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Santa Ana planning commissioners approved a recommendation to the City Council Nov. 26 to rewrite the city’s rules on alcohol sales and nighttime entertainment, despite calls from several residents and business owners to postpone the vote.
The new rules would create entertainment permits for venues that offer amplified music and dancing at night. They would clarify rules that, in the case of “dance halls,” date back to 1957.
Obtaining a conditional use permit to sell alcohol — now decided by a staff zoning administrator — would be a Planning Commission decision. The rules also would create a set of standard conditions for businesses with alcohol sales licenses.
The proposed ordinance is the result of a yearlong effort to clarify rules for businesses that sell alcohol and offer night entertainment, a process that began because entrepreneurs who wanted to open new nightlife venues were confused about the city’s vague rules governing such businesses, city officials said.
While the new rules offer more clarity, a consultant with Downtown Inc., the downtown promotional organization, and with owners of two popular night venues in the city say the new rules are actually more burdensome.
Some residents also expressed concern about the new rules, saying that they have not had time to examine the 36-page proposed ordinance and calling for the decision to be postponed to mid-January or even March. The document was released last week.
“A year’s worth of process … to only have six days to review the code language,” said Phil Bacerra, owner of Jacaranda Enterprises and a consultant for Downtown Inc.
Before approving the recommendation in a 4-2 vote, some planning commissioners pointed to the several public meetings and discussions over the past year with concerned stakeholders like nonprofit Latino Health Access.
Postponing the vote would trigger never-ending complaints from residents and soon-to-be-appointed planning commissioners who have yet to participate, the commissioners said.
“I have heard community organizations saying they need more time, but these are the same community organizations that have been involved since the beginning,” said Planning Commissioner Frank Acosta. “It is impossible to give a notice to every single person in Santa Ana.”
Bacerra praised the part of the law that shifts conditional use permit decisions from the zoning administrator to the Planning Commission, but he criticized the method to obtain an entertainment permit, which would be granted administratively by the Police Department. Such a process lacks transparency and could frighten away new businesses, he said.
Planning Commission Chairman Eric Alderete, who voted against the ordinance, expressed similar concerns about the administrative permit process, calling it the “antithesis of the sunshine ordinance,” a recently approved city law that expands transparency in city government.
Alderete said he doubted whether the process was truly “ministerial,” since police would make judgment calls, like whether to consider past criminal history in granting a permit.
“I don’t like providing input to the council on ordinances that I don’t think are as good as they should be,” Alderete said.
In drafting the ordinance, city officials attempted to balance the interests of businesses and of groups concerned about underage drinking.
The recommended rules on entertainment permits would after 10 p.m. ban those under 21 from entering venues that serve alcohol and offer amplified music and dancing. That would effectively shut down two concert venues, according to the venue owners, Dennis Lluy of the Yost Theater and Jon Reiser of The Observatory Orange County.
The problem is that while the venues could allow those under 21 to enter past 10 p.m. by not selling alcohol, it would be “impossible to compete” with other venues, the owners said. The venues wouldn’t be able to offer as much money to performers without revenue from alcohol sales, according to the owners.
“If it is the intent of the city to shut us down, then the proposed ordinance will absolutely do that,” Lluy said.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance Dec. 3, city officials said. A second council vote would be required before the proposal becomes law.
To see text of the proposed ordinance, click here.