Council Keeps Restaurants Alcohol-Free : Regulation: A three-year effort to allow the sale of wine and beer is thwarted. Proponents had cited the benefits of increased tax revenue.


This conservative suburb has retained its status as one of California’s driest communities as the City Council--faced with an intense campaign of public pressure--last week voted against loosening its longstanding prohibition of the sale of beer and wine in restaurants.

A three-year movement to relax the alcohol regulations was thwarted by fervent opposition that sprung up earlier this year, surprising city officials who had taken surveys indicating that most residents were largely indifferent on the issue.

Even though three council members on Wednesday said they thought that allowing restaurants to serve alcohol might be good for the city, the vote was 4-0 against the change, bringing applause and cheers from a crowd of about 30.


Under the stringent requirements of the proposed ordinance, restaurants would have had to show that they derived no more than 25% of their profits from the sale of alcohol. In addition, any signs advertising alcoholic beverages would have been banned.

Although he voted to continue the prohibition, Councilman Don A. Cotton said, “I don’t feel the sale would cause adverse effects given the number and types of restrictions imposed.”

To bolster their case before the council, opponents cited parking problems, possible safety hazards caused by drunken driving and a decline in property values as reasons for the council to maintain the city’s current restrictions.

But Mayor Eugene H. Dryden said changing the law regarding beer and wine “would have no significant impact on residences or parking.”

However, opponents said that relaxing the strict laws could end up altering the city’s essential nature as a bedroom community. Resident Jack Young said, “People move to San Marino for the quiet.”

And Clark Hunt said that to allow the beer and wine sales “doesn’t fit in with the community.”


Those comments echoed more strident ones heard during a series of hearings on the proposal when it was considered by the Planning Commission throughout the summer.

Opponents submitted petitions to the commission, signed by more than 800 residents, urging retention of the restrictive laws. The laws are believed to have been adopted in the 1930s to prevent patrons of nearby Santa Anita racetrack from stopping in the city to drink.

Three stores in the community of 13,000 have state licenses to sell liquor and their permits don’t allow drinking on the premises.

In response to the petitioners, the Planning Commission crafted a proposal so tightly that as few as three of the city’s handful of restaurants could have qualified to sell alcohol.

Supported by the local chamber of commerce as a way to draw new businesses and also favored by two separate city committees that had studied the issue since 1990, the proposal was considered a way to enhance the city’s tax base and serve as a convenience to residents.

“The restaurants in town need an extra boost,” added Dulcie Covington, owner of the Colonial Kitchen Restaurant. “We’re not asking for hard liquor.”

Jeff Scott, president of the San Marino Chamber of Commerce, also spoke in favor, touting the tax-base advantage of beer and wine sales. “I don’t want to see a bunch of rundown bars on Huntington Drive,” he said. “But service organizations do sell liquor at functions, which take place at schools and churches. And no one complains. I see a double standard here.”

Others in the restaurant and business communities had voiced concern that the recession has caused a rise in vacancies in the city’s commercial districts and a change in the law might attract new, upscale restaurants to the city.