Milpas Liquor Deli in Santa Barbara.
Milpas Liquor Deli is one of the Santa Barbara stores that would be affected by new laws passed by the City Council on Tuesday. (Jade Martinez-Pogue / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday approved a series of alcohol reforms in an attempt to crack down on nuisance behavior outside of liquor stores and mini-markets.

Although the state Alcoholic Beverage Control regulates liquor licenses, the local governments can regulate alcohol sales via land use policies. The ordinance intends to reduce “nuisance behaviors” such as public drunkenness, harassment, loitering, littering and public urination around mini-markets and liquor stores. 

Officially called a Deemed Approved Ordinance, current businesses would be grandfathered in, but they would be required to maintain their businesses in a lawful manner or risk fines or suspension of their alcohol sales. 

New businesses would need to get a conditional use permit to sell alcohol, and small bottles, the size people typically drink on airplanes, would be prohibted.

The commission, based on information from the staff, would determine whether the new business gets a CUP based a variety of factors, including whether selling alcohol in the spot would aggravate existing neighborhood problems such as loitering, public drunkenness and littering. Essentially, the new place must fit into the neighborhood. 

“I am really glad that we are going to be regulating the sales of alcohol because there are so many impacts that come from it,” Mayor Cathy Murillo said.

The vote was 6-0, with Councilman Erik Friedman absent because he works at Trader Joe’s, which sells alcohol.

Santa Barbara has about 141 off-sale establishments. If the city determines that a business is not taking good care of the surrounding area, the matter would go before the Planning Commission to “suspend, modify or revoke” the deemed-approved status.

The city is also proposing an annual fee from the establishments to pay for enforcement, but it has not yet released the amount. In a previous version of the ordinance, the city said 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 Santa Barbara Police Department’s activity is related to calls for service at liquor stores.

Ultimately, the city is trying to target the sale of 50-milliliter, or “airplane,” bottles of hard liquor, which are relatively inexpensive and often are consumed near the establishments.

Patrick Morris, an attorney representing about 10 markets and liquor stores, said the ordinance is rushed and unfair to his clients, adding that “it skipped over the coordinated community process.” He said no one from the city has approached the existing businesses, and expecting them to call for three minutes of talk over Zoom is inappropriate.

“Most of them don’t speak English as their first language, and they aren’t comfortable getting on a public forum and speaking, and that’s why they asked me to speak for them,” Morris said.

Another part of the ordinance states that “to ensure a clear and unobstructed view of the interior of the premises, including the area in which the cash registers are maintained, from the exterior public sidewalk or entrance, windows shall not be tinted and no more than 15% of windows and entry doors shall be blocked by either interior or exterior obstructions such as signs, vending machines, refrigerators, coolers, shelves, racks or storage.”

One of the speakers at Tuesday’s meeting was Adriana Tejada-Sanchez, a youth organizer for the Future Leaders of America, a group that has been pushing for tougher laws for several years.

“I support this ordinance because it will be effective in deterring underage drinking,” Sanchez said. “The reduction of alcohol ads will stop the normalization of drinking to our children. This ordinance will also decrease nuisance behavior, including vagrancy, public intoxication and urination.”

She said her students have had to wake up to the sound of police speakers and flashing lights.

“We do not need this type of destruction in our community,” Sanchez said. 

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