Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently asked questions about alcoholic beverage licenses and license transfers.
What is an alcoholic beverage license?
A license issued under the Act is a permit to do that which would otherwise be unlawful. A license is not a right, but is a privilege, which can be suspended or revoked by administrative action because of violation of the Act or departmental rule. (Sections 23300 and 23355)
What are the types of retail licenses?
- On-Sale General-authorizes the sale of all types of alcoholic beverages: namely, beer, wine and distilled spirits, for consumption on the premises, and the sale of beer and wine for consumption off the premises.
- Off-Sale General-authorizes the sale of all types of alcoholic beverages for consumption off the premises in original, sealed containers.
- On-Sale Beer and Wine-authorizes the sale of all types of wine and malt beverages (e.g., beer, porter, ale, stout and malt liquor) for consumption on and off the premises.
- Off-Sale Beer and Wine-authorizes the sale of all types of wine and malt beverages for consumption off the premises in original, sealed containers.
- On-Sale Beer-authorizes the sale of malt beverages for consumption on and off the premises. (Sections 23393, 23394, 23396 and 23399)
What is a “bona fide public eating place”?
Licensed premises that are maintained in good faith and used for the regular service of meals to patrons. The premises must have suitable kitchen facilities and supply an assortment of foods commonly ordered at various hours of the day. (Sections 23038 and 23787)
May a person who holds a license for a bona fide public eating place lease out the food concession?
Yes. Upon notification to ABC, such a licensee may sublet the sale and service of meals. The licensee shall continue to be responsible for any violations caused or permitted by the food lessee on the licensed premises. The licensee shall not sublet to a person who does not have the qualifications of a 1icensee. (Section 23787 and Rules 57.7 and 57.8)
What is meant by “public premises”?
No person under 21 years of age is allowed on public premises.
There are two classes of public premises:
As to on-sale general and on-sale beer and wine licenses, this means premises maintained and operated for the sale and service of alcoholic beverages to the public for consumption on the premises, and in which food is not sold or served to the public as in a bona fide eating place, although food products may be sold or served incidentally to the sale or service of alcoholic beverages.
As to on-sale beer licenses, this means premises maintained and operated for sale or service of beer to the public for consumption on the premises, and in which no food is sold or served. An on-sale beer licensed premises on which food (sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, tacos, salads or similar short orders) is prepared and sold for consumption on the premises is not an on-sale beer public premises. (Section 23029 and Rule 67.
What beverages may the holder of an on-sale license sell for consumption off the licensed premises in original, sealed containers?
Unless restricted by special license conditions, on-sale general and on-sale beer and wine licensees may sell all types of wine and malt beverages.
Unless restricted by special license conditions, on-sale beer licensees may sell malt beverages. The privilege of selling distilled spirits “to go” comes only with an off-sale general license. (Section 23401)
Can any person obtain an alcoholic beverage license?
ABC may refuse to issue a license to any person who has violated the ACT, has a disqualifying criminal record, or is otherwise disqualified.
When is a duplicate license required?
An on-sale general licensee who maintains on his/her licensed premises more than one room in which a fixed counter or service bar is regularly maintained and at which distilled spirits are served to the public must apply for a duplicate license and pay a full annual fee for each such license. A duplicate license is not transferable by itself. (Sections 24042 and 24042.5)
May ABC deny the renewal of an existing license?
Yes, if the licensee has not paid an annual license fee. Otherwise, every license now in effect (other than temporary retail permits and special daily licenses) is renewable unless such license has been revoked after hearing on an accusation. (Section 24048)
When must licenses be renewed?
It is the responsibility of the licensee to renew his license whether or not he has received a renewal notice from ABC.
All licenses may be renewed by paying the required renewal fee before the license expires.
Following the expiration of a license, the licensee may legally operate for an additional 60 days during which time the license may be renewed by paying the renewal fee and a 50% penalty. If the renewal fee and penalty fee has not been paid within 60 days of the expiration of a license, the license is canceled and the licensee may not exercise any privileges of the license. The licensee does have and additional 30 days in which to reactivate the license by paying the renewal fee and a 100% penalty. If the penalty and renewal fee are not paid by the end of the 30th day following cancellation, the license is revoked. (Section 24048)
How soon does the license have to be put in use?
Any license must be in use within 30 days of the date of issuance, unless approval is received from ABC for premises under construction. (Section 24040)
Where may alcoholic beverages be stored when there is no room for them on the licensed premises?
