Is Ocean Beach and its ever-expanding bar scene becoming the new Pacific Beach ?
The question weighed on residents' minds as they waited to find out if the soon-to-open fourth location of Dirty Birds Bar and Grill (Cable Street and Santa Monica Avenue), would be granted a liquor license.
The debate was the focus of the OB Planning Association (OBPA) meeting Feb. 6 at the Rec Center, for which approximately half of those present came to participate in. With such a saturation of alcohol-serving establishments already operating in OB, residents argued their town is becoming just another beach community to get drunk and rowdy in.
OBPA chair Andrea Schlageter pointed out that for this census tract, there are currently six off-site liquor licenses where the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control ( ABC ) has only authorized two; 31 on-site permits where ABC has authorized four; and seven manufacturing licenses. All totaled, OB is 120 percent over saturation level, Schlageter said.
Dirty Bird founder and co-owner Jonathan Ollis, and his partners and investors Shawnn Silverman, Noli Zosa and Adam Jacoby, came forward to make their case. They told those assembled that they opened their first location in Pacific Beach about 11 years ago and since then, have had "zero violations" at each of their restaurants. Though they have the word "bar" in their business name, they maintain their family-friendliness.
"We are a food establishment. We have a kids' menu, we have kiddie cups, we are not another bar," Silverman insisted. They said two-thirds of their sales are food, one-third alcohol, and 10 percent of that is liquor. Zosa said the liquor license is needed because the profit margin from food is slim.
Furthermore, they reported, Dirty Birds' hours of operation depend on the location and community feedback. In PB, the restaurant stays open until midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends because it's a college town. But at Liberty Station in Point Loma, they close at 11 p.m. "We want to deter that late-night party crowd," Silverman explained.
The Dirty Birds reps said they're determined to be "partners in this community," which led one meeting attendee to ask what the restaurant has done for the community so far? The Dirty Birds reps produced a list of their charitable outreaches that included Make-A-Wish Foundation, Action Jackson Foundation, Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Unified School District and more.
Despite their heartfelt speech, debate over the liquor license was passionate. Public comments had a common theme — "We want the restaurant, but the liquor makes us nervous."
Ocean Beach MainStreet Association executive director Denny Knox said OBMA had done its research and found Dirty Birds to be "a pretty good fit for us," and she offered her full support, urging the community to do the same. "I'd love to see a business come in here that really loves the community and will work hard," she said.
Other audience members were not as sold on the idea.
One man said he's lived in OB for the past 40 years and was the first to file a protest against the liquor license application that was accepted by the ABC on June 28, 2018, telling the Dirty Birds reps: "Your attorney should have been aware of the community concerns which were expressed in the protest."
Several planning board members suggested that Dirty Birds acquire a beer-and-wine license rather than a liquor license to address community concerns, but the owners countered that their business has suffered in the past without a liquor option and to apply for a different alcohol license would start the process over again and push back their opening 8 months to a year.
OBPA vice chair Kevin Hastings expressed concern at how far along Dirty Birds had gotten before bringing this issue to the board. "It's now a loaded question," Hastings said. "I would like for the board to be able to deliver (a response) without feeling like we have to accommodate you, your expenses and your investments so far. That's not a factor. You can't make money without the liquor license and that's a sign of a bigger problem. I think we've already lost, if that's the case."
Hastings added that there are many other places without alcohol he could visit to order chicken wings.
"I don't think any one of those places are rated top 10 in the United States," Silverman noted, referencing Dirty Bird's rank as No. 10 Best Wings in America by Yahoo Sports and TheDailyMeal.com
Another meeting attendee argued that rather than denying "respectable businessmen" their liquor license, it would be in the community's best interest to "clean up" the various other locations in OB where people are getting drunk and "getting sick all over the place."
Finally, after more than an hour-long debate, a compromise was reached.
The board voted 9-2 to recommend approval of Dirty Birds' liquor license, contingent on the agreement that alcohol will not be served past 10 p.m.
City parking proposal changes
The other big issue before the board was whether to make a recommendation to District 2 City Council member Jennifer Campbell regarding Mayor Kevin Faulconer's Transit Priority Area Multi-family Parking proposal, which would allow multi-family projects in "transit priority areas" to be built with no on-site parking.
The board approved a motion to send a letter to Campbell rejecting the proposal, but stating that should the proposal be approved, the OBPA recommends it exclude the coastal impact area (this covers west of Sunset Cliffs and other beach areas with a lack of street parking), allow developments that provide parking to be exempt from also having to provide transportation amenities, and explore how leftover money from parking improvement districts can be spent on helping with travel amenities in transit priority areas.
The board's reasoning for this included a statement that "eliminating parking requirements on new residential projects would negatively impact our neighborhood and may violate Coastal Commission policies of ensuring visitor access to our coast" and "removing parking requirements here would not result in increased housing, as builders already build to maximum unit density."
To read the Mayor's full proposal, visit sandiego.gov or OBPB's Facebook page.
— The Ocean Beach Planning Board next meets 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 6 at the OB Rec Center, 4726 Santa Monica Ave. oceanbeachplanning.org