Art Walk Uproar Leads to Proposed Bill

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After five Laguna Beach art galleries received citations for serving alcohol without a license during First Thursdays Art Walk last November, gallery director Jessica Fry turned her fury into action.

The result is Assembly Bill 629, a proposal to add a section to the state business and professions code that, if enacted, would exempt galleries statewide from license requirements and allow them to offer small pours of alcoholic beverages under specific conditions. Assembly member Matthew Harper, a Republican from Huntington Beach, introduced the bill in February, which is still undergoing committee-level revisions.

Assembly member Matthew Harper is sponsoring a bill that would benefit Laguna Beach art galleries, written with the help of The Signature Gallery director Jessica Fry.
Assembly member Matthew Harper is sponsoring a bill that would benefit Laguna Beach art galleries, written with the help of The Signature Gallery director Jessica Fry.

This week, the Laguna Beach-based nonprofit Art Walk called on their 30 member galleries to show their support for the measure.

Under a new state law effective Jan. 1, barbers and beauticians can serve complementary spirits to their clientele without benefit of permits from the Alcohol Beverage Control Board. Fry is pushing for a similar exemption for galleries.

The vice president of Art Walk and nine-year director at The Signature Gallery in Laguna Beach helped in writing Harper’s bill, which needs additional changes, including a clearer definition of what comprises a gallery, said Madeline Cooper, Harper’s legislative director.

Laguna Police Chief Laura Farinella said complaints prompted last year’s crackdown on a 15-year Art Walk tradition, where gallery owners extend their hours on the first Thursday of the month to introduce new exhibits and host artist receptions that often offered nibbles and wine.

With more continuity of police personnel assigned to the downtown foot beat, officers heard repeated complaints about galleries failing to manage alcohol consumption on Art Walk, she said.

She favors the proposed legislation because she thinks it will solve a problem: gallery operators serving alcohol without monitoring its consumption on the premises or the age of those they are serving. As written, the legislation would allow cities to impose tougher restrictions if they choose, Farinella said.

Ultimately, last November’s citations were dropped and Farinella worked out an arrangement that allows galleries to continue to offer beer or wine to patrons under one-day $25 use permits, which must be obtained monthly in Santa Ana by Art Walk officers. Fewer than six local galleries go to the trouble each month, Farinella said.

One that does is Signature, owned by Scottsdale artist Charles Pabst. To comply with the new rules, a gallery employee must check IDs, issue wrist bands, collect a $2 donation and ensure no filled glass exits the premises, said Fry, who says ABC enforcement officials have twice returned to the gallery since November to check on permit compliance. “It’s tough,” she said. “I want to focus on art, but I also want to make the experience great for collectors.”

“Art galleries should be able to provide their customers with a relaxing and enjoyable experience,” Harper agreed in a statement. He represents Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Irvine, Laguna Woods and Laguna Beach.

AB 629 has yet to be assigned a hearing date by the Assembly government organization committee, Cooper said. If it passes out of the committee, which requires a minimum of 12, it could be heard by the full Assembly, perhaps by June, she predicted.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Leave it to Laguna to muck up a cool 15 year tradition, saddle it with fees and regs and regulate it to death…. i seriously doubt the liquor related complaints during art walk compare to the complaints about drunk & aggressive homeless people & beach goers in So. Lag.

  2. Laguna Beach city government continues in their effort to dig into the pockets of struggling small business by yet another over reaching regulation. Monitoring art galleries by regulating away a solid tradition by enacting cumbersome requirements along with a $25.00 permit fee. Seriously? What has become of this city? Laguna Beach needs new management & governance. The next election is 2018. Get ready to vote for a change in City Council.

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