Faced with some two dozen irate small business owners, the Berkeley City Council reversed itself Tuesday, backing away from a December decision to charge bars, restaurants and liquor stores $467 each year to inspect for
substandard conditions—graffiti, sidewalk drinking, sales to minors and the like.
The body also voted to take a new look at a law passed in March making it mandatory for those who serve or sell alcoholic beverages to be certified in alcohol sales.
At a public hearing on the fees at the Tuesday council meeting, business owners argued that they are not the culprits targeted by the inspection program; the scofflaws are, in fact, nuisance neighborhood liquor stores, they said.
While the council approved the standards at its Dec. 11 meeting, rules mandate a second reading of the ordinance to become law. The second reading was on the agenda Tuesday.
A separate item on fees for inspections had been approved in concept by the council in Decem-ber and required the public hearing that was held Tuesday.
“We’d rather have the problem-makers take the burden,” said Jean Spencer, owner of The Musical Offering café on Ban-croft Way across from the UC Berkeley campus, addressing the council at the public hearing.
“I support the general idea of standards,” she added.
Code Enforcement Supervisor Gregory Daniel spoke to the need for standards to create “a level playing field,” so that all business owners know exactly what is expected of them.
Ralph Adams of the Berkeley Alcohol Policy Advocacy Coali-tion (BAPAC), the community group that has been fighting to curb problems created by alcohol abuse and that helped to write the standards, urged the council to adopt the standards and fees.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of nuisance behavior in my neighborhood” due to alcohol sales from liquor stores, he said, underscoring that the $467 fee should be affordable to any person whose business is viable.
Speaking at the hearing, restaurant owners said the proposed fees were inequitable: liquor stores were to be inspected four times annually and restaurants only once—all would pay the $467 fee. Logically, they said, with fewer inspections, they should pay a lesser annual fee.
Others said there should be a fee differential between small owner-operated stores, for whom beer and wine is a tiny percentage of sales, and large grocery and liquor stores that sell greater quantities of alcohol.
C.J. McGowen, has owned Berkeley Bait and Tackle on San Pablo Avenue near Bancroft Way for 23 years. He’s at work in his shop from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. most days. Fishing poles dangle from the ceiling of the small shop and fishing hats decorate the walls. Customers come in for worms and hooks, tell stories of the really big one and eye the gear that fills the shelves.
McGowen also sells soda, bottled water and beer. People come in and buy a six-pack to take with them when they go fishing, he told the Planet in a short interview Wednesday at his shop.
He told the council Tuesday night that alcohol is just a fraction of his business. He doesn’t sell wine in his shop, he said.
“This man has a bait and tackle shop. I’m sure he’s going to sell a few cases of beer each week—that the same as Andronico’s?” asked Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, questioning the one-fee-fits-all concept.
Public speakers also expressed outrage at a law passed last year mandating certification for all those who serve or sell alcoholic beverages. They pointed to a dearth of free classes provided by the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control and the high cost of private training sessions: $30-to-$70 per individual.
They underscored that the high turnover of part-time restaurant workers means that restaurateurs must pay thousands of dollars annually to certify their workers.
Daniel, the city code inspection supervisor, told the council that owners can get certified to run the classes and certify their staffs.
The council voted to put both the standards and fees laws on hold and appointed Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli, Gordon Wozniak and Darryl Moore to revise the fee schedule and take a new look at the ordinance that mandates certification for those who sell alcohol. The meetings will be noticed and open to the public.
Photograph by Judith Scherr.
C.J. McGowen, Berkeley Bait & Tackle owner, sells six or seven cases of beer a week. Under a City Council proposal—now under revision—he would have had to pay the same alcohol inspection fees as large grocers such as Andronico’s.