Worldwide, there have been almost 120 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus (also known as COVID-19 or simply as COVID). Of those cases, over 2.6 million people in the world have lost their lives to COVID. As of this date, the COVID-19 virus has infected over 29 million people in the United States of America. Unfortunately, it has led to a devastating number of deaths, over 530,000 to date. Specifically, California has seen over 3.53 million COVID cases, which is slightly over 12 percent of the cases in the entire United States. Over 55,000 people in California have died from COVID.
Cities and states have been rushing to implement regulations to best slow the spread of the COVID virus within their communities. Regulations necessitated by the COVID-19 virus have extended worldwide to include mask-wearing requirements, quarantine requirements, social distancing requirements, health code amendments, and liquor law amendments.
In light of the tremendous impact of COVID upon its citizens, including their physical safety, livelihood, and many other factors, California has enacted many health and safety rules and regulations for virtually all aspects relating to living and doing business in California.
As such, it is incredibly important for California business owners and patrons of said establishments to become knowledgeable and stay up to date on the regulatory requirements and changes surrounding the COVID-19 virus and the California ABC Laws.
California business owners need to be aware of how the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has restructured its regulations in light of the COVID-19 virus. Learn more about California ABC laws and COVID with the experienced attorneys at Blake & Ayaz.
At Blake & Ayaz, we understand that many California business owners rely on an ABC license to maintain their business—and this has become more difficult in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We work hard to ensure your business continues to meet the requirements to obtain and maintain an ABC license.
Learn more about how California ABC laws have been affected by COVID.
An independent department within the California State Government Executive Branch, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, or ABC, began in January of 1955 as a result of a constitutional amendment. The ABC’s main function is alcohol education and alcohol administration. The three key elements of the ABC are administration, licensing, and compliance as it relates to alcohol within the State of California.
The ABC monitors over 93,000 licensees, including but not limited to restaurants, bars, craft brewers, wineries, and large breweries. These businesses are responsible for employing hundreds of thousands of people. These businesses serve millions annually. Everyone even remotely related to one of these businesses has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, whether through travel restrictions, social distancing requirements, mask requirements, illnesses, or death. It is imperative that the Department of ABC adjusts to the ever-changing advice of medical professionals, legislators, and other governing bodies.
Regulatory Relief is temporary regulations written by the Department of ABC in order to provide certain avenues of relief to licensees to allow them to mitigate losses they are facing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Due to the ever-changing information learned about the COVID-19 Pandemic as well questions arising by licensees, there have been seven (7) separate Notices of Regulatory Relief that have been provided. The timing of each notice is spread out, with some only released within days of each other. There are nineteen (19) separate provisions within the notices. Each notice and provision will be described in more detail below, followed by additional Frequently Asked Questions.
The First Notice of Regulatory Relief was released on March 19, 2020. It provided relief in eight (8) major areas:
The Second Notice of Regulatory Relief was released on April 1, 2020. It continued on the previous eight areas of relief and continued by adding the following four (4) relief measures to the list continuing the list with:
The Third Notice of Regulatory Relief was released on April 21, 2020. It continued on the previous twelve (12) areas of relief and continued by adding the following single relief measure to the list continuing the list with:
The Fourth Notice of Regulatory Relief was released on May 15, 2020. This regulatory relief was done in direct response to counties loosening COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions and allowing for a level of inside dining and on-site alcohol consumption. This regulatory relief continued on the previously numbered sections to add two (2) additional measures:
This allows the on-sale consumption of alcoholic beverages on property adjacent to and under the same control as the licensee. A COVID-19 Temporary Catering Authorization is required prior to allowance of this on-sale consumption. The same restrictions apply on the licensees’ permanently licensed premises. The tied-house laws previously in effect remain in effect (limiting non-retail licensees and retail licensees business relationships), except that a non-retail licensee without an eating place may coordinate with a legitimate meal provider who is a retail licensee to provide said meals to the non-retail licensee. For this to be appropriate and legal, there must not be undue influence or a quid pro quo. A non-retail licensee cannot be a provider of meals to retail licensees because it is a prohibited thing of value to the retail licensee.
These adjacent areas that are under the licensees’ control include:
These COVID-19 Temporary Catering Authorization may be withdrawn by the Department if there is a determination that the operation is contrary to public health, safety, or welfare. In addition, more conditions may be added to the temporary authorization at any time at the discretion of the Department. If a violation of the ABC Department’s Temporary Catering Authorization or other provisions occurs, there may be a suspension or a revocation of the license as though the incident occurred on the actual licensed property. Regardless of whether a violation occurs in the temporarily authorized area or within the original licensed premises, the Temporary Catering Authorization may be canceled by the Department.
