H.B. ponders cap on downtown liquor licenses

In its continuing effort to crack down on downtown disturbances, the Huntington Beach City Council decided Monday to look into restricting alcohol licenses.

Council members voted 5 to 2 to direct city staff to draft an amendment to the zoning code that would cap licenses at the current 42 and prohibit new licenses for restaurant and bars that stay open past 10 p.m. Mayor Matthew Harper and Councilman Joe Carchio dissented.

"This isn't a ban on alcohol. It's far from it," Councilwoman Connie Boardman said. "There are 42 businesses within District 1 of the Downtown Specific Plan that currently sell alcohol on site. This will do nothing to reduce that number. It simply caps it."

In October 2013, council members agreed to a moratorium on liquor licenses for businesses such as convenience stores that sell alcohol in sealed containers. The California Coastal Commission approved the ordinance in March.

Residents and several council members have long complained about late-night, alcohol-fueled disturbances downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods.

Many from the business community voiced concern that a cap would prevent new businesses from setting up shop on Main Street.

"We believe this action could possibly impact our ability to attract fine-dining establishments to the downtown area in the future," said Susan Welfringer, manager of the Huntington Beach Business Improvement District. "We are confident in the current leadership of our police chief and his staff, who are working closely with current alcohol-related businesses to ensure the safety and the appeal of our destination to visitors."

Carchio agreed with Welfringer, adding that the city should focus on eliminating the problem establishments.

The council member said capping the number of alcohol licenses in the area would increase the value of the permits by three or four times what they are now, suggesting this would only help the business owners.

Harper added that a cap would eliminate the possibility of a music venue opening in the area.

Boardman and Mayor Pro Tem Joe Shaw argued that there would be plenty of space for restaurants at other locations in the city.

"Pacific City is being built right now, and it has 27,000 square feet of restaurant space with permitted alcohol," Boardman said. "That's a lot of room for really nice, upscale restaurants to locate."

Shaw said he would like to see more businesses that don't need alcohol sales to survive.

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