A bizarre regulatory scheme apparently makes it easier for local brewers to open a full-blown restaurant than a small tasting room, reports the Voice of San Diego.
How can it possibly be easier to open a full-service restaurant—complete with funding and planning for a kitchen, food menu, and requisite seating space—than a tiny tasting room with some beer taps and a few chairs? Because the City of San Diego basically allows brewers to open restaurants at will, but forces them to jump through considerable hoops in order to open a tap room of much smaller scale. Specifically, opening a tap room requires a conditional-use permit requiring considerable amounts of community input and back-and-forth discussions potentially requiring several months. A consultant hired by local brewer Ballast Point offered the following observation:
“We’ve done conditional permits for things we thought would be a no-brainer that became a nightmare,” he said. “It opens everything up to more scrutiny. And it becomes an emotional issue. That’s what scares everyone — that it’ll go into emotions instead of logic. Community planning groups, and subgroups of that, like neighborhood groups, they can become very emotional. Everybody has a button.”
This creates a bizarre outcome, particularly for anyone familiar with these tasting rooms. Long story short: they are typically not large enough to fill very many people; they do not offer hard liquor; they tend to close early; and they usually draw a fairly subdued crowd that is legitimately more interested in beer tasting than alcohol binging. In other words, tasting rooms are very similar to their wine tasting counterparts.
Compare this, on the other hand, to a full-service restaurant. They are loud, often procure liquor licenses, and eat up a lot of parking. How does it make any sense to require tasting rooms to jump through hoops that restaurants do not?
Nonsensical regulations like this are invariably enemies of growth and opportunity, but this is especially counterproductive given the role local breweries play in our local economy. The National University Institute estimates a $300 million annual economic impact, or one-and-a-half times larger than that of Comic-Con. Wouldn’t it make sense to nurture this home-grown growth engine, rather than impose illogical burdens?
The bottom line: San Diego is a hotbed of microbrewery start-ups that want to succeed and contribute to the local economy while serving as good neighbors. There is no reason why we can’t simplify this regulatory process to make permitting easier while preserving—and enhancing—our quality of life.
Ryan T. Darby practices civil litigation in San Diego, and he enjoys an occasional craft beer.