In the wake of the recent shootings in Morningside and Piedmont Heights, many residents have reached out to ask what I am doing to address businesses that seem to attract crime to the area, so I wanted to provide an update on what has been done over the past few months and what else is being done.
A key focus of mine has been on ensuring establishments that have a liquor license from the City of Atlanta to sell on premise alcohol are complying with the law. Alcohol licenses are granted for a one-year period, and can be suspended or denied if the business fails to comply with the alcohol code. Working with APD and NPU-F's Licensing chair, I introduced legislation last fall to identify establishments that are nightclubs masquerading as restaurants. Nightclubs that cannot meet the distance requirements from residential properties, or have insufficient parking, have often in the past been able to get a restaurant liquor license (which requires 50% of revenues be from food sales), but then operate as a nightclub, and the City never verified their operations. Under this legislation, the City will begin auditing "restaurants" where there is a suspicion that they are actually nightclubs, and they could lose their license if they fail to meet the requirements.
In May of this year, working with the Zone 2 APD commander, I sponsored a companion piece of legislation that will require every establishment with a liquor license to have it posted and for the license to indicate whether they are a restaurant or nightclub and their permitted hours of operation (this seems obvious, right?). Without this legislation, beat officers responding to an establishment did not have an easy way to know whether an establishment was allowed to be open at certain hours. They would have to rely on a license and permitting officer to respond, which isn't always possible on short notice. This will be a tool for APD to broaden who can write tickets for alcohol code violations.
I also supported a piece of legislation in February 2021 that increased the penalties for violations of the alcohol code and authorizes revoking a license on the first offense. I supported another piece of legislation in May 2021 that added a violation of the City's "violent crime nuisance ordinance" to be a reason to deny, suspend, or revoke an alcohol license. Both of these new laws will make it easier to crack down on businesses that are violating the law.
City Council also asked our independent audit office to do a performance audit of Liquor Licensing and Enforcement. This audit found many shortcomings, and we are working through additional changes that need to be made. One of those was a need for additional staffing in this unit, and in the FY2022 budget, which begins tomorrow, City Council increased the funding to APD, specifically with regard to the license and permitting unit to ensure that we have additional sworn and civilian investigators and staff to investigate establishments, review applications and complaints, and prepare cases for the License Review Board.
The work on revising the alcohol code continues. City Council passed legislation to do a thorough review, and established a task force to do so. I am one of two council members who will serve on the Atlanta Technical Advisory Group (ATAG) III. We are very fortunate that we have strong representation from our neighborhoods as well, with two members of the NPU-F Board, the Chair of the NPU-B board, and the chair of the Midtown Neighbors Association volunteering their time to serve as well. When ATAG III begins its public meetings, I will publish the dates.
In addition to this City-led task force, a group of committed citizens have formed Community Leaders for Enforcement, Accountability, and Responsibility in Alcohol Licensing (CLEAR) to work with the restaurant and entertainment industry on ensuring these establishments are good neighbors. Finally, Midtown Alliance, Central Atlanta Progress, and the Buckhead CID have all weighed in on finding solutions to these issues.
As far as enforcement under the existing laws, I am in continual communication with the NPU-F licensing chair, APD, the City Planning Department, and the Law Department on "problem businesses." Thanks to everyone's hard work, we have had some successes over the past year of having businesses sanctioned, shutting down illegal businesses, and having LRB recommend denial of a new liquor license on Cheshire Bridge. The City continues to be in litigation with Tokyo Valentino, and I can provide an update on that after we receive the next court ruling.
The best way to keep up with all of these actions is to attend the NPU meetings (NPU-F, NPU-E, NPU-B), or subscribe to their emails, and follow the LRB agendas, which can be found here.
For establishments with liquor licenses and those without one, the City can also bring a nuisance action against the business. The Mayor's office has put together a multi-agency working group to identify nuisance properties and to begin to bring actions against them. I have shared the names of several District 6 properties to be included.
There is clearly more work to be done on enforcing our code and making revisions where necessary to find the right balance of supporting entertainment and good business with the safety and quality of life for neighboring residents. The pendulum had swung too far in allowing businesses to operate that have brought gun violence and crime close to our homes, but I want to ensure you that I am committed to making sure that our neighborhoods are safe and that business that operate here comply with the law and are doing their part to be good corporate citizens and support the neighborhoods in which they are located.