Berkeley planning commissioners voted to clamp down on liquor stores that started selling spirits before the city instituted its current zoning policies.
Three new ordinances are aimed at 44 of the city’s 86 liquor merchants who are allowed to make package sales for carrying off the premises.
Since 1981, the city has required anyone starting a new “off-sale” business to apply for an alcohol sales use permit, which requires a hearing before the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB).
But merchants already in business were grandfathered in, and it is they who are the focus of the new ordinances, which face yet another hearing before the commission before they’re handed over to the city council.
Since the ordinances directly result from a Jan. 30 referral by the City Council, passage is likely.
Impetus for the legal changes come from BAPAC, the Berkeley Alcohol Policy Advocacy Coalition, and its representatives were first to speak at the hearing.
Lori Lott, a South Berkeley resident, said a number of grandfathered businesses are currently not in use, including a site at the southeast corner of University and San Pablo avenues that she would like to see barred from further use as a liquor vendor.
Ed Kikumoto of the Alcohol Policy Network, who is serving as a policy advisor to BAPAC, addressed a second aspect of the proposals, a provision that would allow any Berkeley resident to bring a public action against a vendor.
“This is an opportunity for private citizens to use the regulatory mechanisms on their own behalf,” he said.
Nancy Holland, a neighborhood activist added her voice in support.
The first of the three proposed ordinances would allow ZAB to move against non conforming uses and buildings that have been closed for at least 90 days, rather than the one year specified by the current law.
The ordinance would make exceptions for businesses that shut down to make repairs that don’t change the nature or size of the business and restorations following fires and other disasters.
Liquor retailer Mohammed Mosleh said the ordinance should include a provision that would cover when a store owner was unable to open because he was hospitalized.
In the end, commissioners stuck with most of the proposed language, but added a provision for a public hearing during which both the owner and public would be allowed to testify.
Committee members also approved the public nuisance provision, while adding a provision that an action could only be brought after the city failed to act during the 30 days after the complaining citizen had given notice to the merchant and the city, or if the city had failed to diligently prosecute the violations.
The third measure eases one restriction against an on-sale permit for restaurants with incidental beer and wine sales, allowing a use permit to an operator who has had only a single complaint or violation if the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) doesn’t object and concerns of neighbors are given due consideration.
ABC licensing requirements are separate from those of the city, though Land Use Planning Manager Debra Sanderson said the agency has worked in close cooperation with the city.