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Land Use & Alcoholic Beverage Compliance

F. Michael Ayaz

Those seeking to apply for a liquor license in California are likely already familiar with the Alcoholic Beverage Control, which is in charge of creating and enforcing all sorts of laws and restrictions regarding the sale of alcohol. However, the Alcoholic Beverage Control doesn’t operate in a vacuum. In fact, one of the most important steps in the application process involves officials from the ABC mailing copies of your application to various other local officials. The purpose of this step is to ensure that your request is compliant with various other ordinances and regulations and that there aren’t any outstanding legal issues that might jeopardize its approval. One of the departments included is the city planning department. This is because, in order for your license to be approved, the ABC must first confirm that you are allowed to run a business and conduct alcohol sales on your property.

Zoning Versus Licensing

Liquor licenses, which are issued by the ABC, determine whether your specific business can be granted the right to sell alcohol. This is why there are, in actuality, a variety of licenses that can be requested, depending on the types of beverages you wish to sell and what other services your business provides. When determining whether or not to approve your application, ABC officials will assess whether you have taken the appropriate steps, such as notifying your local community and neighbors of your intentions and acquiring seller’s permits. On the other hand, zoning regulations are tied to the physical property, entirely unrelated to the identity of the owner. Zoning ordinances dictate how the land can be used.

A person could purchase a land that is appropriately zoned for commercial use and ultimately decide not to pursue a liquor license. However, if a business owner wishes to obtain a license, they must first verify that their property is appropriately zoned. Verifying this prior to submitting your application will save you a lot of time and expense, as it will be automatically rejected if the zoning is restricted. Working with a skilled attorney can provide you with the necessary resources to research this appropriately so that you aren’t surprised by a sudden rejection.

Overturning Zoning Ordinances

The purpose of zoning ordinances is to enable cities to plan out construction in a big picture sense, ensuring that certain types of businesses that might inherently conflict are built in separate areas. Think of them as basic city blueprints. But as cities grow and change over time, so can ordinances be changed or contested. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of owning land that is inappropriately zoned for your needs, there are a few options you can try.


If the zoning ordinances in the area seem outdated or entirely impractical, you can attempt to submit a request for rezoning. Requests are considered during a public hearing conducted by city officials and can be contested by other residents in the community.

Variant Permits

A variance permit allows owners special permission to go against zoning ordinances. To obtain approval, owners must generally prove that if they are forced to comply with current ordinances, they will experience great hardships as a direct result.

Conditional Use Permits

A conditional use permit similarly also allows owners special permission to go against zoning ordinances. However, this permission is subject to specific terms set by city officials. Terms could restrict your hours of operation, building size, parking, and more. If you are ever found to violate those terms and conditions, your permit can be revoked.

Regardless of what avenue you would like to pursue, it is critical to work alongside an experienced ABC lawyer to prevent unnecessary delays or dead ends. Many of these processes involve extensive amounts of paperwork that requires a high level of familiarity with local ABC laws. Often, you will also be required to present a compelling case that illustrates why you deserve to have your request approved and how it will ultimately benefit the community. At Blake & Ayaz, we worked extensively with the ABC and city officials and are aware of what sorts of information they are most likely seeking during these proceedings. We can also protect you from unfair rulings and overly restrictive conditions, successfully appealing these on your behalf.

To learn more about zoning laws in California and how they can impact your ability to obtain a liquor license, you can reach out to the Law Offices of Blake & Ayaz or give us a call at 714-364-2198.

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