California Assembly Rejects Extension of ‘Last Call’ Hours for Alcohol Sales

Bill Would Have Let 10 Cities Test Possible Boost for Night Life, Real Estate Demand

SEPTEMBER 16, 2019|LOU HIRSH (via CoStar Group)

Some business leaders in California cities like Fresno were hoping to inject more night life into emerging downtown districts by testing out extended alcohol sales. (Downtown Fresno Partnership)
Some business leaders in California cities like Fresno were hoping to inject more night life into emerging downtown districts by testing out extended alcohol sales. (Downtown Fresno Partnership)

The California Assembly has rejected a “last call” bill that would have allowed 10 cities to try out extending alcohol sales past the current 2 a.m. state limit. Proponents and some cities had hoped could spur new night-life-related development in urban-core areas.

The state Assembly last week defeated Senate Bill 58 by a vote of 34-29, with 15 members not casting any vote. The bill’s author, Sen. Scott Wiener, D- San Francisco, had sought to let cities conduct a five-year pilot program. This would test extended hours for commercial alcohol sales beyond the state-mandated 2 a.m. closing time. This has been in place since 1913.

Wiener had originally sought to let cities choose a “last call” time as late as 4 a.m. if they wished. The Assembly had recently amended the bill to make 3 a.m. as the latest possible time for last orders. The measure was still unable to overcome heavy opposition from social advocacy groups. They are concerned about crime and related policing costs of extending legal drinking hours. The Los Angeles City Council also voted recently to oppose the measure.

The bill was supported by other government officials along with downtown development districts, chambers of commerce, tourism agencies and other business groups in the cities that would have been in the pilot program. The program, which would have run from 2022 to 2027, would have included San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Fresno, Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Long Beach, Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Coachella.

“We’re disappointed that it was defeated in this way,” Victor Ruiz-Cornejo, spokesman for Wiener’s office, told CoStar News. “We’re disappointed that California could not change a last call rule that’s been in place for over 100 years.”

Ruiz-Cornejo said the intent of the latest measure was to give cities discretion to set their own last-call hours. Establishments could choose how to balance the benefits and costs of keeping bars and restaurants open later, rather than have one blanket rule apply to cities of all sizes.

Versions of the same legislation had been put forward by Wiener on two previous occasions. One that was approved last year by the legislature was ultimately vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. He cited concerns about “mayhem” being produced by added drinking hours.

Business district officials in Fresno and Los Angeles previously told CoStar News that later alcohol sales could be regulated by local governments. This would still allow California cities to compete with others that have later “last call” hours, such as New York City and Chicago.

Like Wiener, business leaders backing the bill said extended alcohol hours could give some cities and smaller communities a chance to obtain new jobs and other economic benefits impacting small businesses. It would bring more tourism and night life to selected neighborhoods. More commercial energy, they said, could translate into higher demand for real estate geared toward bars, restaurants and other businesses serving those added visitors and their extended spending.

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