In order to apply for the COVID-19 Temporary Catering Authorization Application, you must submit:
As soon as the application and the fee are submitted to the Department, the licensee is then authorized to start offering retail privileges in the temporary area. The authorization does not expire, except that it may be canceled:
The application for the COVID-19 Temporary Catering Authorization is available online, or call our firm for more details.
This provision basically extends the delivery of alcoholic beverages permitted in the First Notice of Regulatory Relief. It allows delivery of manufacturer-sealed alcoholic beverages. It further permits deliveries of club-sealed alcoholic beverages only in connection to a bona fide meal. Furthermore, the alcohol must be transported in a safe way.
The Fifth Notice of Regulatory Relief was released on May 20, 2020. This regulatory relief was done in direct response to multiple inquiries into the Department’s First Notice of Regulatory Relief’s To-Go provision (Number 5 above) extension to on-sale licensees that do not have a kitchen facility. A provision was added for on-sale licensees without kitchen facilities.
It allows licensees without kitchen facilities to partner with meal providers to sell meals contemporaneously with alcoholic beverages. There are three basic requirements:
The Sixth Notice of Regulatory Relief was released on October 8, 2020. Two new provisions are addressing virtual meet the winemaker or brewer dinners and the replacement for the virtual Meet the Winemaker or Brewer Dinners.
Typically, the ABC Department only allows events under the Business and Professions Code sections 25503.4 and 25503.45 (“meet the winemaker” and “meet the brewer,” respectively) at the on-sale licensee’s premises. The Department will not enforce these requirements provided that the following provisions are followed:
The Department wants to encourage donations to bona fide charitable organizations, including charitable organizations established for the sole benefit of helping employees of licensed retailers who need support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pursuant to this goal, the Department is suspending enforcement of Business and Professions Code Sections 25500, 25502, 25600, allowing things of value being given to retailers, as well as the provision of premiums, gifts, or free goods with alcoholic beverage purchases.
The following limitations exist to these suspended enforcements: (1) it must be a bona fide charitable organization giving COVID-19 pandemic relief, (2) it must involve sealed containers (not encouraging the imbibing of alcoholic beverages, (3) the advertisement by the participating licensee is done in conformity with the respective statutory authority, and (4) it does not involve any retail licensee.
The Seventh Notice of Regulatory Relief was provided on January 13, 2021. It only adds one extra provision to the list of regulatory relief initiatives regarding relief from the Type 75 requirement to produce 100 barrels of beer annually.
This is a very specific provision that suspends the minimum 100 barrel production required by section 23396.3 of the Business and Professions Code. The main reason is because of the restrictions and stay-at-home orders in place for much of the year.
Here are some of the most common questions we hear regarding California’s COVID regulations.
The Department of the ABC has provided such relief on a temporary basis. Any such provision may be withdrawn by the Department without warning and at any time. Although a ten (10) day notice period is intended, it is not required if the needs of public safety dictate. If the Department decides there is a licensee abusing the relief provided, or if they decide the licensee’s actions are jeopardizing public health, safety, or welfare, the relief may be rescinded.
Nothing within the regulatory relief provided by the ABC Department shall exempt licensees from zoning restrictions, conditional use permits, local ordinances, or any other items that the Department does not have jurisdiction or control over.
The California ABC Department has developed regulatory guidelines to help expand outdoor spaces for dining to allow licensees to serve wine, beer, and cocktails with food (a bona fide meal defined later) to its customers. This “temporary catering authorization” will authorize approved restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages in outdoor dining spaces in light of the coronavirus. This regulation will help licensees allow for greater customer capacity, allow for appropriate physical distancing and flexibility.
The expansion for temporary catering on the premises does not have to be adjoining the licensee’s regular licensed premises. However, it must be in close proximity to the licensed premises and be immediately accessible to the licensee. In addition, the temporary catering location must be under the control and security of the licensee. All of these factors are at the discretion of the Department of ABC.
