On March 11th, Senator Mark Leno introduced Senate Bill 635 which would allow California businesses to serve alcohol between the hours of 2 and 4 am. These extended hours would apply solely to on-sale premises such as restaurants, entertainment venues and nightclubs, and not to off-sale premises such as liquor stores or gas stations. SB 635 would allow California cities to join the ranks of other major U.S. cities such as New York City, Las Vegas, Chicago, Miami and Washington D.C., as well as numerous international cities and countries which permit late or continuous beverage service. At least nine other states have similar legislation in place.
Supporters of the bill argue the extended hours will increase tourism, tax revenue and jobs, and provide relief to law enforcement agencies and public transportation systems currently burdened by uniform closing times. Critics cite noise and various other public safety concerns that may arise from an additional two hours of boozing.
If SB 635 passes, cities and counties that want to extend their hours will be required to apply to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”) for approval. Under the bill, the ABC is required to conduct a “thorough investigation into whether the additional hours would serve the public convenience or necessity.” Similar to the process of obtaining an alcoholic beverage license, the city or county would be required to notify residents, law enforcement agencies and other interested parties of their application. Interested parties would then have a 30-day period from the date of notice to file protests. The ABC would reject protests it deems unreasonable. For those with protests deemed acceptable, the ABC would provide an opportunity to address their concerns in a hearing.
Even if the bill becomes law, our experience with “public convenience or necessity” determinations and neighbor protests tends to suggest an uphill battle for many licensees who would like to obtain a 4 a.m. closing time. We will see how the bill fairs in policy committee hearings this spring.
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