It’s time to push back against the over-concentration of alcohol sales in Venice

By Ilana Marosi

I am writing as a concerned resident who has lived in Venice for 14 years. I appreciate its artistic spirit and diversity, which is what originally drew me here from 8,000 miles across the globe. However, as anyone who lives here knows, development is at a fever pitch — and that includes applications for new restaurants. These places, obviously, want to make as much money as possible. Their first and seemingly only consideration isn’t about the quality of life of the people who live next door or nearby. As a result, multiple applications are being considered for restaurants that would be very close to people’s homes, including some with large open patios where alcohol would be served past midnight.

Everyone in Venice likes people to have a good time, but to have a party that goes until 2 a.m. right outside your window every night — especially if you have young children — is no one’s idea of fun.

What right do we have as a community to keep this from happening? As it turns out, the best mechanism to stop this is broken.

According to state law, the Public Convenience or Necessity (PCN) process is supposed to exert controls over the unchecked growth of alcohol businesses in communities in order to keep them safer and more livable. If an application for a new alcohol license is submitted in an area that is either: a) over-saturated with businesses selling alcohol, according to California Alcoholic Beverage Control guidelines; or, b) has high crime rates (20% above city averages), it is supposed to go through the PCN process. That means the applicant has to prove the new business is “convenient” or “necessary” in order to justify its existence. If the applicant cannot prove the new business is “convenient” or “necessary,” the license is supposed to be denied.

Because Venice is severely over-concentrated with alcohol outlets — in some areas three to four times above what is supposedly admissible by ABC — most applications for new alcohol licenses should go through the PCN process.

However, for restaurants in particular, there are no public hearings where we as a community can come and give our input as part of the process. The community has no idea that rulings are being made, and there aren’t opportunities for us to have our voices heard. Even more importantly, there are no standardized definitions or criteria established for what it means for a business to be “convenient” or “necessary,” which leaves the door wide open for ABC and the city to apply very subjective, loose and changing definitions.

In other words, one of the most crucial tools for evaluating new alcohol licenses doesn’t adequately involve community input and has no consistent or rigorous standards for how it’s applied. No wonder Venice has so many alcohol-related businesses.

Another relevant but evidently overlooked issue here in Venice is the concentration of alcohol licenses and their effect on the community. According to the 2011 L.A. County Dept. of Public Health report “Reducing Alcohol Related Harms in Los Angeles County,” there exists a direct correlation between alcohol outlet density in an area and alcohol-related harms in that same area.

Having a high density of either on- or off-premises outlets (of which Venice has both) was associated with significantly higher rates of alcohol-related harms as follows:  alcohol-involved motor vehicle crashes are three times more likely, alcohol-related deaths are five times more likely, and violent crimes are nine to 10 times more likely to occur.

Venetians and Angelenos at large should be calling for transparency of the alcohol-licensing process so our voices can be heard. We must call for the PCN process to be significantly reformed in two ways: the creation of standardized criteria for what constitutes “convenient” and “necessary,” and the inclusion of public hearings where the community can weigh in on the process.

It’s our community. It should be our choice.

Editor’s Note: Argonaut reporters aren’t the only ones with a voice. If you have more to say about one of our stories than you can squeeze into a letter to the editor, contact to pitch a Power to Speak reader column.