Unlimited liquor licenses nixed

On September 19, 2012, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

By Jim Clark

The City of Somerville has been working hard in its efforts to have a cap removed from its ability to grant liquor licenses to local businesses. In its latest bid, the city received word that the state legislature refused to grant such powers, but that a Home Rule Petition – allowing some 12 additional licenses to be made available – would be considered.

Last week, City Solicitor Frank Wright reported to the Board of Aldermen that the state legislature was disinclined to grant Somerville full control over licenses. In detailing the situation as it stands, Wright explained, “Previously, what the city has had is the quota system, but 10 of those licenses have been dedicated to Assembly Square. What will now be the case is that all forms of alcohol licenses will be citywide, and the legislature will provide, through this Home Rule Petition, 12 additional licenses dedicated to Assembly Square. So essentially, 10 additional licenses will be available throughout the city.”

Wright further explained that, “The quota is established by population. We are at quota right now. The city is entitled to 82 licenses, ten of which are designated for Assembly Square, which have not been issued, but the other 72 have been issued. So those 10 that are now designated for Assembly Square will be freed up to be issued throughout the city.”

Alderman Tony Lafuente felt that the state legislature does not appreciate the destination Somerville has become. “I will tell you that in the last three weeks I have been trying to recruit restaurateurs to come into Winter Hill, and the one thing I get is ‘What about liquor licenses?’” Lafuente lamented. “We have a world renowned chef who happens to live in Ward 4 that is going to be opening up a restaurant in the next year, and he called me just to get my ideas as a business person about how to set up a new business, and so on. I’m trying to encourage him to stay in Somerville and he says it’s a problem because of the liquor license.” Lafuente suggested that a delegation should be encouraged to undertake discussions with the State House to try and alleviate some of the issues at hand.

In addressing the Board on the matter, Mayor Curtatone said, “It makes no sense, the quota system. I can tell you, this was a long fought negotiation and we’ll take what we can get now and move forward, but who here will doubt that these [licenses] will be exhausted immediately?” The mayor further noted that restaurant owners were reluctant to do business in the city due to the uncertainty in the licensing process, as well as the costs associated with such licensing. “We have a model here that we have established with the Board of Aldermen and our Commission that’s being looked upon as a best practice. We made a conscious effort to break this false marketplace that if you’re a person that wants to invest in a small business, a restaurant, you have shell out what could be over $100,000 for a liquor license. At least now you have a nominal fee under the new system that, even though the licenses come back, you don’t have to pay that much, so you can hit the ground running. If those small independently owned restaurants had to put up that kind of cash we wouldn’t have that really eclectic mix and dynamic that we have in Somerville right now.”

“It’s a regulatory issue going back to the days of Prohibition,” Curtatone added. “To protect ourselves, so we wouldn’t drink ourselves under the table.”

Additionally, the mayor also pointed out that there are neighboring cities that are uncapped. “It’s a competition issue also.”

The Board voted unanimously to approve the Home Rule Petition, sending it on to the state legislature for further action.


37 Responses to “Unlimited liquor licenses nixed”

  1. Ray Spitzer says:

    I am glad that MA made that decision. Less alcohol around = fewer alcoholics and obnoxious drunks on the streets. Pretty basic math.

  2. Ron Newman says:

    I’m not glad. Each city should be able to make this decision on its own. There is no reason for the state to be involved in such local issues.

  3. CityShouldDecide says:

    I agree with Ron.

    @Ray: I understand your concern about alcoholics but I don’t think the number of restaurants that serve alcohol directly reflect the number of alcoholics. The simple math that we as a city need to be concerned about is that fewer liqor licenses mean fewer businesses setting up Somerville. Many restaurants have a hard time turning a profit without alcohol sales. I wish it weren’t true (I don’t drink), but it is.

  4. Meme says:

    @ Ray. Sorry I missed the part where there is now less alcohol available. Someone that wanted a drink before will not be able to find a place to get it with this law?

    I’m not glad. Each individual should be able to make this decision on its own. There is no reason for the state to be involved in such personal issues.

  5. Ray Spitzer says:

    “Many restaurants have a hard time turning a profit without alcohol sales.”

    Then they can make better food and charge more for it. Easy solution there. I applaud MA for the decision! Less alcohol = better Somerville!

  6. j. connelly says:

    Its all about greed. The liquor industry, bars, restaurants, do not want to be accountable when a drunk driver kills someone but they all want to reap the profits. A cheese pizza costs less than two dollars to make and a customer will pay 8, 10, 14, dollars for that pizza. That is not a bad profit for the bar/restaurant.

