License Application Process

This page describes the steps in the ABC license application process. This includes applications for a new license, premises-to-premises transfer, change in license privileges or ownership change (for example, transfer to a new owner, change in stock ownership or adding/dropping a partner). 

Printable process flow

Download a printable flow chart and process description by clicking the PDF download button.

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Initial Filing

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Final Review

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Issuance of License

Initial Filing


Pre-Application Steps

A person who wants to apply for an ABC license must start with the nearest ABC District Office. An ABC staff member will ask the applicant questions about the proposed operation and determine the type of license needed. The staff member will then advise the applicant what forms and fees are needed to file the application. Some applicants, before filing an application with ABC, must first obtain approval from zoning officials, open an escrow, or go to the office of the County Recorder for a certified copy of a Notice of Intended Transfer.



Applicant’s Responsibilities

It is the applicant’s responsibility to:

  • Post the Public Notice of Application at the premises for 30 days
  • Give information to ABC as needed for the investigation

In some cases, ABC may also require the applicant to do one or more of the following:

  • Publish a notice in the newspaper
  • Mail a notice to all persons living within a 500 foot radius of the premises,
  • Obtain proof from the local planning department that the zoning permits an ABC license.

Notification to Local Officials

ABC mails a copy of the application to local officials as required by law. If the premises is in the city, a copy goes to the police department, city council and city planning department. If the premises is in the county, a copy goes to the sheriff’s department, board of supervisors and district attorney. If local officials have concerns about the issuance of a license, they may request or impose restrictions on the business operation, or they may file a protest.

Common concerns are that the license:

  • Would create a public nuisance
  • Would cause or add to crime in the area
  • Would be contrary to a zoning law
  • Is in a high-crime area or an area that has too many licenses and would not serve public convenience or necessity

In the case of number 4 above, the City Council or Board of Supervisors has 90 days to determine this and notify ABC. If the City Council or Board of Supervisors does not decide within 90 days, ABC may issue the license if the applicant shows ABC that issuance would serve public convenience or necessity.


ABC conducts a thorough investigation, as required by law, to see if the applicant and the premises qualify for a license.

Any person may protest the issuance of a license. The protestant must file a written protest within 30 days of either:

  • The date the Public Notice of Application is first posted at the premises, OR
  • The date the applicant mails the Notice of Intention to Engage in the Sale of Alcoholic Beverages to persons living within a 500 foot radius, whichever is later.

If a retail license application has been protested and the Department has recommended approval of the license, ABC may issue an Interim Operating Permit upon the applicant’s written request.

Some grounds for protest or denial of a license are:

  • The applicant is not qualified. For example, the applicant:
    • Falsified their application
    • Has a disqualifying police record
    • Has a record of chronic insobriety
    • Is not the true owner
    • Is not at least 21 years of age.
  • The premises is not suitable. For example:
    • The premises is too close to a school, church, hospital, playground, nonprofit youth facility or residence and would disturb the facility or resident.
    • The premises is located in a high-crime area and does not serve public convenience or necessity
    • The applicant does not have legal tenancy
    • The license would create a public nuisance
    • Zoning is improper for alcohol sales.

License conditions are special restrictions placed on a license. Conditions may limit the hours of alcohol sales, the type of entertainment allowed or other aspects of the business. Conditions may eliminate the need to deny a license or may cause a protestant to withdraw his protest.

Final Review

Headquarters does a final review. The following may delay issuance of a license:

  • Missing or incorrect documents
  • Missing or incorrect fees
  • Liens placed against escrow by:
    • The Board of Equalization
    • Franchise Tax Board
    • Employment Development Department
    • Cities and Counties
    • Local Health Departments
  • The premises is under construction and not yet ready to operate.

Issuance of a License

When the final review is completed, the applicant will be issued a license.

Hearing and Appeals Process

The process that takes place if your application is under protest, has been denied, or is subject to complex issues.

How Long Does It Take?

The following are the average waiting periods for a license. These times include a 30-day posting of Public Notice of Application.

Action Average Time
Non-Protested Application
From date application is filed at District Office to issuance 55 to 65 days
Protested Application (Protests Withdrawn After Negotiations)
From date application is filed at District Office to issuance 95 days
Protested Application
Investigation, hearing preparation and administrative review 175 days
Scheduling of Administrative Hearing 60 days
Administrative law Judge Proposed Decision 30 days
Action by ABC Director 3-10 days
Appeal to ABC Appeals Board 40 days
ABC Appeals Board Decision 120 days
Appeal to District Court of Appeal 30 days
District Court of Appeal’s Decision No time mandated
Appeal to California State Supreme Court 30 days
Supreme Court Decision No time mandated