Cucina Alessa's patio alcohol permit up for review

A downtown restaurant owner who had a public battle with a local activist for wanting to serve alcohol in his outdoor dining area may soon get what he wants.

Huntington Beach Zoning Administrator Ricky Ramos was expected to determine Wednesday whether Alessandro Pirozzi, Cucina Alessa's owner, can extend his alcohol services to customers dining on his patio. The public meeting was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Staff is recommending approval of Pirozzi's request, saying it does not conflict with city policy. The decision can be appealed to the Planning Commission.

Expanding alcohol licenses in the downtown area has long been a touchy subject for residents who live there. Downtown has a high concentration of establishments that serve alcohol, outweighing the rest of the city. The city also has the highest number of DUIs in the state for its size. DUIs, burglaries, rape and other criminal activities are concentrated and more likely to occur downtown than anywhere else in the city.

Pirozzi filed a restraining order in February against Kim Kramer, the spokesman of the Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Assn., after what he said was ongoing harassing visits to his restaurant and threats to employees from Kramer.

Pirozzi said it all began when Kramer found out about his plans to approach the city for permission to serve alcohol on his outdoor patio. He said Kramer told him he would support and help him only if he agreed to serve wine and no other alcoholic beverages.

When Pirozzi refused, Kramer began harassing him and threatening his employees, Pirozzi said.

The restraining order, which was dismissed after the two signed a private agreement, was filed after Kramer visited the popular Italian restaurant on Super Bowl Sunday with a clip board and asked for maximum occupancy information.

Pirozzi has said that extending alcohol service to his customers dining on the patio makes sense for his business. Those who choose to dine on the patio on a warm Southern California night in Surf City's downtown should have that option, he said.

In 1989, the location got permission to serve alcohol inside the restaurant and on the second floor's patio, Associate Planner Tess Nguyen said.

In 1992, the restaurant wanted to extend its dining area to the patio on the first floor, according to city records. The restaurant was granted permission, but serving alcohol was not allowed there. The patio area was also restricted to seven tables. Hours of operation were restricted to between 10 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. on the patio, city records show.

Pirozzi now wants to serve alcohol on the patio in addition to increasing the number of tables from seven to 10 and changing the hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., according to a city staff report.

All the changes are in compliance with a resolution that was adopted last year and amended in March by the City Council, Nguyen said. The resolution, passed to limit alcohol-related problems in downtown, required all new restaurants and bars to stop serving alcohol at midnight.

Pirozzi has the option to serve alcohol until midnight, but he said he would stop at 10 p.m., Nguyen said.

Pirozzi could not be reached Friday.

Kramer said the association is generally opposed to any expansion of alcohol in downtown.

We will reach out to our membership and the local community to determine their concerns, if any, and then make a decision of what action to take," he said in an e-mail. "Without strong opposition, we expect the City to approve this request as a matter of continued City policy of alcohol expansion in the Downtown area."

David Rice, president of Huntington Beach Neighbors, another group troubled by the concentration of alcohol licenses in downtown, said he's not opposed to Cucina Alessa's request per se, but wants the city to first fix its problems in downtown.

"We think there needs to be more controls in place, and we need to deal with and pull back some of the existing problems and build more support for the Police Department to be able to deal with the alcohol issues in downtown," he said.

Although all council members say the city can stand taking measures to alleviate the pressure on downtown from alcohol licenses, none have taken initiatives nor directed staff to fix the problem. Cucina Alessa is one of the latest establishments that wants to extend alcohol services to customers in downtown, and in each case, city staff recommended approval.

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