Council Heads Back To Drawing Board for Alcohol Inspection Fees

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday January 15, 2008

Posted 1/16/08—Faced with some two dozen upset small business owners, the Berkeley City Council reversed itself Tuesday, backing away from a December decision to charge bars, restaurants and liquor stores $467 each year to inspect for substandard conditions such as graffiti, sidewalk drinking, sales to minors and the like. 

The body also voted to take a new look at a law passed last year making it mandatory for those who serve or sell alcoholic beverages to be certified in alcohol sales. 

Restaurant owners argued that they were not the culprits targeted by the inspection program; scofflaws were in fact neighborhood liquor stores, they said. 

The council had approved the standards at its Dec. 11 meeting; but a second reading of the ordinance, before the council Tuesday night, was required for the measure to become law. A separate item on fees had been approved in concept by the council in December and required the public hearing that was held by the council Tuesday. 

“We’d rather have the problem-makers take the burden,” said Jean Spencer, owner of The Musical Offering café on Bancroft Way, addressing the council. 

Code Enforcement Supervisor Gregory Daniel spoke to the need for the standards, which the council put on hold until the question of fees for inspections is determined: “Now we have a level playing field” with standards spelled out, he said. 

Ralph Adams of the Berkeley Alcohol Policy Advocacy Coalition (BAPAC) urged the council to adopt the standards and fees. “I’ve dealt with a lot of nuisance behavior in my neighborhood” due to alcohol sales from liquor stores, he said, adding that the $467 fee should be affordable to a person whose business is viable. 

Speaking at the hearing, restaurant owners said the proposed fees were inequitable: liquor stores were to be inspected four times annually and restaurants only once— for the same $467 fee. Logically, they said, with fewer inspections, they should pay a lesser annual fee. 

Others said there should be a fee differential between small store owners, for whom beer and wine is a tiny percentage of sales, and large grocery and liquor stores that sell greater quantities of alcohol.  

Speakers also expressed outrage at a law passed last year mandating certification for all those who serve or sell alcoholic beverages. They pointed to a dearth of free classes provided by ABC (California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control) and the high cost of private classes—$30-to-$70 per individual. They underscored that the high turnover of part-time restaurant workers meant that restaurant owners would be paying thousands of dollars annually to have workers certified. 

The council voted to put the standards and fees laws on hold and appointed Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli, Gordon Wozniak and Darryl Moore to revise the fee schedule and take a new look at the ordinance that mandates certification for those who sell alcohol.