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Improving Your License Conditions

Are special conditions on your California alcohol license negatively impacting your business? There may be a fix! Licensees with a record of one or more years of compliance should petition to improve their special conditions.

What is a special license condition?

The Department of Beverage Control (the “ABC”) imposes special conditions on some licenses that are more burdensome than generally applicable legal requirements. Unfortunately, this means some licensees are operating under stricter rules than their neighbors. Special conditions can cover any matter related to the license privileges or the physical premises. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §23801.) Common categories include limits on:

  • hours of alcohol sales

  • permissible levels of noise

  • permissible entertainment, including game machines, live entertainment, etc.

  • permissible types of alcohol promotions, such as happy hours

  • maximum strength of alcohol sold/served

  • minimum size of alcohol sold

  • signage

  • for restaurants, whether a bar is permitted

  • for restaurants and bars, whether alcohol can be sold to-go

  • other aspects of business operations

Special conditions can also impose extra burdens on licensees, such as responsibilities to display certain signs, prevent nearby loitering, and paint over any graffiti within a specified time. Some establish minimum staffing requirements for outdoor seating.

Many licensees agree to special conditions without understanding what they mean or how the ABC will enforce them. Some licensees have complained they felt compelled to agree to conditions to avoid protests on their license applications. But licensees and their lawyers can and should negotiate proposed license conditions, even in protest cases.

The ABC expects compliance with special conditions. If an ABC agent catches a licensee violating a condition, then the Department can file a claim against the licensed business before an administrative law judge. Depending on the severity of the case, the ABC will ask the judge to punish the licensee with a fine, a license suspension, or in extreme cases, revocation of the license. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §23804.)

What should licensees facing special conditions do?

Licensees should seek legal advice about special license conditions that significantly affect their business operations before they agree to any conditions.

Licensees already suffering from burdensome special conditions should ask an alcohol lawyer about a petition to modify. Businesses with records of compliance for one year or more can seek conditions changes, particularly when neighboring businesses are operating under lighter conditions.

This blog is dedicated to information about state and national alcoholic beverage regulatory and legal developments I encounter in my practice. These posts are intended for informational use only and are not to be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult with your counsel.

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