GWNC to Discuss “Sensitive Use” Status for Lower Larchmont Under City’s New Restaurant Beverage Program – Larchmont Buzz

The Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council will address having Larchmont Blvd. declared a “Sensitive Use Area” for alcohol permits under the city’s new Restaurant Beverage Program.

At its April meeting, the Land Use Committee of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council voted to recommend that the GWNC board request that the city designate the portion of Larchmont Blvd. between 1st Street and Beverly Blvd. (aka “Lower Larchmont”) a “Sensitive Use Area” under the city’s new Restaurant Beverage Program (RBP). (The program has been under discussion since 2017 and was signed into law this spring.)

The request, which will be up for a vote by the full GWNC board at its meeting on Wednesday evening (6:30 pm via Zoom), has intensified what has been a long-standing community debate about the sales of hard liquor and mixed drinks on this section of Larchmont (since those permits would now likely be easier to obtain under the RBP). And as the discussion has intensified, especially over the last couple of days, we’ve seen a number of emails being circulated that contain both questions about the Restaurant Beverage Program and contentions that it won’t offer neighbors a voice in local liquor permits unless Larchmont Blvd. is designated a Sensitive Use Area.

We’ve been reporting on this issue since April 2020, so to help clarify the situation in advance of Wednesday night’s discussion, we’ve created the following list of Frequently Asked Questions, explaining what Restaurant Beverage program is, what it does and does not do, and how the Sensitive Use Area rules differ from those of the general program.

What is a “Sensitive Use Area”?

When the city passed the new Restaurant Beverage Program earlier this year, to help streamline the alcohol permitting process for restaurants, it created two versions of the program, one for most restaurants, and one intended for restaurants in “Sensitive Use Areas,” which could be areas with a large concentration of alcohol permits, or those near schools, churches, etc. (No specific definition of “sensitive use” is provided in the ordinance itself, however, and the Planning Department confirmed to the Buzz last summer that “any area in the City may be designated for this program so long as it is approved by Council resolution” and adequate findings are presented.”)

Does being designated a “Sensitive Use Area” protect a neighborhood from new liquor permits, or new permits to sell hard liquor, being granted there?

No. It only creates some additional requirements for permits issued under the Restaurant Beverage Program.

So what is the Restaurant Beverage Program?

The Restaurant Beverage Program was created by the City Council to allow faster approval of liquor permits for restaurants (and only restaurants, not bars or nightclubs or any other venues selling alcohol). A restaurant that meets all the requirements can be granted a simple administrative approval of its permit.

Is this just for hard liquor permits?

The permits can be for either beer and wine sales, or for a full line of alcoholic beverages and mixed drinks. Restaurants that currently have beer and wine permits under the traditional Conditional Use Permit process could also potentially upgrade to permits to sell a full line of alcoholic beverages under the new Restaurant Beverage Program.

Can all restaurants apply for liquor permits under this program?

No. Only those that meet about 50 very specific conditions of operation can apply for permits under the RBP. Restaurants that do not meet those conditions still have to go through a traditional Conditional Use Permit process, which takes longer, is more expensive, and involves more community review.

What are some of the conditions restaurants have to meet to apply for liquor permits under the RBP?

  • It must be a “bona fide eating place with an operational kitchen where food is prepared onsite and with a full menu,” with food service available during all open hours.
  • Hours of operation are limited to 7 am – 11 pm
  • All food and beverages must be served to tables, by restaurant employees.
  • No pool tables, billiards, dancing, or adult entertainment.
  • No cover charges, admission charges, or pre-sold tickets for alcoholic drinks.
  • No minimum drink orders.
  • No age limitations for entry.

The full list of conditions (which is much, much more extensive) can be found in the text of the ordinance, which is available at https://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2017/17-0981_ord_187402_3-31-22. pdf

Are permits issued under the Restaurant Beverage Program non-revocable, and non-reviewable, even if there are complaints or if there’s a change of ownership?

No. While the permits, like traditional Conditional Use Permits, do “run with the land” and not the specific restaurant operator, there are opportunities for review and, possibly, revocation. For example, if three citations for violations are issued to the restaurant by LAPD or the Department of Building and Safety within any two-year period, the will be revoked. Also, if there’s a change of ownership, a change in the restaurant’s state liquor license, or a change in the restaurant’s seating plan, the permit will be reviewed before it can remain in effect.