A licensee must complete an application with the ABC as set forth later in this article. The licensee must comply with all state and local health and safety requirements. The licensee is limited to serving only those alcoholic beverages authorized by the licensee’s current license type. As stated in its name, the Temporary Catering Authorization will terminate if and when canceled by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, for violations of pertinent rules, ordinances, laws, or directives for business activities conducted in the expanded catering area or on the licensed premises, for having a negative impact on residents living in the area, for opposition by local police, or, finally, if continuing the temporary catering location impacts the public health, safety, or welfare in a negative manner.
The Temporary Catering Authorization Expansion can only be applied for in counties that have reopened.
For purposes of the California ABC Laws, a bona fide meal consists of a variety of foods as typically prepared in a kitchen at an establishment open to serve meals to patrons that can be ordered throughout the day that would constitute a genuine meal. Simply selling prepackaged food items, or sandwiches or salads, or heating up frozen or previously prepared meals does not meet the requirement for a bona fide meal.
According to the California ABC, physical barriers are not required, although the licensee is responsible to control the area of the expansion. However, the ABC does recommend that barriers be used to ensure control of the licensee’s expanded premises as delineated on the licensee’s application for the temporary catering authorization. The licensee must complete a COVID-19 Temporary Catering Authorization Application and must delineate their expansion area on that application.
Realistically, a licensee would want to use physical barriers to maintain control of its licensed premises and to avoid a possible violation of ABC regulatory guidelines.
Any age requirements based on the license type remain in full force in any of the expanded areas.
No, however, the ABC Department reserves the right to cancel any authorization after discovery of any false or fraudulent information in the application.
No. The program will either end all together, or individual authorization may be canceled at the discretion of the Department at any time.
Multiple areas of expansion are permitted, but only under one COVID-19 Temporary Catering Authorization. Each area does not have to be adjacent to one another, but each must be in close proximity to the original licensed premises. If a licensee wishes to further expand after the initial authorization, a new application and fee needs to be submitted. Any new authorization will replace the original authorization. There is only one (1) authorization permitted per license.
Yes. The contract must be submitted for review to the Department of ABC, and it must provide details about how each requirement will be met, as well as establishing a working relationship between the two.
A grace period of thirty (30) days has been extended for licensees paying annual renewal fees or penalties on any late fees.
Voluntary compliance is the goal of the Department. However, if voluntary compliance is not achieved, the Department reserves the right to pursue disciplinary actions against any non-compliant licensees.
The state. Local law enforcement does not have jurisdiction over suspension of state laws. Local law enforcement may only suspend local rules or ordinances regarding business licenses.
In order to be as safe as possible, follow the more restrictive requirement until such time as clarification is issued.
Discretion will be used by the Department, and only conditions where there are major discrepancies or evidence of wrong-doing that harms the public health, safety, or welfare will enforcement be required.
No. Additionally, when reopening after the COVID-19 closure, no notice needs to be provided to the Department. If, however, a license was surrendered prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic, it is imperative that you follow the normal process for reactivation.
No. It must still be notarized. However, an out-of-state notary service may be used if an in-person service is unavailable so long as the other state uses a remote online notarization (RON).
No, unless it has already obtained a permit from the local health department to prepare meals for the public.
Yes, temporarily. The containers must be sealed and cannot promote the consumption of alcoholic beverages. The promotion cannot involve any retail licensee. Finally, it must be a bona fide charitable organization.
Yes. It has even been extended to distilled spirits for licensees that are permitted to sell distilled spirits previously.
There must be a seal on the beverage, some type of lid with no holes for straws, etc.
It must be transported in the trunk of the vehicle.
It must be transported in some other area of the vehicle where the driver or passenger aren’t typically located.
Yes, as long as the licensee is permitted to sell distilled spirits under its license. The same rules apply.
Type 01 and Type 23 beer manufacturers may sell beer in sealed mason jars as if they are manufacturer sealed (without food). If the to-go beer is in an improvised to-go container, it must be sold with food.
Type 75 brewpub licensees may sell to-go in the same manner as other restaurants and bars. They must be sold in conjunction with a bona fide meal.
Only in manufacturer sealed containers.
Only manufacturer-sealed containers.
Yes. Every attempt should be made to adhere to social distancing.
It is the delivery person who bears the ultimate responsibility in checking the age of the customer purchasing said alcohol to make sure it is not sold to underage persons.
Yes, however, the licensee is ultimately responsible for the delivery.
Yes. On-sale retailers can either fill or refill growlers to sell to consumers to-go.
No. Those requirements are not currently being enforced.