  7. SomePeopleJustHateEverything says:

    @Ray: From what I have heard, even the high end places that charge a lot for food make most of their money on alcohol. Better food often means more highly trained (and expensive) staff.

    I agree with Meme. Many drugs are illegal, and I still see many drug addicts in Somerville.

  8. tod says:

    I am glad the state stopped this administration from continuing to promote high-end restaurants/bars while we are lacking other types of establishments. Yes, they do make most of their money on alcohol, but the number of patrons are finite. You simply cannot have a glut of restaurants/bars without eventually losing money because you don’t have enough patrons. Some day maybe he’ll make plans to bring office/industrial uses to the city to help offset property taxes.

  9. Ray Spitzer says:

    All these arguments that bars and restaurants NEED liquor to stay afloat are pure and unsubstantiated garbage. It was the same stupid argument used when there was the smoking ban, really. Yes, the bad ones may need that. I would say that those who need liquor to stay in business are the ones we do not need around. The creative ones know how to attract customers and make a decent profit without needing stinking liquors: create a nice atmosphere where many people want to go, create appealing menus, make the place interesting in other ways, and so on.

  10. j. connelly says:

    Yes “Ray” the “arguments that bars and restaurants NEED liquor to stay afloat are pure and unsubstantiated garbage”.. you are correct. I would like to see REAL important facts…like how many people in the past 10 years were arrested (whether walking or driving) for being drunk. How many police response trouble calls were made to drinking establishments in the same period, etc. The numbers would probably show a reason to decrease liquor licenses.

    I knew one person who had an excellent reputation and could not get a license at that time…reason, he was told a bar in the area had the connections at city hall and did not want competition. He did eventually get the liquor license as the bar with “connections” got shut down for not paying taxes.

    So in this city of 4 miles, it roughly = 20 liquor establishments per mile which comes to one liquor license every 264 feet.

  11. CityShouldDecide says:

    Whether or not restaurants need liquor to make a profit, the city should be able to decide.

    @tod: I agree that there are a finite number, but let the market decide what that needed number of restaurants are…. not some government policy.

  12. Ray Spitzer says:

    “but let the market decide”

    Bulls**t. The market only functions when there is total transparency. There is no transparency, currently, as Connelly pointed out. The process is driven by short-term gains at the expense of public safety. MA did the right thing because the city is unable to.

  13. A Moore says:

    Personally I do not drink but I think a lot of people would like to have something with their meals. I think they should all be able to serve whatever goes with the meal. I am not talking bar restaurant place. Just the same as if someone had say a coke with their meal. I think the thing is way over government controlled anyway. But certainly someone wanting some red wine with their pasta should not be a big deal unless they let them consume gallons of it at the table. Somebody wants a beer with their pizza they go to the place that has beer. Probably never happen anyway. Maybe some kind of meal license?

  14. Ron Newman says:

    Eliminating all state control over liquor licenses, and letting each city and town democratically decide its own policy, would go a long way towards ‘total transparency’. Why does the state need to regulate this at all? Abolish the state ABCC entirely and leave this to each municipality to regulate if they want to.

  15. Zac Zasloff says:

    Mr. Newman, since when does local corruption count as “transparency”? Obviously, you are the kind of person who needs plenty of booze around for some reason (dunno, drunk chicks don’t see how ugly you are and are easier to approach? You tell us…).

  16. j. connelly says:

    No “Ron” ..past history…there’d be no “tranparency” as this is the “All America City” The Envelope puh…le.e.e.e.z.

  17. MarketAndTransparency says:

    @Ray: yes, if you get rid of government in the process, you would get more transparency. I don’t understand the rest of your argument. If you make it harder to get a liquor license, you incentivize the kind of activity that you are alluding to. It becomes so hard to get a license, that people need to do shady backroom deals or have lots of money to get a license. I don’t know if that happens now, but I can see that more restrictions put those in power in a position to abuse their power. If reduce the restrictions, those in power have less leverage and cannot use corrupt tactics to personally benefit from the process.

    Also, the market comment was in response to the finite amount of demand.

    @Connelly: I agree that there’s not enough transparancy in the city, but is there at the state level?? The more levels of government you have to jump through, the less transparent the whole process becomes.

    I do not drink AT ALL and I don’t like drunks, but I don’t think these laws helps to address the problems people are concerned with but it does choke economic activity in the city that we desparately need.

