MAY 2014 – President’s Article by Geoff Bonney

President Geoff BonneyAlcohol Deemed Approved Ordinance

At the next City Council meeting our elected officials will be asked to consider passing an Ordinance that will create a municipal code requiring a conditional use permit for new alcohol beverage sales.  Existing businesses selling alcohol will be deemed approved, and granted the conditional use permit automatically.  So what is all this about?  We asked the City and they responded with a presentation to the Board of Directors and the Government Review Committee by Police Chief Garcia, Commander Chris Catren and Development Department Representative Sean Kelehr the Board and Committee.  Here is what we learned.

The driving motivation behind the CUP requirement is to provide City officials with a tool to help curb damage and disruption caused by overindulging patrons.  Currently alcohol sales are viewed as just another business by the City.  With the requirement of a CUP and the associated guidelines, the privilege to sell alcohol can be removed if the conditions of approval are not adhered to.  Needless to say, the conditions will include language about being a good neighbor.

Now this does not mean a bar will be closed the first time one of its patrons damages public property or the shop next door.  Just as there is a review process to obtain the CUP, there will be a process to revoke it as well.  A business will be given a chance to clean up their act, and only upon failure to do so will further hearings be held to remove the CUP, and thus disallow alcohol sale.

With the CUP requirement in place, the City can take action on its own, and not have to wait for the overstretched Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to respond.  The fact is, most cities already require a CUP, so the new orinance will not put us at a disadvantage in respect to attracting new business.

So far all this sounds well and good, and the Board and GRC agree.  So what’s the catch?  That four letter “f” word – fees.  Built into the legislation is a provision that the City may impose fees associated with the implementation of the enforcement program.  I’m not talking about fees associated with the CUP review and approval process.  Those are associated with a definable task.  It is the open ended possibility of an annual fee that caused concern for the Board and GRC.  If such a fee is proposed, there needs to be a clear understanding on what additional costs are incurred by the City to justify the fee, as well as a clear benefit to those paying the fee.  One possibility is that an annual fee would end up penalizing the businesses operating properly to pay for the offenses of those who do not.

So where does that leave us?  The Board and GRC have taken a position of favor for the CUP process, but cannot support the ordinance as written.  We urge the City Council to delay approving the ordinance until any possible fees are clearly identified in both amount and purpose.  There should be a chance to evaluate the cost/benefit ratio.  We’ll see how things go at the next council meeting.