For years the city of Hermosa Beach has been searching for that magical balance between being a daytime beach destination, having an electric nightlife and remaining a residential haven.

This Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Hermosa Beach City Council will get one step closer to defining itself by limiting the number of late-night alcohol establishments as they take a vote to add a “no intensification policy” into the municipal code. Prior to the vote, the public will have an opportunity to speak to the policy during a public hearing.

Community Development Director Ken Robertson said this is the final piece of the puzzle in a process that has taken years. He said the Hermosa Beach Chamber has been notified, and residents and late-night bar and restaurant owners are encouraged to attend.

City councilmen from the “best little beach city” decided in 2008 that the late-night brawls and police calls near downtown restaurants and bars had reached a breaking point, and they began to search for the right mix of policies to keep things under control.

“The initial directive came from the city council to ask the planning commission to study this issue as part of many efforts to try to ‘tame down’ the nightlife,” Robertson said. “The planning commission wrote the actual policy, and the city council adopted it back in March, so this is the final step to put this policy as guidelines in the code.”

At that Feb. 28 city council meeting, two business owners, Ron Newman of Sharkeez and Palmilla Cocina y Tequila and Dino Capaldi of Buona Vita, supported an official policy so that there would be principles in writing to better guide businesses.

Through recent years, the council has reduced operating hours for some businesses that were violating rules, increased police presence and rejected applications for late-night establishments. Police records also confirm a reduction in crime, according to the city’s planning commission. Now, the city council is ready to officially create a no-intensification policy in its municipal code.

“I’m hoping everyone gets on board to get rid of intensification,” said Councilman Peter Tucker. “It’s a way to limit … we don’t need anymore people downtown.”

Mayor Pro Tem Kit Bobko was pleased that the city’s businesses will now have clarity on the city’s expectations and a definition of restaurant versus late-night alcohol establishment.

“I am pleased that we have agreed on a set policy for the city. I think it’s important to give all the businesses the expectations and outline of the city’s rules upfront because until now, we’ve basically had an ad hoc system of regulating, and I think that stability and consistency is important,” Bobko said. “I believe restaurants close at 11, and I think that if you are open after 11, you are something other than a restaurant.”

Adding the new guidelines to city municipal code would provide a legal backing for the policy already adopted by the city council and make enforcement easier. It would also make it possible to amend the code in the future.

The “no intensification” policy essentially caps alcohol permits citywide for late-night establishments at the current numbers, operating hours, occupancy and locations. Those current numbers are determined on a sliding scale, so while there are currently 40 late night alcohol establishments, no more will be allowed. If one of those establishments closes or chooses to close before 11 p.m., it does not automatically leave an opening for a new late-night alcohol establishment.

“It’s really intended to limit the expansion of these types of late-night establishments and not allow any more of them, unless very specific exceptions can be met,” Robertson said. “In a sense, the city council’s policy has been to prevent these types of expansions or new businesses anyway, but it was never an official policy. This will put that policy in the code. This will be the guideline that any future applications are measured against.”

The city will have the authority to deny permits to new establishments, as well as building permits to any late-night establishment that seeks to increase occupant load with more square feet. In addition, restaurants and bars may negotiate live entertainment or dancing in exchange for fewer operating hours, as long as the entertainment or dancing does not result in an increase in crime or disturbance.

Restaurants may also apply for a permit to expand to increase occupancy load if they close before 11 p.m.

 “There’s no intent to put a cap on restaurants in the city. This is hoped to encourage any new restaurants or even existing restaurants that want to switch to earlier hours, then they could add square footage or increase occupancy load. We hope to encourage more restaurant restaurants, rather than restaurants that stay open late,” Robertson said.

He also said that the total number of late-night establishments could potentially go up.

“This is not a hard and fast rule. There are some exceptions. We know there are exceptions for some major redevelopment projects, and we don’t want to get so strict to prevent something that the city could see beneficial for other economic development reasons,” Robertson said.

For more information, visit www.hermosa and click on agendas.

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