It depends. Type 4 distilled spirits manufacturers are prohibited from selling to consumers. Type 74 (craft distilleries) are permitted to deliver. However, they must still limit the distilled spirits to 2.25 liters of spirits per person per day. The licensee is again responsible for maintaining compliance with age requirements.
Yes. They can either be sold to an ABC licensed retailer holding an off-sale license, or they can be sold directly to consumers curbside or delivered to their home.
The alcohol must be in a container with a lid that prevents the consumer from drinking by sip or straw without first removing the lid.
During the relief period, the hours for delivery can be between 12:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. each day of the week except for Sundays.
No, however, federal law may place restrictions.
The California Governor has signed legislation into effect that includes fee waivers for eligible licensees who have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Licensees may qualify for a waiver if their license expires between March 1, 2021, and February 28, 2023.
Yes. The following types of licenses are eligible:
These have been determined to be the most affected types of businesses that have been impacted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yes. The following deadlines apply:
|License Expiration Date||Last Day to Request a Fee Waiver|
|March 31, 2021||May 3, 2021|
|April 30, 2021||June 1, 2021|
|May 31, 2021||July 1, 2021|
|June 30, 2021||July 30, 2021|
No. It is recommended that the top portion of the license renewal be submitted with the request for a fee waiver.
No. It is important to only submit one waiver per licensee. Only one method of submittal should be used (either postal mail or email, NOT both). A waiver application will be required for each year of the two years of relief. The second waiver would be required when the licensee receives the renewal notice for 2022.
No. The waiver program only applies to licensees with an expiration date AFTER March 1, 2021.
Yes. A due date of March 1, 2021, would be for licensees that expire on February 28, 2021. Those licenses aren’t eligible for fee waivers until next year.
No. No refunds are permitted.
Some other questions are a bit more complicated. Some final concerns regarding California, ABC laws, and COVID include the following.
California ABC laws have been affected by COVID in many ways. An alcohol beverage compliance attorney will help you navigate these unprecedented times with certainty using their knowledge and industry experience. California business owners rely on ABC licenses to operate—and this has become increasingly complicated as the coronavirus continues to impact business functions.
Every state, including California, maintains laws to ensure alcoholic beverages are sold under legal and controlled circumstances. These laws prevent minors from consuming alcohol; they also uphold public safety. If your business wishes to sell or serve alcohol, you must adhere to all California ABC criteria and maintain compliance with guidelines.
California ABC Laws continue to change as the COVID-19 virus continues to affect everyday life and business around the country and state. It is crucial for California business owners to stay knowledgeable and current on the state’s regulatory requirements.
An experienced lawyer in California will provide you with appropriate legal counsel and guide you through all issues, including the most complex that you face. Rest assured knowing that your business is preserved and that fines and other legal penalties are prevented.
Consider working with Blake & Ayaz to limit your business’s liability for civil claims and continue your business operations legally and legitimately.
California maintains strict liquor laws, and it can be a challenge for a business to maintain its liquor license after a violation. The COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated matters. Hundreds of California businesses are facing violations as they have been doing their best to follow the state’s guidelines during the pandemic.
The ABC investigates violations at premises licensed to sell alcohol in California. The ABC might have sent an undercover agent to the licensed premises or may have responded to a complaint. If the ABC’s investigation uncovered any liquor license violations, charges against the licensee are likely to follow.
The accused business will receive a document called an accusation. It will contain the charges asserted against them, as well as a statement of facts supporting the counts and any prior history against the licensee. An alcohol beverage compliance attorney in California can help you overcome the effects of a violation and maintain your license.
If you received an accusation, remember that you have options. An accusation does not mean you are guilty—it simply means you have been accused of a violation. An experienced California attorney will help you decide on a path forward, likely using one of the following options:
You also may be able to transfer ownership of the business to a new owner in a person-to-person ABC license transfer. This will allow the ABC license to move to the new owner. However, the ABC may issue new conditions attached to the ABC liquor license when these transfers occur, and these conditions may hinder business goals.
With an alcohol beverage compliance attorney in California, you can overcome new conditions to your ABC license if you complete a person-to-person transfer. It is not possible to appeal any conditions that already existed on an ABC license prior to the transfer, but you may file an appeal with the ABC Board of Decisions about new conditions on the ABC license.
Regardless of the issue you are facing, it is important to work with a trusted attorney who is experienced in all matters relating to the ABC during COVID. Blake & Ayaz have helped many clients understand and make the necessary changes to their businesses to accommodate state and federal regulations. Contact us today for a free consultation.