Seeking some balance in tipsy liquor license process

Balancing Act Too is in Plaza Cervantes park.
Balancing Act Too is in Plaza Cervantes park.

Across the street from Plaza Cervantes park, a new restaurant called Meet & Eat seeks a license to sell beer and wine to its patrons, even though such a license would seem to violate state law designed to protect the “quiet enjoyment of the property of nearby residents.”

Land Park neighbors, me included, who object to the license are playing against a stacked deck, with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and restaurant industry holding all the aces. Last fiscal year, the department recommended denial of 11 applications – out of 11,335 applications filed statewide. That is one tenth of 1 percent.

In this case, my neighbors objected that the restaurant would have open-air seating in a residential neighborhood. Too noisy. The law states that licenses issued within 100 feet of nearby residences “constitute grounds for denial of the application.” At least one house, a multifamily residence, nearly abuts the restaurant’s eastern wall. A second is within the 100-foot limit.

Moreover, Sacramento City College and a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints center, fall within 600 feet of the restaurant, again grounds for denial under the law.

“The issuance of an unrestricted license would be contrary to public welfare and morals,” the ABC admitted in September statement.

But the ABC’s staff ended up issuing a conditional license anyway after Meet & Eat agreed to certain conditions. These include limiting consumption of alcoholic beverages on the patio to between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., monitoring patrons and barring live music. There is no specific limit on noise. The ABC proposes to hold a hearing on the matter sometime later.

Next year, the city plans to convert Freeport Boulevard into a bicycle-friendly thoroughfare, but that was not a consideration for ABC. Nor was the loss of more than a dozen parking places with the renovation of the park, Plaza Cervantes.

ABC does not consider traffic or parking in its decisions, even though the mixture of alcohol and bike riders seems risky in an area already clogged with commuters and college students.

What about the park? Doesn’t the law say the state shouldn’t issue licenses near places where children play? Not exactly. The law states “public playgrounds.” The ABC says Plaza Cervantes is not a playground. Tell that to the kids who play there.

The spruced-up Plaza Cervantes is the new home of a statue called “Balancing Act Too.” Its creator, sculptor Tony Natsoulas, reminds us of the struggle to balance our needs – housing, love, food and time.

Perhaps a more appropriate location for “Balancing Act Too” would be the headquarters of the ABC. It could serve as a reminder that the department should consider the “public welfare” of all Sacramento residents.

Robert Gunnison is a former reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and a lecturer at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley. He lives in Land Park.