California SB 635: What the 4am Bill Really Means for California Communities

SB 635 is a bill that has been introduced by Senator Mark Leno to give communities the ability to  determine the hours of on-sale licensed premises (bars and restaurants).  The bill is community empowerment at its best. It enables local communities (in SF the BOS and the Planning Commission) to decide if there will be extended hours at all and, if so, the exact location where those extended hours would be allowed. These decisions should be made at the local level, not by legislative fiat in Sacramento, which is currently the case. The plan could authorize extended hours applications on one or two streets (like the Embarcadero in certain blocks, or the nightlife corridor in the new SOMA plan on 11th street) or be confined to existing areas of high density nightlife where the need for adjustable planning exists today. The community plan could require some clubs to close at 2 am, some at 3 am and some at 4 am. This would be for the purpose of spreading out the closing time traffic. This would reduce the current burden on law enforcement to handle large crowds being forced out on the street, all at 2 am. The community could also place other conditions on the exercise of an extended hours permit, such as provisional status that could be revoked in the event that the venue did not act responsibly.

The other part of the bill requires that any venue (which could include late night restaurants that cater to "the other 9 to 5") desiring to apply for extended hours to apply to the ABC for the extended hours permit.  The existing ABC protocol that requires notice to neighbors and permits protests (by anyone) to applications for extended hours at any particular venue would apply to these permit.  If the ABC upholds the protest based on interference with quiet enjoyment (or for other reasons) the application may be denied or further conditioned (which is what happens with new venues now).

In short, the City decides if and where extended hours would be allowed and the ABC decides who may hold extended hours permits and under what conditions extended hours permit applications would be allowed.

SB 635 is state wide community empowerment; it’s not just about San Francisco. For example, the Gaslamp district of San Diego, portions of LA and entertainment areas in other major cities and resort communities in CA would be eligible to adopt community plans that address their local situation. There are many high density restaurant and club areas in the state where this option would be a useful tool. The "nanny state" theory of controlling local zoning and land use by state regulation because local communities can't be trusted has no place in California when it comes to entertainment, food and nightlife.

SB 635 allows local communities to take control of these important community decisions and will elevate San Francisco in particular, and California in general, to a level equal to or surpassing the great entertainment areas of the nation and the world. Optional 4 am hours (which require a special permit from the NY State Liquor Authority) has certainly never hurt New York. San Francisco and California deserve no less.