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Rancho Ortega Blog discusses matters of public interest in South Orange County, including the communities of San Juan Capistrano, Ladera Ranch and Rancho Mission Viejo.

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SJC City Council to Consider (More) Alcohol Sales on Los Rios Street

At tonight’s City Council meeting, the San Juan Capistrano City Council will consider a request from the Hummingbird House Cafe to permit alcohol sales at the restaurant.  The Patch has an article about Hummingbird House’s appeal here.  Alcohol sales are banned within the largely residential, entirely historic Los Rios Specific Plan.  Banned, that is, except for the Ramos House Cafe and the Tea House on Los Rios, both of which obtained alcohol permits in the 1990s and were grandfathered into the current ban.  Keep in mind that all Los Rios Street businesses have to close by 5 PM.  On the other hand, there are a myriad of restaurants in downtown San Juan surrounding the Los Rios Specific Plan that are permitted to sell alcohol well into the night, including a new wine bar, winery and tapas and beer restaurant.  Even the movie theater sells alcohol!  All of these alcohol sales occur within a flick of a toothpick from Los Rios Street.  Yet, both the Planning Commission and the Cultural Heritage Commission have denied Hummingbird’s request, and now (much like Juan’s trial), the City Council has the final say.

While some might object to alcohol sales with a rousing chorus of “Trouble on River Street”…

…permit us to offer a different opinion.

The restaurant business is difficult.  It must be even more difficult if your business is forced to operate in a one hundred year old adobe on an historic, residential street that is subject to a litany of legal restrictions on use, hours, advertising, parking, ingress/egress, noise, capacity, renovation, expansion and modernization.  It must be still more difficult if your competition can operate, unencumbered by such rules, just across the railroad tracks.  And one might argue that it would be restaurant suicide to try to operate under such conditions without the ability to sell the industry’s most high margin product — alcohol.  When you consider that two other prominent Los Rios Street restaurants already serve alcohol, and when you consider that Verdugo Street and Franciscan Plaza contain nearly a dozen restaurants that serve alcohol — just a short stumble away from Los Rios Street! — it seems that alcohol sales have long been available in the Los Rios Street vicinity with no material negative impact, it’s only Hummingbird House that is being denied.

Hummingbird House Cafe (photo credit: Rancho Ortega Blog)

On the other hand, enabling viable businesses to operate (and succeed!) on Los Rios Street is critical to maintaining and preserving this precious area. There is also a notion of equity at play here too:  all Los Rios Street restaurants should be treated equally.

We understand the concerns of the local residents.  There is always a fear that alcohol sales will bring trouble (with a capital T!) to town.  But one doubts whether the Hummingbird House Cafe’s patrons are the rowdy can’t-hold-their-liquor type.  More likely, like Ramos House and The Tea House (as well as other San Juan establishments), alcohol will be served responsibly to responsible people.  Hopefully, reasonable minds will prevail and Hummingbird House can be permitted to sell alcohol under sensible restrictions consistent with the regulations currently governing alcohol sales at Ramos House Cafe and the Tea House.

1 comment to SJC City Council to Consider (More) Alcohol Sales on Los Rios Street

  • Don Juan Ortega

    A final decision from the City Council has been postponed, but the Council seemed receptive to Hummingbird House’s request and directed staffers to look for a solution. A good step.