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No more brew rooms for O.B.?

Police shortage prompts department to say nay to alcohol applications

Little Miss Brewing will not be moving into OB after all.
  • Little Miss Brewing will not be moving into OB after all.

The question of whether San Diego has become oversaturated with beer businesses is usually posed with regard to market demand: as in, how many local breweries can consumer dollars support? But on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, it appears the question of saturation may be answered by a different metric altogether, with the answer determined by the San Diego Police Department.

Little Miss Brewing

7949 Stromesa Court, Miramar

On September 11, a Voice of San Diego story reported that the police department has begun protesting new and expanded alcohol sales licenses throughout the city. Three days later, West Coaster magazine confirmed such official protest had resulted in the proprietors of Miramar-based Little Miss Brewing abandoning plans to open an off-site taproom on Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach.

Detective sergeant Linda Griffin, SDPD's supervisor of vice permits and licensing, confirmed to the Reader that her department protested the Little Miss license application and that it's part of a trend. "We have become more conservative," she says, "due to our critical staffing shortages."

She contends rising crime rates in Ocean Beach have taxed police resources in the neighborhood. Within a three-block radius of the proposed Little Miss location, Griffin says, police received 1274 calls for service in a full year (ending May 30), amounting to 1848 hours of response time by officers patrolling the area. "That is a huge demand on police services.... That's not even a beat."

Five brewery-owned businesses have opened on or adjacent to Newport Avenue within the past three years, but Griffin doesn't suggest beer-tasting rooms are accountable for any increase in calls pulling police officers off their beats; rather, she points out there are 28 active ABC licenses in that census tract, and the department is operating on the premise that any new licenses whatsoever will exacerbate the problem. "We cannot handle any more calls for service in that area."

And the objections are not restricted to Ocean Beach. Griffin says, "We protested numerous [licenses] in the downtown area for the very same reason as Little Miss Brewing."

That includes a license application made by Duck Foot Brewing Co. for a location in East Village, an area where the high homeless population contributes to rates of so called "quality of life" crimes, such as public urination and defecation. "Statistics are so overwhelming in that area," Griffin says.

Citywide, out of 283 liquor-license applications submitted to her department for review, 80 have received an outright protest. Many involve liquor stores and other off-premises sales, but several brewery applications have been swept up in the police department’s protests, including applications to remove existing license conditions by 32 North Brewing in Miramar and Modern Times Beer in Point Loma and an application by Amplified Ale Works to expand its existing license in Pacific Beach to include a neighboring business suite.

Technically, the police don’t have the authority to issue — or deny — a liquor license. That falls to California's department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. However, the bureau routinely consults with local law enforcement during the application process, and the police department always makes a conditional objection that gets dropped when the license is modified by conditions, such as limited hours or restrictions against live performances.

However, the impact of the department's newer practice of issuing unconditional, outright protests could lead to future denials. ABC district supervisor Melissa Ryan says, "It's not often the ABC has or will overrule the police department…. It's very awkward if I have to do that. We want to stand behind out law-enforcement partners if we can."

The department of Alcoholic Beverage Control won't comment on pending applications, but Ryan says that the process of gaining a license despite an outright protest may extend beyond six months, meaning breweries seeking to expand to saturated areas may be stymied regardless of what the market will bear.

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Apparently there's more to this story than meets the eye. From the West Coaster:

"The key piece of info they coveted during the process were crime logs. During a meeting with the ABC on July 20, the Malkins were shown a letter from the SDPD dated June 29 stating it would not support the issuance of Little Miss’ OB license. The reason: the neighborhoods the Western Patrol Division serves (Ocean Beach, Hillcrest, La Playa, Linda Vista, Loma Portal, Midtown, Midway District, Mission Hills, Mission Valley West, Morena, Old Town, Point Loma Heights, Roseville-Fleetridge, Sunset Cliffs, University Heights and “Wooded Area”) had experienced an overall increase in crime and could not handle another ABC license issued in the area. The ABC said they would not go against the SDPD’s recommendation because they felt it was impossible to change their opinion. Determined to give that a try on their own, the Malkins asked to see the crime reports for the aforementioned communities. The ABC had those reports, but said they were not allowed to provide them to the Malkins, and directed them to obtain the data from the City. They attempted to do so, but after more unanswered calls, ended up downloading the information they needed from the City of San Diego’s website instead.

Through this fact-finding exercise, they discovered that, although alcohol-related crime had gone up in the Western Patrol Division’s patrol area as a whole, it had gone down in OB by a whopping 40% since the November 2014 introduction of the neighborhood’s first brewery tasting room—Culture Brewing Company on Newport Avenue. Also, the number-one alcohol-related crime in OB is open-container violations, primarily on the beach. They presented this information to multiple City Councilmembers, the Mayor’s office and ABC, even going so far as to waive Little Miss’ ability to sell packaged beer or growlers to go, but never received an answer. The final straw was a call earlier this week when the Malkins say it seemed like someone at the ABC had decided they were going to deny the license long ago—possibly as far back as the meeting that they weren’t given the opportunity to attend—but nobody wanted to be the bearer of bad news. It prompted them to officially pull the plug on the OB project."

Apparently the SDPD feels compelled to deny San Diegans their right to legally enjoy a San Diego brewed beer in their own city, based on their own intentionally misleading and fabricated statistics, and their own ineptitude / laziness to address pre-existing crime in the area unrelated to the breweries in question.

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