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Selling of Alcohol Approved for Santa Monica Starbucks

Phil Brock For Council 2014

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Michael Feinstein for Santa Monica City Council 2014Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

August 29, 2014 -- Santa Monica will soon be home to the third Starbucks location in Los Angeles County to serve wine and beer as part of the coffee shop chain’s Starbucks Evenings concept. The Planning Commission voted 5 to 1 on Wednesday in favor of the proposal with restrictions.

Among the restrictions are that employees must bring the alcohol to customers’ tables rather than people picking it up at the counter, only people who purchase meals can buy alcohol and all workers must be at least 21 years old.

Several concerns were raised about the plan, including the Starbucks' location as part of an under-construction mixed-use development now known as Ocean Avenue South will be less than 400 feet from Santa Monica High School and that people could discreetly leave the shop with alcohol.

Not all the commissioners thought there was a high potential for bad things to happen. Commissioner Richard McKinnon, who is running for City Council, said the chance was “extremely low given the nature of the company and [the location’s] close proximity to City Hall.”

He added that he thought there was more of a risk for alcohol to escape from bars onto the Third Street Promenade than for it to travel outside this Starbucks, which he said was “much more isolated and more able to be observed.”

Several ideas were traded about different ways to minimize risks. Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy, who is also a City Council candidate, said alcohol service hours should be reduced.

The permit allows Starbucks to serve alcohol Monday through Saturday from 2 p.m. to 12 a.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. She preferred service be allowed from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. or possibly as late as 10 p.m.

She also did not like the idea of people bringing alcohol to the tables, and preferred people pick it up at the counter as originally proposed by Starbucks.

Kennedy said wait staff receive lower wages because their salaries are based on receiving tips and this would be a missed opportunity for a large number of better-paying jobs in Santa Monica.

Kennedy was the lone vote against the permit. It appeared fellow Commissioner and City Council candidate Sue Himmelrich would also be an opposition vote based on her comments made earlier in the meeting.

“I am really uncomfortable with it being next to all of these residential units ... I think the fact that it’s across from [Tongva Park] is a problem … There may be a decent location for this in our city, but I don’t think this is the right location and i would deny the [permit],” she said.

Himmelrich’s motion to reject the application was not supported by any other commissioner. Her change of heart was likely due to the restrictions commissioners added to the permit later in the meeting.

Five members of the public addressed the commission. All of them either opposed the proposal or were skeptical of it. Laura Wilson-Hausle said there were too many places serving alcohol in Santa Monica.

“How many liquor licenses are coffee shops going to want to have now?” she asked. “Are we going to have it at Coffee Bean & Tea? Why don’t we do Taco Bell? When is it going to end? How many is too many?”

Whether there would be much alcohol consumed at the Starbucks is unclear. Jon Alpert, a senior production designer for the chain, told the commission a location in Calabasas sells six to 10 drinks per day.

“We would hope to be more successful in [Santa Monica],” he said.

Alpert added Starbucks’ appearance should not change because it is selling alcohol, at least based on the location in Calabasas.

“If you’re in there at 9 o’clock at night on most nights, it feels very much like a Starbucks,” he said. “You have to sort of really look closely to notice that we’re serving beer and wine.”

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