By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent
Like NORAD tracking Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve, alcoholic beverage compliance in Laguna Beach is on the radar.
After an undercover alcohol-citation operation by the Laguna Beach Police Department on First Thursday’s Art Walk, the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce is scrambling to get a jump on the issue before Hospitality Night, Friday, Dec. 2. During the Nov. 3 Art Walk bust seven businesses were cited for serving alcohol without a license. An uproar ensued from business owners about the way that sting went down, and this week city officials backed off.
“The City reached out to the District Attorney’s Office, who will not be pursuing those citations, and the recipients have been notified,” says a statement issued jointly late Wednesday by City Manager John Pietig and Police Chief Laura Farinella.
Nonetheless, the Chamber isn’t taking any chances before pouring Santa’s schnapps on Hospitality Night. The annual event traditionally kicks off the holiday season by turning downtown into a winter-wonderland with live music, “ice” skating, and free-flowing alcoholic beverages offered gratis by some Forest Avenue businesses holding evening open houses.
The recent ramp-up of compliance checks by police and California’s Alcoholic Beverage Control on local businesses has the Chamber clamoring for middle ground. After an impromptu meeting with Chief Farinella and the city manager Wednesday, Larry Nokes, president of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, said everything was falling in line.
“This thing sort of hatched Tuesday. We have been dealing with it for 24 hours to work through the solution. We want to minimize the inconvenience on the merchants and retailers because this is a big night for them,” Nokes said.
To ensure businesses serving alcohol during Hospitality Night are doing it lawfully, the Chamber had to apply for and be granted a blanket temporary use permit from the city. Under that permit, each participating business is required to complete and submit ABC form 221, to obtain a one-day license to serve alcohol to patrons during the event. The Chamber was to submit those permit forms to the Laguna Beach Police Department.
“I was surprised when it came up,” Nokes said. “I am a little concerned it is suddenly become an issue at Art Walk and here, and the ABC has taken this position and we need to comply with it if we want to continue to enjoy the atmosphere that we have enjoyed in this town.
“The police department and the chamber are working to make it as painless as possible for merchants. The goal is to have compliance as best we can,” he said.
The sudden enforcement of alcohol compliance laws has left a residue of resentment among Art Walk gallerists and other merchants. Business owners insist law enforcement have not actively enforced alcohol compliance during local open house events where beer or wine is served for the last 15 years. The city’s letter dismissing the charges against the cited business owners hints that ineffective communication may be to blame.
“While some notices were provided to participating businesses, they clearly did not convey the necessary information to the right people and, unfortunately, citations were issued that exceeded the intent of the cooperative effort to gain compliance with all applicable laws,” the Pietig-Farinella letter states.
Don Meek, co-owner of Soul Project at 1516 Coast Highway, was not cited nor is he participating in Hospitality Night, but he criticized the crackdown in a letter in the Nov. 25 edition. He thinks law enforcement needs to standardize how alcohol compliance is being enforced on businesses city-wide before it happens.
“If that’s the law, that’s the law. But it should be applied equally to everyone,” Meek said.
With Hospitality Night on the horizon, Sgt. Tim Kleiser says businesses’ compliance is as simple as turning the ABC permit in to the Chamber. Beyond that, he said merchants should expect more communication from the police department on the matter. “In regards to enforcement, the city will be educating the public and local businesses on the laws pertaining to alcohol use or sales/furnishing. We will be working to gain compliance and cooperation.”
Meek says he hopes something good can come from the Art Walk fallout, and help Hospitality Night businesses take a step in the right direction.
“I sincerely hope that going forward, the key agencies in the city will take the time to consider the impact of decisions like this, and endeavor to provide all of us with the appropriate information in a timely manner so we can all ensure that we are in compliance with the law,” Meek said.
“No one likes change or inconvenience,” Nokes said about Hospitality Night compliance. “But we are going to get through it and everyone is going to enjoy themselves.”
If you’re going: Hospitality Night activities start at 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2 with street closures starting on Forest Avenue at 3:30 p.m.
3:30 p.m. – Street closures begin (Forest Avenue between Coast Highway & Glenneyre Street). Subsequent closures occur between 5-5:45 p.m.: remainder of Forest; Glenneyre and Mermaid Street; Canyon Road at Forest; Beach Street and Ocean Avenue; Third Street and Mermaid.
5-6 p.m. – Santa rides through town on Coast Highway followed by the Laguna Beach Trolley.
5 p.m. – Bell Choir and Community sing-along at the Presbyterian Church (415 Forest Ave.), La Playa Pre-school tamales booth, craft bazaar and live nativity.
5 p.m. – Laguna Beach Community Band at 326 Forest Ave. parking lot
5:30 p.m. – Thurston Middle School Band performance on City Hall front lawn
6 p.m. – Santa arrives at City Hall – Santa & Mayor light the Peppertree at City Hall
6 p.m. – Ice Skating rink with free rental skates opens at the US Bank & Broadway by Amar Santana parking lot. Rink will be open until 9 p.m.
6:10 p.m. – Santa arrives at his house in front of Tuvalu, 295 Forest Ave.
6:10 p.m. -Anneliese’s School choir sings on Main Stage
6:30-9 p.m. – Live music entertainment: Main Stage located on Forest Ave at Glenneyre St. Headlining act: Love Cartwright.
Forest Avenue re-opens at 11 p.m.