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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sonoma County Alcohol Ordinance Workshop

New standards for the sale of alcohol at bars, restaurants, and supermarkets located outside city limits are being considered by the Sonoma County Planning Commission.

PRMD staff introduced the standards and zoning ordinance amendments at a recent Commission hearing and has scheduled a workshop to discuss the changes on Tuesday, November 8th at 2 pm in the PRMD Hearing Room, 2550 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa.  Staff from the Department of Health Services and the Sheriff’s Office participated in drafting the proposal and will be available at the workshop.  The Planning Commission will consider the matter again at a hearing December 15.

Currently, a conditional use permit is required for new retail establishments smaller than 10,000 square feet in size that sell alcoholic beverages for off-site consumption in the commercial zoning districts of the county.  Also, the K (Visitor Serving Commercial) zoning district currently omits restaurants that serve alcohol as an allowable use, thus making every K-zoned restaurant that serves alcohol non-conforming with the current ordinance.  The proposed ordinance would correct this situation.

Initiated by the Board of Supervisors, the proposals amend the County’s existing Zoning Ordinance to require a conditional use permit for all new retail establishments, bars, and restaurants that serve alcohol, and for businesses that expand their floor space.  They also set what are sometimes called “nuisance abatement” operating standards. 

The effort is being undertaken because research shows a strong correlation between the density of alcohol outlets and nuisance behavior, crime and violence, health problems, underage drinking and child abuse, to mention just a few of the findings in the current literature. In addition, the County’s own data show a range of health and safety issues associated with outlet density.

The operating standards include customer and site visitor management; trash, litter, and graffiti management; staffing, surveillance, and security requirements; requirements for signs and postings; and compliance with additional local, state, and federal regulations.  These standards also place limits on the display of beer and wine within the on-premise and off-premise locations, including arranging displays and signs so that the sales counter, cash register, and customers can be seen from the outside.  The standards set limits on happy hours and on drinking games at bars and restaurants.

In essence, the proposed approach allows existing establishments to continue, subject to the standards, without a conditional use permit.  However, if credible complaints are received, then the establishment can be required to apply for a use permit, which can either be conditioned to address the complaints or else denied, effectively terminating the alcohol sales at the premises. The criteria to evaluate the conditional use permit include the crime rate in the neighborhood, the number of alcohol licenses per capita in the area, and the proximity of the alcoholic beverage outlet to sensitive land use areas including residential districts, day care centers, park and recreation facilities, schools, and places of religious assembly.   

For more information, please contact Dave Hardy, Project Planner, at 565-1924 or

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