess the City’s definition and use of the term “high crime areas” to applications for off-sale alcohol licenses in order to investigate the potential need for changes to the code regulating off-sale alcohol licenses.
The report then goes into the subject of bars that want to expand and add dance floors. I won’t bore you with the details. The bottom line is that there were a lot of reasons why the Planning Agency asked the Planning Commissioners to review their CUP ordinance. Opening more bars in the Downtown area was NOT the only driver behind this study, which is not what the Voice of OC reported. They tried to spin this into a controversy about downtown bars – and it clearly isn’t.
“Research shows that there has been a sharp increase in liquor store permits granted within Santa Ana over the past few years. From 2001 to 2005 we allowed an average of 136 new liquor licenses per year, versus 90 per year during 1973 to 1990,” according to the Orange Juice blog. Do we really need more liquor licenses in town? I think the Planning Commission needs to continue to tread carefully. We don’t need another proliferation of bars and other alcohol serving venues in Santa Ana.