  18. Ray Spitzer says:

    It only chokes economic activity we do NOT need, actually. And that is good. If the Mayor was more than a jock with a tie, he would be able to think creatively about this all business and find ways to attract business which are actually good for the city (besides paying some taxes).

  19. Ron Newman says:

    Restaurants are good for the city!

  20. Ray Spitzer says:

    Only if they are good.

  21. Al Capone says:

    Im with you Ray, don’t feel alone. Apparently none of these people were in the Ville before the 90’s, when the city fought to limit liquor licenses. But of course those rules were meant for a different class of people, not the nice pretty folk we have today who can handle their liquor better … Not.
    Assebley Square is slated for ten liquor licenses. TEN?!?! Where are they going to fit all these bars and restaurants? Like someone else said, they we couldn’t sustain that much competition. And you know whatever resturants go in there will be chains that don’t need liquor to stay afloat. Why don’t we give five licenses to Assembly and use the other five elsewhere? everyone is happy and you’re within the quota.

  22. MarketAndTransparency says:

    Capone: There you go. You are making my argument. I agree why do we have ten for assembly? Why not distribute it better? Well, what’s better? I say let demand dictacte. If there is only enough demand for 5 licenses in assembly, then fine. If there is demand for 15, then why are we limiting businesses? Likewise, why have more than needed in one area when another is in need of more? You can make the same arguments at city-by-city level. Cambridge has plenty, whereas Somerville wants more.

    Yes, you are right. I wasn’t here before the 90s. I don’t know what happened then. I don’t understand why you want the government to control the liquor licenses. Natural demand will control that. After all, why not go back to prohibition era if you are so against alcohol? The complete ban really did a great job at eliminating alcoholics, no? It was also great for increasing transparancy and reducing crime!

  23. MarketAndTransparency says:

    @Ray: There are plenty of bad restaurants everywhere. I don’t care. If there are enough customers to keep them in business, I’m fine with that. I’m actually more than fine with that. In my opinion, the problem is not the restaurants but the customers: they are the ones with the bad taste. If the customers had better taste, those restaurants would improve or go out of business.

  24. Al Capone says:

    Market man, the way the city was before the 90’s is the reason I don’t want unlimited liquor licenses. It’s also the reason Somerville and the theatre district in Boston, formerly known as the Combat Zone, limited the number of porno shops and strip clubs. There is a limit to these things because there IS a demand. If there was no limit, everything in this city would be a bar, and fastly become an undesirable place to live. And it wouldn’t matter how we feel about it because Medford and Arlington don’t allow alcohol at all, as is their right. Supply and demand is important, but it doesn’t take precedent over the desires of a community. Of course, if you can prove a majority of the city wants this, feel free to change it, and we can go through the same cycle over the next 20 years.

  25. Ron Newman says:

    Arlington is not dry anymore, and hasn’t been for some years now. Changing this law resulted in many new restaurants opening there.

  26. Winter Hill Barney says:

    Medford doesn’t allow alcohol? Since when?

  27. MarketMan says:

    Capone: thanks for my nickname. I like that! :-)

    You are right that it is the right of the towns to ban alcohol. But in the same way, the town should have the right to control how many alcohol licenses. Somerville doesn’t have that control.

    Ron is right. Arlington is not dry anymore and that change is one of the reasons they are doing so well economically. Also, I think Arlington’s “desirability” has increased since the time when it was dry. I don’t think it was causal, but alcohol doesn’t seem to make it less desirable.

    Belmont, which is considered to be “desirable place” to live by many, is actually concerned by their finances and are looking to Arlington as one example of a town that turned things around. And Arlington’s lifting of the alcohol ban is one item that is getting attention. Of course there are many in Belmont with the same concern as you: more alcohol availability will make the town less desirable. I don’t think so. Maybe it’s the type of establishments. Perhaps if it’s just an increase in bars, it will be undesirable by some. But an increase in restaurants? I can’t see how.

  28. Ray Spitzer says:

    “I don’t think so.” Wow, that is the kind of evidence-based arguments we need. Thank you, MarketMan!

  29. j. connelly says:

    A. The desirability {Arlington/Belmont} is by the “gentrification $$$ people” not the middle class average working joe.

    B. The large [Arlington] development at the old Symmes Hospital site took the town for a “ride” and may be adding a hefty tax hike down the line.

    C. Look at the “history” of police calls for “alcohol problems” and it mandates why there should be less licenses in Somerville.

    D. The “alcohol establishment” that the city just had in the newspapers for recent problem just had a fight out front on a weekday afternoon last week.

