Supervisor David Campos addresses community members at a public meeting on the Mission's liquor license ban

Supervisor David Campos ended a heated discussion of the Mission’s liquor license ban Wednesday by promising community members that they could find a middle ground.

“Co-existence is not an easy thing to do,” Campos said. “The Mission is a very special place and we want this to be a place that works for everyone.”

A discussion over possible changes to the 16-year-old moratorium on new liquor licenses turned into an argument between residents who say they don’t want more alcohol in the neighborhood and business owners who say they need it to compete. Some argued that not allowing businesses to transfer licenses is the key issue with the moratorium.

The Mission Alcoholic Beverage Special Use District was put in place in the mid-1990s, in part because residents were concerned about public drunkenness and crime.

Those concerns still hold true for many residents today.

Since the ban went into effect in 1996, data gathered from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control shows that 156 restaurants have been licensed to sell beer and wine in the neighborhood, 39 restaurants obtained a full liquor license, two new bars have opened and three more stores sell beer and wine.

“The amount of alcohol already exceeds anywhere else,” a man in the audience said. “We still have to live here. You have to think about the residents, not just the businesses.”

“Just last night I had to call the cops,” a woman said, explaining that she had to confront a drunk person on the street. “All I hear here is that you want to make a buck,” she said to business owners at the meeting.

Business owners, on the other hand, said that the moratorium is penalizing responsible establishments.

Yaron Milgrom, owner of Local Mission Eatery and Local’s Corner, said he has been having a difficult time opening a small market on Harrison and 23rd streets.

Supermarkets that are 5,000 square feet or more, such as Fresh & Easy, are exempt from the moratorium, he said. Milgrom’s market is smaller and therefore falls under the ban. One of the owners of Valencia Whole Foods said his store has run into the same issue.

“Why are we supporting this?” he asked. “We need more markets to feed our families, and to offer a full meal is also to offer wine and beer.”

Many business owners argued that transferring licenses should be allowed.

Jaime Maldonado, owner of La Victoria Bakery, wants to offer alcohol. His wife owns a bar in another neighborhood and would like to transfer the license, but the ban makes it difficult.

“We’re trying to move into a new direction. We want a Latino-themed lounge and a coffee bar,” he said.

Elixir would like to expand. Shea Shawson said the owner would like to open a lounge next door but hasn’t been able because of the restrictions.

The moratorium currently doesn’t allow a business with a liquor license to transfer within or into the neighborhood. However, a business owner who opens a “bona fide restaurant” — meaning that 50 percent of the sales are food — is exempt.

Erick Arguello, president of the Lower 24th Street Merchants and Neighbors Association, also wants to allow transfers.

“There’s plenty out there,” he said of the availability of alcohol in the neighborhood. He’s concerned about the number of people who are intoxicated on 24th Street. Organizations that help people with alcohol addiction are packed, he said.

If the law is changed at all, Arguello said, it should be to allow transfers within the district.

Campos agreed: “I don’t believe that we should eliminate [the moratorium],” he said, “but I do believe that there is some middle ground, especially with transfers.”

For some in the audience, the discussion was more about a changing neighborhood than the amount of alcohol available.

“There’s some essence of gentrification that we’re not talking about here,” a man said.

“We don’t want more fancy restaurants and fancy cheese shops. You say you’re serving the community, but what community are you serving here? Not ours.”

“It’s not about whites versus Hispanics,” another man said. “The question is, what can we all do? Maybe it’s about working together a little bit more.”

No future meetings have been scheduled, but Mission Local will post an update if one is announced.

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Hélène Goupil is a former editor at Mission Local who now works independently as a videographer and editor. She's the co-author of "San Francisco: The Unknown City" (Arsenal Pulp Press).

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  1. Mission district residents have every reason to be protective and concerned about the fragile vitality of their mixed-use residential neighborhoods. The progressive faction of the Board of Supervisors, including president David Chiu and David Campos, speak equally on behalf of business interests based primarily in profit from alcohol sales as they do for residents.

    Campos is now carrying the “vodka” for businesses that don’t like Special-Use District limitations on their alcohol-sale profiles. Campos doesn’t like the limitations either and is positioning for a middle ground: alcohol sales will be expanded and residents will have to adjust to it (

    Mission residents aren’t alone in essentially being stalked by radicals supporting alcohol-venue expansion. In the words of Entertainment Commissioner Audrey Joseph, San Francisco ought to be cranking 24/7.

