Milpas Liquor Deli on Milpas Street in Santa Barbara.
Milpas Liquor Deli is a longtime business on Milpas Street in Santa Barbara that sell single-use alcohol for consumption off-site It would be affected if the city enacts a proposed ‘deemed approved ordinance’ aimed at reducing ‘nuisance behaviors.’ (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The city of Santa Barbara is moving ahead an effort to create an ordinance that would reduce “nuisance behaviors” such as public drunkenness, harassment and public urination around mini-markets and liquor stores. 

Officials want to create a “deemed approved ordinance” that would require alcohol retailers to maintain, their businesses in a lawful manner or risk fines and or regulation of their alcohol sales.

Business owners would need to keep the exterior of their establishments free of litter, loitering, graffiti and public consumption of alcohol.

The businesses would pay a fee under the ordinance, and the money could go to pay for a dedicated law enforcement officer to work with retailers, and an education program.

Ultimately, the city is trying to target the sale of 50-milliliter, or “airplane bottles,” of hard liquor that are consumed nearby the establishments. 

The fee would be based on the volume of alcohol sold, hours of operation, and public safety-related calls for service. It could range between $75 and $5,000, but most likely around $1,000 annually.

About 5% of the Police Department’s activity is related to calls for service at liquor stores.

“Is this going to be an Armageddon on the retailer?” asked Anthony Wagner, a Police Department spokesman. “Absolutely not. That erodes any sense of trust in order to make the situation any better for the community.”

Wagner presented the idea to the city Planning Commission on Dec. 17. No vote was taken, but the commission is expected to get a first look at the ordinance in January. 

Wagner and city officials are looking to clean up the loitering and other nuisance behavior that occurs outside liquor stores and mini-markets, particularly on Santa Barbara’s Eastside.

City officials believe that small, single-size bottles of hard liquor lead to problems in public and near the establishments.

Crown Liquors on Milpas Street in Santa Barbara.

Crown Liquors is a longtime business on Milpas Street in Santa Barbara that sell single-use alcohol for consumption off-site It would be affected if the city enacts a proposed ‘deemed approved ordinance’ aimed at reducing ‘nuisance behaviors.’ (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

“Always keep in mind that nuisance-related activity is directly related to price-pointed alcohol,” Wagner said. 

The city currently issues conditional-use permits for alcohol establishments, and has the ability to deny an application to sell alcohol at a given location if it determines that the proposed business will have a negative impact on the community.

The city, through the permitting process, has the ability to impose conditions on a business to reduce any nuisance impacts, such as hours of operation, increased security, reduced window advertising, or restrictions on the types of products sold. 

The goal of the ordinance is to require established retailers to operate under the same set of rules as new businesses. 

Older establishments, however, are grandfathered in, and the city has no say in the types of alcohol they sell.

A deemed approved ordinance would open the door for the city to have some control over alcohol sales, if the business has nuisance problems related to the sale of alcohol. 

Santa Barbara has a total of 623 alcohol establishments. Of those, 392 are on-sale, such as restaurants, nightclubs and bars.

There are 141 off-sale, grocery stores, liquor stores, markets and gas stations. Another 90 are wine-tasting rooms, microbreweries and distilleries.

From 2015 to 2018, the city received 4,085 calls for service on average per year to off-sale liquor establishments, and Wagner said the average cost to the city per year for those calls is about $857,850.

City Councilwoman Alejandra Gutierrez said there is a need for the regulation of alcohol, but acknowledged that it will be difficult to regulate who the liquor stores sell to or how they manage their business.

She is urging collaboration between the city and the business owners. 

“The city and liquor store owners need to come together and talk about all the issues surrounding the Milpas area, and what issues the liquor stores play a part in,” Gutierrez said. “What I never understood was why the city allowed so many liquor licenses on Milpas, where it seems that there is a liquor store on nearly every corner.

“You don’t see that in other neighborhoods.”

Wagner said the deemed approved ordinance would provide the city with the tools to regulate the businesses.

“I don’t necessarily believe we have an oversaturation problem,” Wagner said. “We have a divergence of following the rules because there was never a compliance mechanism to make sure they are following the rules.”

Noozhawk reached out to some business owners on Milpas Street, but they declined to comment, saying that they didn’t know enough about the ordinance and were not informed of the Dec. 17 meeting.

Wagner said penalizing the business owners would be a last resort. 

“The goal is not to put a business out of business, but to work with that business to gain compliance in partnership with the community, the city and the business,” Wagner said. “In order to be effective, there needs to be a partnership.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at