Does the Restaurant Beverage Program apply to the whole city?

Not automatically. The program, which was signed into law this spring, allows each city council member to request that specific parts of their districts either be included or excluded. Most, if not all, councilmembers who have made territorial requests so far have requested that their entire districts be included. This includes CD 5’s Paul Koretz and CD 13’s Mitch O’ Farrell.

So who decides what is and isn’t a Sensitive Use Area?

As with participation in the Restaurant Beverage Program itself, requests for designation of Sensitive Use Areas are left to each City Councilmember. So far, we haven’t heard of any specific areas in either CD 5 or CD 13 that have been designated Sensitive Use Areas.

What are the additional restrictions for restaurants in Sensitive Use areas?

Among other additional restrictions, a few key provisions include:

  • The restaurant must conduct outreach about the application by attending one or more meetings of a Neighborhood Council, Business Improvement District or other established community organization.
  • No more than 45% of the restaurant’s gross annual sales can be from the sales of alcohol.
  • Permits are first issued for a one-year provisional period, followed by a review by the City Planning Department before the permit is made permanent. If there are more than five complaints during the probationary period, the restaurant would be removed from the program.
  • If there is a change in ownership, the new owner would have to re-apply for a new one-year provisional period.

Does the provisional period mean that restaurants in Sensitive Use Areas are not allowed to serve alcohol for the first year?

No, it means that they are allowed to sell alcohol (either beer and wine, or a full line of alcoholic beverages, depending on what their permit is for) for a year…but their permission to sell beyond the one-year mark isn’t ‘t guaranteed until a review is done at that point.

If Larchmont Blvd. (or any other part of our neighborhood) is declared a Sensitive Use Area, does that mean we get to decide whether or not restaurants here can apply for permits under the Restaurant Beverage Program?

No. The Restaurant Beverage Program is already city law, and our city councilmembers have requested that our neighborhoods be included in it. If Larchmont is declared a Sensitive Use Area under the Restaurant Beverage Program, restaurants here will still be able to apply for expedited permits under the program. The only thing that will change is that individual permits issued under the program (and under this program only) will be subject to additional conditions, as noted above.

Are full-line liquor permits (for hard liquor and mixed drinks) allowed on Larchmont now?

Full-line liquor permits are not prohibited on Larchmont, but traditionally the community has only supported applications for beer and wine permits on “lower” Larchmont, south of Beverly Blvd. (Chan Dara, just north of Beverly, has had a permit to sell a full line of alcoholic beverages for many years.)

How does this change under the Restaurant Beverage Program?

Because there is no community review required for permit applications under the general version of the Restaurant Beverage Program, it’s possible a few full-line alcohol permits could be issued for lower Larchmont under the new program. We know of four current restaurants that might be considering such applications, as alcohol sales can be very beneficial to a restaurant’s bottom line.

Does that mean bars will move in too?

Only restaurants (and only restaurants that meet more than 50 very specific conditions) can apply for permits under this program. Bars are not allowed…so no bars would be making applications under the Restaurant Beverage Program. Bars wanting liquor permits on Larchmont would still (as always) have to go through the traditional Conditional Use Permit process, which is much more involved, and requires much more community review than the Restaurant Beverage Program.

Even if bars can’t apply under the RBP, will we be overrun with new restaurants and new restaurant applications to serve alcohol on Larchmont?

The number of sit-down restaurants allowed on Larchmont Blvd. is currently regulated by our special zoning “Q” conditions, and the maximum number of sit-down restaurants (the only kind that can make applications under the Restaurant Beverage Program) has already been reached. As noted above, we’ve heard of only four current restaurants so far that are interested in making applications under this new program.

What does the data say about the sale of hard liquor and mixed drinks at restaurants – are there more complaints about these establishments?

According to LAPD and other sources, whether or not restaurants sell hard liquor has little or no relationship to the number of community complaints it receives.

Where can I learn more about all of this?

The full text of the city’s Restaurant Beverage Program Ordinance is available at https://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2017/17-0981_ord_187402_3-31-22.pdf

Some of our previous stories about the Restaurant Beverage Program are available here, here, here, and here.

And finally, be sure to attend the GWNC meeting on Wednesdayat 6:30 pm, via Zoom, where a motion to request that Larchmont be declared a Sensitive Use Area has been agendized for discussion. (The agenda link above contains the Zoom link for the meeting.)

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