    Former EC president Joseph admitted to me that she lives in a district where no businesses are permitted.

    David Chiu and Campos want your real estate…and they don’t care whether you like it or not.

      1. I think it is more an anti drunk policy. This one trick pony of booze and food is boring. Any other innovative ideas out there?

  2. in the midst of all this arguing about markets, bars, restaurants…whose gonna clean up the vomit that regularly appears on Valencia Street in the early mornings. Those of of us walking to BART, or work have to deal with that… it’s gross and disgusting. It’s one reason that we don’t need more liquor licenses here.

    People get all worked up over those who don’t pick up after their dogs, yet somehow there’s nothing said about the drunks that leave their mess for others to clean up. It’s disgusting and does nothing make those of us who live and work here feel any better about those who want to open businesses that need liquor licenses.

      1. Nah. That’s an old solution that’s resulted in suburban sprawl, which has, in turn resulted in the loss of critical habitat for endangered species, hugely negative impacts on air quality because of more cars on the road traveling longer distances to get to urban centers- all that stuff which intelligent city design and habitability policies seek to address.

        In-fill is better idea. Deliberate density. And to compliment that, changed behaviors in cities should be the goal of Bay Area governments. That includes the impacts of alcohol on neighborhoods.

        The San Francisco Dept.of Public Health is just one city agency among many in the nation that recognizes that noise is a by-product of uncontrolled entertainment/consumer industries like restaurants, bars, nightclubs, etc…and that it constitutes an environmental health hazard. And that it needs to be scrutinized (what are the sources of noise?)and discouraged.

        We don’t need to encourage people to leave cities. Nope. We need to enact city policies that work to make neighborhood environments livable.

        This means low-cost housing, transit-oriented housing developments,pedestrian and bike-friendly streets and publicly endorsed and municipality enforced periods of calm and quiet.

        No one should have to pay more money to get the rest they need from a party that never ends. Advising people to spend more money to gain a supposedly scarce resource like “quiet” in a sense gentrifies quiet. It puts serenity and rest only within reach of those who can afford it.

        It’s only unimaginative people like your self who want cities to maintain their old identities as 24/7 bacchanals and use out-dated terms like “nimby”. Most of us live in the city because we can afford to do so.

        Seeking common-sense solutions and policies to control noise and other behaviors that flow from unchecked and unexamined consumerist entertainment culture is the least we can do to protect the environment, both within the city and without.

        1. There are MANY other parts of San Francisco for those seeking more “calm and quiet”. People from everywhere are attracted to the Mission’s vitality and come here to dine and socialize. This fact provides enormous economic benefits by generating jobs for locals and revenue for a city struggling with deficits.

          1. That’s a rote response, Adam. It’s like you flipped open a Sunset magazine and cut-n-pasted a paragraph from their write-up of the Mission.

            Quiet neighborhoods in the Mission, huh? Where are they and how much? This is a trick question: I know- since I’ve lived here for 22 years- where the quiet neighborhoods are. They’re more expensive. And these days, they’re getting absorbed into Noe Valley.

            But that’s beside the point. People don’t need to move to accommodate commercial interests. I have an apartment I can afford. Why would I? It isn’t in my financial best interests.

            “People from everywhere who are attracted to the Mission’s vitality” are not likely to be turned off from coming into the Mission simply because of heated discussion in the comments section of newspapers,or community meetings OR by a ban on alcohol that’s currently in place.

            Look what we got now with the ban. And with this discussion. Lots of out or towners. Lot’s of other city residents. Lot’s of you term “vitality” and lots of what I and others see as detrimental to the livability of the neighborhood. It’s in the eye of the beholder, you know?

            Except the noise part. Go ahead and argue that uncontrolled noise is a health benefit. Go find the study that shows that. I’ll be waiting.

            To reflexively say that Mission residents who are organizing to get the response they need from city officials is anti-business(which is essentially your plaint) is a non-starter for an argument. It isn’t my job to support businesses. And it overlooks and diminishes the dual nature of the Mission and by extension the city: it’s both residential and commercial. Which one gets favored?

