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Protest Against Your License Application? Follow these Dos and Don'ts!

Are you applying for a new California alcohol license? Your chances of facing a protest from your neighbors have increased. Protests are objections filed by neighbors during an application process. They typically involve complaints about noise, crime, loitering, minors’ access to alcohol, and similar concerns.

If the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”) finds a protest is valid, it may deny your license application or set conditions on the license that can dramatically affect your business. Conditions can limit business hours, the type and volume of alcohol you can sell, and even whether your business can play music or make other kinds of noise. Conditions legally bind your licensed business. If the ABC discovers a licensee has violated a condition, it can suspend or revoke its alcohol license.

Protests make license applications longer and more complicated. The ABC seeks additional information from the applicant and holds an administrative hearing to adjudicate protestors’ concerns. Hearings typically last a full day or longer, depending on the number of protestors.

Unfortunately, many licensees facing protests wait too long before consulting a lawyer. If neighbors protest your license application, consider these Dos and Don’ts:

1. DO cultivate positive relationships with your neighbors

2. DO try to address neighbors’ concerns informally by building noise or sightline barriers, beautifying the premises, etc.

3. DO confirm in writing with your ABC licensing representative that that you adequately posted and mailed notice of your ABC application

4. DO consult a lawyer if the ABC licensing representative informs you a protestor is requesting a hearing, because licensees are more likely to obtain a license -- and a license with fewer conditions -- if they are represented at the hearing

5. DO submit a detailed letter to the ABC about how you intend to address protestors’ concerns (often called a “letter of noninterference”)

6. DO negotiate any license conditions for which the ABC licensing representative asks your consent

7. DO NOT sign license conditions without reading them thoroughly and making sure you understand them

8. DO NOT sign license conditions that significantly impact your business without consulting a lawyer

9. DO NOT antagonize the ABC licensing representative assigned to investigate a protest, because he or she will be the most important witness at the protest hearing

10. DO NOT represent yourself at your protest hearing

The trending increase in protests likely is another consequence of the COVID pandemic. Many people work from home more often, and they care about noise near their residences/home offices. At the same time, outdoor dining and related noise has increased… while some neighbors’ social skills appear to have decreased.

Time to invite your neighbors over for a glass of wine!

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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