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Santa Barbara Exploring New Restrictions for ‘Off-Sale’ Alcohol Outlets Like Liquor Stores

Officials hope future regulations would reduce number of alcohol-related nuisance offenses

Santa Barbara is exploring new regulations for “off-sale” alcohol outlets, like liquor and grocery stores, in an effort to reduce the number of alcohol-related nuisance offenses.

The City Council on Tuesday asked city staff to work with the council’s Ordinance Committee to explore increased oversight of establishments that sell alcohol to be consumed off-site.

Because the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has exclusive authority over alcohol sales in California, the city’s oversight options come down to local zoning regulations, said Matt Fore, a senior assistant to the city administrator.

Currently, the Santa Barbara Police Department can refer infractions of the state’s business and professions code to the ABC, and reviews applications for liquor licenses. Police consider how many licenses already exist in the applicant’s area and the amount of nearby crime.

Police Chief Lori Luhnow said the density of liquor licenses in an area affects certain crime variables, but told the City Council that doubling down on both her department’s review of applications and its protests of “unsuitable” licenses likely won’t be effective.

ABC, which doesn’t have much of a presence in Santa Barbara County, will still make the decisions it will make regarding SBPD’s protests, she said.

Santa Barbara has 119 off-sale alcohol outlets and 312 on-sale outlets, which are establishments like bars and restaurants that serve alcohol to be consumed on the premises.

Police have noted that while issues related to on-sale establishments include intoxicated drivers and belligerent patrons, off-sale issues include public drinking, public urination, loitering, littering, graffiti, sales to minors and exacerbating problems among the city’s homeless population.

Over the last five years, alcohol-related arrests increased until 2014, before decreasing and hitting 4,667 in 2016, Luhnow said.

Council members agreed that the alcohol-related complaints they had heard from constituents were overwhelmingly related to off-sale establishments.

Fore said that new off-sale businesses, in order to receive approval, could be subject to a new discretionary land-use permit that requires certain “performance standards” regarding alcohol-related crimes.

That permit process could also place restrictions on the size of alcohol containers that are sold and establishment location as conditions for approval.

Currently, existing outlets are grandfathered in to new rules and treated as “nonconforming uses.”

Previously existing establishments would be retroactively deemed approved for the new permit unless they violate the permit’s operational standards. The permit may then be revoked, subjecting it to new city regulations.

An annual fee and an application fee could be levied on establishments to defray the extra enforcement and monitoring costs, Fore said.

Based on dramatic reductions in certain alcohol-related crimes seen in other California cities that have implemented such regulations, Luhnow said she expected to see a significant drop in the number of alcohol-related calls her department receives.

“Even with the number of current establishments already in place that would be deemed grandfathered in, what this would do would encourage good behavior,” Mayor Helene Schneider said.

The council voted 6-0 to take the first steps in developing an ordinance that would implement a land-use regulation.

Councilman Randy Rowse sat out the discussion, which also considered on-sale establishments. Rowse owns Paradise Café, a Santa Barbara restaurant with a liquor license.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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