How Downtown Fullerton Got This Way

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In 1994, the legislature passed AB2897, a law giving more control over licenses to sell alcohol to cities. That is what F. Paul Dudley, then director of Fullerton’s Development (formerly known as Planning) Services, wrote in a memo March 24, 1995, to four other fellow employees– Chief of Police Pat McKinley, City Manager James Armstrong, Lt. Jeff Roop, FPD, and Senior Planner Ted Commerdinger .To get a license, he explained, the local governing body would have to tell Alcohol Beverage Control that it was a “public convenience and necessity” that an applicant receive a license.

Dudley’s memo noted that “‘Public convenience and necessity’ is tied to the concentration of licenses in an area, the population of the area, and reported crimes. As a result of AB2897, local agencies now have much more influence over the issuance of retail licenses.”

Dudley told the four who received the memo that if they had no problems with it, he would have the mayor sign a letter designating his department as the contact for ABC. No one indicated any problem with designating Paul Dudley’s department to be the contact for ABC. Mayor Jule Sa sent that letter to ABC April 4, 1995. Mayor Sa’s letter acutally designated the Development Service Department “…as the authorized contact poit for determinations of public convenience or necessity under AB-2897. However, the keys to a Fullerton liquor license apparently were now in the hands of Paul Dudley.

According to the rules of the Alcohol Beverage Control agency as written in our state laws, the number of licenses to sell alcohol in a particular area is calculated by considering the residential population in a census tract. The rules regarding alcoholic beverages are to be found in Division 9, sections 23000 to 25762 of the California Business and Professions Code.

By the official standards, Census Tract 0113 that encompasses downtown Fullerton is qualified for just five licenses. By last count, we have 58.

How could this happen? Well, I discovered how it happened through the process of protesting the issuance of alcohol licenses. The first was Chronic Tacos on the north side of Chapman Avenue in the 100 block west. I and some neighbors who live on that side of Chapman wanted to keep the alcohol scene from expanding into that historic residential neighborhood. Enough people filed protests, so the application was withdrawn. Chronic Tacos thrived for about 10 years without alcohol.

The second venture as a “protestant,” as ABC calls us, was against CaliFire Grill. I don’t remember if they received a license, but they did not stay in business very long. They were succeed by “Grits” which in April 2016 did get a license to serve alcohol from 7:00 a. m. until 10:00 p. m. This was recently extended by our development department to 12:00 a. m. Having achieved extended hours, Grits has conveyed their license to “Café Patio” offering beer and soju, a clear, colorless distilled beverage of Korean origin, usually consumed neat, and its alcohol content varies from about 16.8% to 53% alcohol by volume (ABV), says Wikipedia.

Our third protest, wherein I discovered the smoking gun, was against “Spiked Paint,” located on the north side of the parking lot between Wilshire and Amerige Avenues, a venue for patrons to daub copies of pictures while drinking beer and wine. This protest was heard at the ABC headquarters in the state building in Santa Ana.

To prepare for the hearing, I read the California Business and Professions Code to learn the Alcohol Beverage Control rules. First, I learned that upon a person’s application for a license to serve or sell alcohol, ABC would notify the local city council and the local police department. On November 6, 2011, I hied myself over to city hall. I asked the administrative aide to the Fullerton city council, Eva Arevalo, what happened to such notices. “Upstairs,” she said, pointing ceiling-ward.

I trotted up to the second floor, Development Services. Bob St. Paul was on the desk that day. “What happens to the notices of applications for alcohol licenses?” I inquired. “I don’t know–I’ll check with Heather.” (Heather Allen, Planning Manager in 2012) He returned from the back room ten minutes later. “We trash ‘em,” he said. “You don’t forward them to the city council?” I asked. “Nope.” “You don’t send them to the planning commission?” “Nope.” “You don’t respond to them?” my eyebrows rising. “No,” St. Paul said, “We trash ‘em.”

I was to learn a different story at the ABC hearing.

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