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Wiener tries again to extend sales for alcohol

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced this week that he'll re-introduce legislation that would allow alcohol to be sold as late as 4 a.m.

Wiener's new bill, which he plans to introduce when the Legislature reconvenes in January, could help bars, nightclubs, and restaurants in San Francisco and five other cities.

Flanked by local drag queens and bar owners Heklina and Honey Mahogany at the SF Eagle Tuesday, Wiener said, "Nightlife is incredibly important in California."

He said that in San Francisco, it's a $6 billion industry that employs more than 60,000 people. Despite that value, businesses are held to a 1935 law that says sales have to stop at 2 a.m. Wiener and other backers said that that restriction hurts business.

Wiener is calling the bill the Let Our Communities Adjust Late-Night (LOCAL) Act. It would be a five-year pilot program that Wiener and others say could help boost the economies of San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and West Hollywood, whose mayors have expressed interest in the proposal. Liquor stores would be excluded from the bill.

An earlier version, by Wiener and Senator Joel Anderson (R-Alpine), passed the Senate but stalled in the Assembly. (Wiener's office said it had been "stripped of all its provisions and rendered meaningless.")

The version that Wiener plans to introduce in January carries the same provisions of what he'd previously proposed, except only the six cities where mayors have expressed support would be eligible.

Wiener said Tuesday that the bill wouldn't require alcohol to be sold after 2, and cities could choose to extend hours in different ways, such as just allowing later sales in a couple of neighborhoods or only on certain nights.

The bill would allow for "pure local control," he said. "Every city will decide what makes sense for it."

Mark Leno, the gay former state lawmaker who's running in 2019 to be San Francisco's next mayor, had introduced bills similar to Wiener's when he was in the Legislature.

"I am confident this bill will be the vehicle, because this is an idea whose time has come," said Leno of Wiener's bill Tuesday.

Leno contradicted concerns that extending hours for alcohol sales would lead to more drunk driving. He said problems actually occur "when everyone is exiting the bar at about the same time" and trying to get "those last few chugs down" before 2 a.m.

Heklina, who co-owns the Oasis nightclub, said she's been working for more than 20 years to boost San Francisco's nightlife, and she called the current law "an embarrassment" and "draconian."

Like others Tuesday, Heklina pointed to tourists being surprised when they find they can't buy liquor after 2.

"San Francisco is a world class city, and I think we need to adopt new thinking around this law," said Heklina, whose given name is Stefan Grygelko.

Honey Mahogany, who co-owns the Stud bar and is also known as Alpha Mulugeta, said Wiener's bill would be "a really amazing way to keep small businesses open."

Before extending hours, cities would have to go through a public process that would include developing public safety and transportation plans. The state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control would also have to approve cities' plans.

Wiener's bill is co-authored by Democratic Assemblymen Miguel Santiago and Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), and Assemblyman Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia).

In Wiener's news release, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee called the bill "a thoughtful measure that will allow a handful of cities to extend beverage service hours, providing local economies the chance to expand tourism offerings, increase tax revenue, and foster an active, vibrant nightlife."

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