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.
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.