In California, obtaining a liquor license is an expensive multistep process. New and prospective applicants in Los Angeles County hoping for a license to sell alcoholic beverages must first apply for a license from Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). Then they must also apply for a Conditional Use Permit, or CUP, to sell alcoholic beverages from their local zoning board. Once the applicant is approved for the liquor license and the CUP permit, he or she may obtain a license to sell alcoholic beverages.
Starting the ABC License Process
In order to apply for a liquor license for any type of business, from a fine dining restaurant to a convenience store, the applicant must already have purchased or leased a location for the business. Then, the applicant and any business partners must appear at the ABC’s district office. Applications can’t be completed by email or postal mail because the ABC process requires submitting personal information and signing affidavits. However, applications are available on the ABC website.
At the district office, a representative will ask questions about the proposed business and determine what type of liquor license is needed. The ABC grants multiple types of alcohol licenses for a variety of purposes from selling beer and wine in a convenience store to a full liquor license for fine dining establishments.
The applicants are required to pay fees with their applications and they will view a video about ABC regulations. Some applications will require the opening of an escrow account, while others might require obtaining approval from the local zoning board. Fees for a liquor license can run upwards of $10,000.
Investigating the Applicant and Location
California law requires the ABC to mail a copy of the liquor license application to local officials including the police department, the city council and city planning department. In Los Angeles County, copies also go to the sheriff's department, the board of supervisors and the district attorney. If any of these local officials have concerns about your application, they can impose restrictions on your license or file a protest to deny the application. Frequent concerns include worries about increased nuisance and crime, whether the business violates zoning laws or the license would not serve the best interests of the community.
Applicants may also be denied a license if an ABC query determines they are not personally qualified. Reasons for disqualification include submitting a false application, a record of chronic insobriety, one or more applicants are not at least 21 or evidence that the applicant is not the true owner of the business or establishment.
Obtaining a Required Conditional Use Permit
Applicants also have a responsibility to notify the community of their intent to sell liquor. They must post a Public Notice of Application on the premises for 30 days and give any information requested for application processing to the ABC. The ABC may also require the applicants to publish a notice in a local newspaper and send notice to all residents living within a 500-foot radius of the establishment.
In addition to applying for a liquor license from the ABC, applicants are also required to have a conditional use permit from the local zoning board where the business is located. The board or planning commission reviews each application at a public hearing before making a final decision to approve or deny a permit request. The board will hear from the applicants, adjacent business owners and from other interested parties.
Final Determination in 90 Days
City officials have 90 days in which to make a determination whether or not to grant the license. If they don’t decide in the 90-day period, the applicant can still obtain a license if they can show the liquor license would provide a necessity or a public convenience. However, protests from the zoning board or members of the community trigger what can be a lengthy hearing and appeal process. Once the license is approved, it must be in use within 30 days after the date it was issued, unless the owner has approval from the ABC to delay the opening because the premises is under construction.
- Don't apply for a license until you have a very clear business plan in motion.
Frances is a business writer with over 15 years experience writing about media, technology, retail and related issues for a variety of national and international publications including The New York Times, The Week, USA Today, The Independent, and Lonely Planet News. Follow her on Twitter at @francesk