The social control of alcohol is one of the eternal sites of contention in our City’s gentrification forever war. Zillionaires conspire with the City to shut down bars that attract people of color in Hollywood at the same time as they’re conspiring with the LAPD to overlook CUP violations by white-oriented bars.
Council offices intervene with the ABC on behalf of hipster-friendly alcohol-soaked events while supporting business improvement districts that arrest thousands of homeless people for drinking beer on the sidewalk, often right next to happy hipsters swilling $20 craft cocktails, also on the sidewalk but immunized against arrest by nothing more than a velvet rope.
This idea, this fundamental tenet of the zillionaire elite, that poor people, that people of color, can’t be trusted with access to alcohol but that young white hipsters and techbros on whom the zillies rely to buy flipped houses and small lot subdivision units, to fill their luxury apartments, to patronize the painfully edgy establishments that attract more and more of their kind, not only can be trusted with alcohol, but virtually thrive on it, is an important component in the gentrification toolkit.
The truth, of course, is not that they don’t cause trouble when drinking, but that the trouble they cause isn’t perceived as such. The alcohol/gentrification cocktail is an issue across the City, even the country, e.g. from Westlake to Boyle Heights all the way to Brooklyn, where an overconcentration of bars in general, and of specifically gentrification-themed bars in particular, are easily understood to be part of the zillionaire recolonization agenda.
And as the Los Angeles Times famously observed of Highland Park in 2014, “[i]n the endless debate over gentrification in Los Angeles, [it’s] ground zero,” so it’s not surprising to find the same disputes, the same tensions reproduced there. According to KPCC Highland Park comprises four square miles and had, in 2016, 60 liquor licenses, 20 of which were issued between 2013 and 2016. And this is an abnormally high number. There are pretty many more licenses in Highland Park than are allowed by standard measures used by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
That doesn’t mean that they won’t issue new licenses, though. It just means that new licenses are subject to a more rigorous vetting process, which must include a showing that there are good reasons for the overconcentration, that the new license will “serve a public convenience and necessity,” and that it won’t contribute to or create new alcohol-related problems in the area. This is all laid out in Chapter 6, Article 1 of the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Act.
In order to begin to understand how this process plays out in Highland Park, I recently obtained detailed application information for six of these new licenses, at Cafe Birdie, Kitchen Mouse, The Lodge Room, The Greyhound, The Gold Line Bar, and Highland Park Bowl. And it turns out that, in an astonishing display of circular reasoning, the fact that the area is gentrifying is in itself evidence that additional licenses granted to gentrification bars are both desirable and necessary.
The applicants don’t call the process gentrification, by the way. They call it revitalization, which term, in a stunning act of passive erasure, assumes that Highland Park wasn’t plenty vital before they showed up. Turn the page for links to and transcribed selections from some of the applicants’ arguments.
• Cafe Birdie representative letter
The applicant, Cafe Birdie, LLC is requesting a full line for their restaurant to serve the public convenience and necessity. In recent years Highland Park has experienced revitalization with the addition of new establishments such as The Greyhound, Highland Park Bowl, ETA and Civil Coffee, as well as upcoming additions, such as the applicant’s new restaurant, along with a concept from RBTA, LLC, helmed by the operators of Sticky Rice at Grand Central Market in Downtown.
As I said above, it was vital before any of these establishments showed up. It was just the wrong color of vital. And now that the new places with new liquor licenses are there, their very existence serves as a reason for granting even more licenses.
In areas where the neighborhood is being revitalized, new establishments that serve future residents, as well as customers and employees of new retail that gets brought in are a necessity. Cafe Birdie will be another addition to an area of Highland Park that is being revitalized. Old vacant street level units are being turned into restaurants, bars, coffee shops among other uses. The close proximity to the Highland Park Metro Gold Line Station also provides access to this community and opens up opportunities for the community to benefit from new conveniences.
Maybe these new licensees really are filling vacant storefronts, but they’re also filling storefronts unwillingly vacated by businesses forced out by landlords hungry for the orders-of-magnitude higher rents that the new businesses will pay. As I said, it’s not so much revitalization as a forcible substitution of one kind of vitality for another with very little input from the people who created the vitality that’s being overwritten.
There are currently three on-sale licenses in the census tract that the applicants are applying for a license in. There is a single Type 41 and two Type 47 licenses. ABC allowances are based on the population of a census tract, and for this particular tract, the allowance is three. While this particular census tract is at the threshold, and any additional license would be considered over-concentration, it should be noted that in the city of Los Angeles, it is not common that the amount of licenses within a census tract falls at the allowed limits. High traffic and commercial areas typically attract more people to the area than just the resident population, and with this in mind, ABC typically will issue licenses in over concentrated areas to serve a public convenience and necessity.
No more licenses are allowed in this area under ordinary circumstances but no one follows that rule and anyway, there are so many people coming here to drink that we need more bars. As if the very point of limiting the number of licenses in an area weren’t to prevent this very outcome.
With all of the above information taken into consideration, it can be reasonably assured that the approval of the Type 47 license will serve the public convenience and necessity.
It’s a done deal already, ABC. Might as well sign the damn paper. On to the Lodge Room!
• Lodge Room representative letter — Let’s just cut to the chase:
Although the 1838.10 census tract is currently over-concentrated, ABC typically will take into account when an application is located in a high traffic area that serves a population greater than just the nearby residents. The subject location is off of Figueroa Blvd. in the Highland Park neighborhood. This stretch of Figueroa has experienced a resurgence in recent years with the opening of several establishments that are activating previously vacant spaces and bringing a new life into the neighborhood for residents and visitors alike. In cases like this, ABC will allow licenses to be issued, as the issuance would serve the public convenience and necessity.
And the rest of the letters, all of which were actually written by the same guy, Henry Truong, who wrote this one, aren’t so explicit but the mood is definitely there. Below are links if you want to read them. The point, as always, is when the rich, the white, the powerful want something they get it. It doesn’t matter if their arguments make sense, if they even address what the law requires they address. They’re going to get what they ask for merely because they asked for it. And the people who live there, but kind of don’t really live there anymore whether they know it or not, don’t really get a say in the matter.
Image of the circle-talking hipster is ©2019 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and mutated organically from this source.