At a Jan. 8 appeal hearing of the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) in San Diego, those for and against issuing a new beer and wine alcohol license for the Denny’s at 800 Garnet Ave. pleaded their cases.
A final decision is expected sometime in the next few weeks on whether to accept or deny that appeal, to be issued by ABC’s Sacramento office.
Denny’s defended its application, insisting that, as a nationally recognized brand, its request as a restaurant for a supplementary alcohol license is “qualitatively” different than a prospective bar asking for a similar license as a primary mainstay of its business.
“A Denny’s selling a beer or a glass of wine with a meal isn’t going to cause the alcohol-related problems experienced with some other establishments in Pacific Beach,” claimed Michael Manos, owner of the Pacific Beach Denny’s for the past couple years. “Denny’s isn’t going to be a problem. It isn’t going to move the needle on alcohol-related crime in the area.”
Those opposed to granting the PB Denny’s application argue it’s yet another instance of an alcohol license being requested in an area already oversaturated with them.
“In Pacific Beach we have seen many family restaurants sell their business with the alcohol license and become bar-like restaurants,” said Scott Chipman, a community activist who campaigned for alcohol-free beaches. “The police and the local ABC protested the [Denny’s] license along with a number of residents because the high general crime, high alcohol-related crime and high violent crime are at or are near the worst in the city in that area of the business district. We need to get the business models and practices that generate and invite those who commit these crimes under control before we add more fuel to that fire.”
Noting his beach eatery’s business base is largely tourist-based, catering to seasonal vacationers, Manos said the Denny’s in PB has had “a high incidence of requests from customers” to have beer or wine with their meals.
A retired San Diego Sheriff’s deputy, Manos promised he won’t “turn a blind eye” to area alcohol-related problems, but rather be “responsible” in exercising his alcohol license if granted one.
“We’re not going to morph into a beer bar over time,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”
Rob Hall with North Coastal Prevention Coalition, a group advocating for communities free from alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drug issues, noted the problem in PB is not with any given applicant for an alcohol license, but with the sheer preponderance of existing licenses there. He likened the granting of each new alcohol license in an area already oversaturated with them to adding “another drop to an overflowing bucket.”
“There is an undue saturation of alcohol licenses in this area of Pacific Beach,” said Hall, adding Denny’s, located in an area designated to have five alcohol licenses, “has over 50, more than 10 times what’s allowed.”
Manos said he is willing to accept conditions on any alcohol licensed granted his 24-hour establishment.
“We will voluntarily quit serving alcohol at 9 p.m.,” he said, noting alcohol service would not begin until 11 a.m.
Manos offered up the rationale he is using to convince the ABC to grant a conditional beer and wine license for his PB site.
“The basis to overcome the over- concentration and high-crime arguments against granting us a license is to show public convenience,” he said. “The cornerstone of what we’re saying is it’s in the public’s best interest to grant us a beer and wine license based on convenience, allowing us to give a much broader offering to more people.”
A typical Denny’s client is a vacationing family with a couple, their two children, a visiting aunt and a set of grandparents, said Manos, noting the Denny’s in PB has something to offer each every family member — except one.
“The grandparents have some visual impairment, so Denny’s has a large print and Braille menu,” Manos said. “Mom’s on a low-sodium diet, so we have a nutrition menu broken down by ingredients. We have a special menu for the kids they can use a crayon to draw on. For the visiting aunt from Mexico who doesn’t speak English, we have full menus translated into Spanish. But for the dad who just wants a beer with lunch, right now we can’t accommodate him.”
Chipman took issue with the fact that ABC decisions on whether to grant liquor licenses, like the Denny’s application in Pacific Beach, are ultimately made in Sacramento, not San Diego.
“Many cities in California have responded to the inadequacy of the state ABC to protect communities by implementing local land-use controls,” Chipman said. “We have those controls in San Diego on liquor stores. We need similar local controls over bars, nightclubs and bar-like restaurants.”
Chipman said the Pacific Beach Planning Group studied the issue of a lack of licensing control for more than a year and published a 58-page report in 2011 explaining the problems and giving examples of solutions.
“Since 2011, even more cities are addressing their alcohol-related problems with local land use, including San Louis Obispo and Encinitas,” said Chipman, adding PB has become something of a “poster child” for those arguing for greater local control of alcohol licensing.
He said Encinitas residents regularly say they “don’t want to become another PB.”