    Like I said in a recent post, Somerville, 4 square miles with the present liquor licenses, has one liquor establishment every 264 feet…thats more than enough now.

    Alcoholism/drugs will only be controlled when they implement a 3 strike program for offenders and lock them up long time as historically these 30-90 day rehab programs don’t work.

    Just check the police log for all the “fraudulent frequent flyers*” EMS (repeat calls same problem/person) drugs/alcohol. One guy did it several times on the same day…meanwhile a legitimate heart attack victim is waiting for an ambulance to come from a further distance/city.

    The city did have a police chief who went after these ” *fff ” and locked them up for being a public nuisance.

  30. MarketMan says:

    @Ray: When I said “I don’t think so”… that was not meant to be a supportive argument. That was meant to state an opinion of what *I* think.

  31. MarketMan says:

    @connelly: To your points…

    A. I put desirability in quotes, because that means different things to different people. Are you telling me that the average working Joe wouldn’t find Belmont or Arlington desirable? I bet many would.

    C. Are you saying that the people of Somerville need government controls?? Then you are saying something about the people not policy or process.

    FYI: Locking up addicts doesn’t work either. There are drugs in prison. I don’t have a solution to the drug problem, but I do agree with you that controlling the demand should be the focus. That’s part of my argument.

  32. j. connelly says:

    A. Yes they would but most could not afford it. I did not hear of anyone from Somerville running to buy Romney’s Belmont house when it was up for sale.

    C. No. the abundance of existing licenses and “history” of problems is a justifiable reason enough not to add on anymore licenses.

    I’ve worked at locations with these drug/alcohol programs, the vendor/owners drove in with their Mercedes/Lexus, every month or so to look around. Then left…..
    Meanwhile the staff kept the records of the clients discharged close by as within the next 30-45 days they knew the client would return…It is just a big revolving door.

    There are some who commit crimes and then get themselves into these programs to hide from the law as Federal guidelines do not allow any info from the programs to be given out. Yet ironic that there is no problem using taxpayer dollars to run these same programs.

    Prisons! The Governor & Atty General need to go after those who work in the system and are not doing their job to keep the drugs out.

    Thus in addition to repairing roads there is a lot of other things in serious need of repair too.

  33. villenous says:

    Love to hear the rationale for why Cambridge gets unlimited licenses and Somerville doesn’t. I’d like to see the city challenge this one in the courts.

    I’m also curious which members of the Somerville delegation fought for or against this petition.

  34. j. connelly says:

    A. Cambridge is much larger than Somerville.
    B. Cambridge get their Universities to give $8 million ea /per year in lieu of taxes. Somerville does not.
    C. In “These Tight Fiscal Times” the city cannot afford these type of lawsuits…let the places that want it pay the legal fees, a lot of the owners do not even reside in the city and you want to foot the bill???

  35. Ron Newman says:

    Cambridge isn’t that much bigger that Somerville, especially if you subtract out large unpopulated open spaces like Fresh Pond Reservoir, Cambridge Cemetery, and Danehy Park that really don’t have any equivalents in Somerville.

  36. Harry says:

    State should keep out of it.

    Also, most drunks I know don’t sit around in bars and restaurants – it gets expensive – they just hang around their kitchen table or living room getting sauced. So, I don’t see adding more liquor licenses as increasing the number of booze hounds by all that much.

    Bring on more gin joints if only to somehow increase “revenue” to cut our property taxes as the nitwits running things have no chance of reducing expenses. The corruption machine (unions/old-boy-network/etc) needs to be fed. Constantly and ever increasingly.

  37. j. connelly says:

    Well Harry evidently you know the who’s…who, upper echelon of those who heavily imbibe.

    See Harry they are “SOME” bars that only kick them out when the “imbibers” start making noise…then there are the “SOME” bars that let them run a “TAB” and when they are sloshed, wasted, imbibed, etc. Drinks for others are on their tab too….

    Then when the “imbiber” gets fired from their job for procuring funds to pay off “SOME” those “TABS” that the “imbibers” patronize. Thus the “TAB” funding dries out and those ‘salt of the earth’ owners then ban the “imbibers” as those bars have no assistance program for those former patrons whose prior funding helped the owner pay for that vacation home. See Harry, over the years I have heard the stories, only the names have changed.

    One guy stayed in a live in alcohol rehab program for over 20 years…a newbie arrived and talked him into “escaping” from the program….2 weeks later both were found dead in a park from alcohol poisoning.

    Whether it be drugs or alcohol….there is NO QUICK FIX.

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