The state of California has artificially — and unfairly — limited the number of restaurant liquor licenses available in San Luis Obispo County.
The local restaurant industry has been penalized by a formula that grants new licenses based solely on population growth, without taking into account how much the population swells during tourist season or how important restaurants are to the economy.
As reported in Saturday’s Tribune, SLO County’s population has been growing so slowly that it’s been a couple of years since any new licenses have been issued. The only way to obtain one now is by purchasing an existing license. That costs in the neighborhood of $100,000 — a burdensome amount when you consider that the state agency that oversees licensing, Alcoholic Beverage Control, charges just $13,800.
The shortage of licenses is hurting small businesses and costing us jobs and tax revenue.
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In Atascadero, for example, the demise of Colby Jack’s — the restaurant that operated inside The Carlton — has been blamed in part on its inability to obtain a liquor license.
Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian has proposed legislation that would allow a modest increase in restaurant liquor licenses in SLO County — five per year for the next three years.
That may not be popular with residents who think some areas of the county — particularly downtown San Luis Obispo — are already awash in eating and drinking establishments.
We believe, though, that Achadjian makes an excellent point: Zoning laws and other planning tools are available to avoid an over concentration of bars and restaurants in certain areas.
Capping the number of restaurant liquor licenses is not the way to achieve that — not for our countywide economy, which depends heavily on tourism, and especially not for communities like Atascadero that are working so hard to revitalize their downtowns.
Achadjian’s bill would provide the right measure of relief.
We strongly urge the Legislature to approve it.