After a lengthy hearing, Santa Monica’s Planning Commission granted a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to 4th Street’s Border Grill that sets no limit on the amount of alcoholic beverages they can sell.
A CUP was needed for the restaurant because during a City staff inspection in 2004 it was found they had been operating in the City since 1989 without a CUP. All City restaurants which serve alcoholic beverages must have a CUP, and in most cases a cap is set in the CUP on the amount of alcohol sales permitted. City staff recommended that the usual 35 percent cap be set.
At the December 13 hearing, Border Grill’s attorney Michael Chou explained to the Commission that any cap on alcohol sales would be unacceptable because “in today’s environment people are ordering specialty drinks…and are willing to spend more” on alcohol than food. These days, continued Chou, “some of the most popular specialty drinks are $15 apiece and a bottle of wine will average between $70 and $80.” This trend has encouraged restaurants to put an emphasis on serving premium alcoholic beverages.
Susan Feineger, who is the co-owner of the restaurant, stressed to the Commission that her restaurant is a medium-priced eatery, and thus the trend in her receipts has shown the “balance is off” between food and alcohol, with alcohol in many cases being in the majority.
Kathleen Rawson, Director of the City’s Bayside District Corporation, supported not capping the restaurant’s alcohol sales by pointing out they “anchor 4th Street.” She also said that Bayside has “been working so hard to keep restaurants downtown and to develop 4th Street. It would be best to let them continue to do business as they’ve been doing business.”
Commissioner Jay Johnson summed up the Commission’s dilemma by stating, “As a public body, I think it’s important to have a sense of applying rules for any one operation to other operations, but at the same time we can balance in the good performers.” He defined performance as how much “police activity” there is at a business due to code compliance issues. Since Border Grill had a record of low police activity related to alcohol consumption, Johnson said their alcohol sales should not be capped.
Johnson also said a cap was not needed because, in his opinion, when the Commission studied the effect on drinking in the downtown area several years ago, it didn’t create “a public nuisance,” as there was no noticeable increase in accidents involving alcohol, and thus there was no increased legal responsibility for the City.