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LA City Council Wants to Shorten Lengthy Wait Times For Liquor Licenses

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The Restaurant Beverage Program is starting in 2019

Guest bartender Tobin Shea at Big Bar.
Eugene Shoots

In an effort to minimize the already lengthy approval times for alcohol licenses, the Los Angeles Department of City Planning is hoping to develop a new Restaurant Beverage Program that will aim to “reduce processing times and costs for certain sit-down restaurants who wish to serve alcoholic beverages at their establishments.”

That’s per Lauren Alba, spokesperson for the Department of City Planning, who points Eater to an open public hearing on the matter set for January 31 in Van Nuys. The open forum is meant to allow public feedback (and hear support for) the program, which — if approved by the City Council — could reshape the way restaurants acquire and activate their expensive liquor licenses.

To be clear, this program would be specifically for restaurants, not bars. The process would not include a conditional use permit for selling alcohol. Applicants would be subject to an administrative review process. If they meet the criteria and adhere to the program’s rules, the business would be allowed to serve alcoholic beverages.

The Restaurant Beverage Program was first brought up by the Los Angeles City Council way back in 2017. At the time, it cited the financial drain from lengthy wait times for a CUP, and noted the positive fiscal impact (north of $200 million in tax revenue annually) that bars and restaurants already have on the city. According to the DCP, it costs from $12,500 and takes an average of six months for many approvals. But restaurant/bar expert and FE Design and Consulting owner Eddie Navarrette tells Eater that wait can often balloon to anywhere from eight to twelve months, while businesses remain in a holding pattern by paying the license fee, and rent.

With 30 proposed criteria in the Restaurant Beverage Program, only certain restaurants would be allowed to participate. The full list is here, and some requirements include:

  • Only restaurants with a functional kitchen, seated dining, and full menu are eligible
  • Daily hours of operation must be between 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m.
  • Restaurants cannot have live entertainment, dancing, karaoke, a DJ, pool tables, video games, or dart games
  • No outdoor TV monitors or music are allowed; only ambient indoor music is permitted
  • Drive-through fast food establishments are not allowed in the program

While this ordinance could shift things significantly in LA’s restaurant community, there are additional permits required from other bodies when opening a restaurant. The Restaurant Beverage Program did not mention if it will assist with other governmental agencies.

DCP held its first hearing for the Restaurant Beverage Program in December. Because of the high interest, the second public hearing is being be held on January 31. The body will take feedback for the staff recommendation to the City Planning Commission, who will hear the proposal in April 2019.