          2. Please don’t say that it’s not your job to support business. Business tax revenue is second only to property tax revenue (which businesses also pay) as a source of city funding. This is completely unrelated to any discussion of liquor laws, a point on which we don’t have to agree. But we must have successful businesses for the city to continue to provide services.

    1. Look at the alcohol bases problems in Walnut Creek. It got so bad the hours of allowed alcohol sales were scaled back. Last I checked Walnut Creek which is the suburbs couldn’t control the problem.

      Living in the City doesn’t mean it has to be the way you envision it.

  3. “The Mission Alcoholic Beverage Special Use District was put in place in the mid-1990s, in part because residents were concerned about public drunkenness and crime.

    “Those concerns still hold true for many residents today.”

    In other words, our solution was a complete failure by every measure, so let’s keep it up!

    1. This is not true.
      There have been dramatic improvements to the Mission with respect to the amount of public drunkeness and debauchery.
      It’s still a problem but there was a much bigger problem in 70’s/80’s.

      1. As someone who works on Capp St, can I ask what the hell you’re smoking? I step over broken liquor bottles every day, needles, passed out crack heads… and you’re telling me the problem is upscale restaurants serving liquor?


      2. Sure…Capp st does have a problem near Sixteenth. Does that mean that all of the people who should know better get a pass . They are a large part of the problem.

    2. Wrong….there are more drunks than ever. At least the previous generation of drunks passed out somewhere and didn’t run around yelling….I’m wasted”

      1. Do these community based types live above the bars? We all know these community based types live far from here and would not tolerate this nonsense in their neighborhoods.

  4. Prohibition didn’t, and doesn’t, work.

    Don’t understand the argument that somehow Hispanic vs White has anything to do with Alcohol vs No Alcohol.

    1. No one is talking about prohibition. We’;re talking about keeping a ban in place, which, should our perspective prevail, will not affect the functioning of hundreds of alcohol-dispensing restaurants and bars and corner markets.They will still be in business.

      It’s funny how freaked out people get when they think their alcohol is going to be taken away from them.

    1. Typical NIMBY attitude. Lots of people in the neighborhood want additional flexibility and more services, including the ability of small markets to succeed and yes, bars where appropriate.

    2. I live here and I love Elixir – which has been here since 1860-something btw. Bars, markets, restaurants, cafes improve the neighborhood. What would you have instead? Auto repair shops and deserted store fronts? Bar and restaurant patrons, even the drunk ones, create the foot traffic that keeps me safer when I walk home at night.

      1. The race comments are probably there because the ban was created when the drunks were mainly Hispanic. Now that more of the drunks are not Hispanic the ban somehow needs to be modified. The person who commented on empty storefronts is off base. Those businesses are closed because the old places could not afford the rents. Someone will be occupying them in no time flat.

  5. Businesses moved here knowing there was a ban. I bet they figured they’ed argue with it once they got here.
    That’s not going to work.
    Why should residents needs be pushed aside to increase a merchants bottom line?

    1. And you probably moved here knowing that the Mission has a lot of bars and drinking. As a resident, my needs include markets that sell wine and yes, even bars.

    2. There was far less drinking back in the day compared to now. There were the dive bars which had far fewer patrons than today because no sensible person would dare enter.

      A lot of people have lived in the Mission for more than twenty years and now this is accurate.

      Go to North Beach on any weekend night. Is that what you dream of for the Mission?

      1. North Beach isn’t like that because of booze – it’s like that because of the tourists living next door.

  6. RE: “We don’t want more fancy restaurants and fancy cheese shops. You say you’re serving the community, but what community are you serving here? Not ours.”

    One of the reasons all these restaurants are opening is because you need to open a restaurant to get a new liquor license!

    1. I agree with you Suki. I will say this. The merchants wil listen to the gripes silently knowing that they will get their way after all is said and done.

      I like a drink as much as the next guy but the argument for a modification seems to suggest that it is hard to find a drink in the Mission.

      Look at all the establishments that allow patrons to drink outside while waiting for a table. If a liquor store across the street had a person drinking a beer from a bag there would be he’ll to pay.

      I have seen the changes in the Mission over the past three decades and am extremely knowledable about the historical perspective. A lot of the changes are food, but not all of them. This one is not good.

      1. They wont get their way if people who want to see the ban stay in place continue to turn out.