Tax-paid beer and wine may be stored anywhere. Distilled spirits may be stored in a licensed public warehouse, or petition may be made to ABC for approval of a private warehouse. this private warehouse must be located in the same county as the licensed premises. ABC’s approval is necessary before placing the distilled spirits in storage in a private warehouse. (Section 23106 and Rule 76)
How many feet must licensed premises be from a church, a school, or residences?
The law says ABC may deny any retail license located (a) within the immediate vicinity of churches and hospitals, or (b) within at least 600 feet of schools, public playgrounds and nonprofit youth facilities. Generally, ABC will deny a license in the above situations when there is evidence that normal operation of the licensed premises will be contrary to public welfare and morals. Mere proximity by itself is not sufficient to deny the license.
ABC will not license a new retail location within 100 feet of a residence unless the applicant can establish that the operation of the proposed premises will not interfere with the quiet enjoyment of the property by residents. (Section 23789 and Rule 61.4)
What is meant by license “Limitation” ?
Since 1939 the number of certain retail licenses has been limited. At present, the ratio is one on-sale general license for each 2,000 persons in the county in which the premises are situated and one off-sale general license for each 2,500 persons.
Is there a limit on the number of off-sale beer and wine licenses that may be issued in cities or counties?
The number of off-sale beer and wine licenses is limited to one for each 2,500 people in a city or county, and the number of beer and wine licenses that can be issued in a city or county in combination with off-sale general licenses in limited to one for each 1,250 people. (Section 23817.5)
What organizations are eligible for a club license?
Types of clubs such as golf, swimming, tennis, press, yachting, rod and gun, riding, bar associations, airlines club, medical associations, social and others may be eligible for a club license providing such club meets the standards established by law as to membership, premises ownership, time of origin and services available. (Sections 23425-23435, 23320.1, 23399.2, 23825, 24072.5 and 24078)
Are such clubs restricted to on-sale privileges?
Yes, Club licenses and veterans’ club licenses may not make sales for consumption off the premises. (Sections 23431, 23453 and 23437)
Can a license be transferred from one person to another person without making an application to ABC?
No. An application signed by both the present licensee and the transferee must be filed with ABC. ABC then proceeds as it would on a new application and may deny the transfer if the transferee-applicant is not qualified for a license. If such transfer also involves a change of the premises, ABC’s approval of the new premises is required. (Sections 24070 and 24073)
Does the filing of the application for transfer accomplish the transfer of the license?
No. Neither the transferor nor the transferee should assume that the license will be transferred on a particular date, or at all, merely because the application has been filed. ABC may deny the application, or protests or accusations may be filed which may result in delay or denial of the transfer.
ABC is not required to investigate the personal qualifications or premises of a currently licensed person when a license is being transferred between partners and no new partner is being licensed. (Sections 23958, 23958.2, 24013 and 24070)
How long does it normally take for the issuance or transfer of a license?
Most investigations take approximately 55-65 days, and by law the license cannot be issued for a minimum of 30 days. Circumstances often result in a longer waiting period; therefore, before final approval and issuance of a license, applicants are cautioned regarding extensive financial commitments, plans for grand openings, etc.
If new construction or considerable remodeling is necessary, the applicant should seek prior approval under Section 24044 before beginning any actual work.
Pending transfer of the license, may the intended transferee operate the licensed business?
The transferee may operate the licensed premises during the transfer period if a 120-day permit has been obtained. To qualify for this temporary permit, the premises must be currently licensed and have been operating within the past 30 days prior to application.
When the lease on the licensed premises is terminated and the premises must be vacated, what is required of the licensee?
A licensee must surrender his/her license to ABC within 15 days. During the maximum one year surrender period the licensee may transfer the license to other locations or transfer the license to other persons. All renewal fees must be paid during the surrender period. (Sections 23053.5, 23320, 24072, 24072.1, Rules 60 and 65)
What steps are required for the issuance or transfer of an alcoholic beverage license?
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.
Generally, all parties must appear at the District Office. This is not generally a “mail-in” process because ABC requires personal information such as personal history affidavits. Fees are paid at this time. The applicant also views a video about ABC laws. A temporary permit may be issued under certain conditions.
Does ABC notify local officials of the license application?
Yes. 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. (Section 23987)
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, 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.
Does ABC conduct an investigation of license applications?
Yes. ABC conducts a thorough investigation, as required by law, to see if the applicant and the premises qualify for a license. (Section 23958)
What are the responsibilities of a license applicant?
It is the applicant’s responsibility to:
- Post the Public Notice of Application at the premises for 30 days, and
- Give information to ABC as needed for the investigation
In some cases, ABC may also require the applicant to:
- Publish a notice in the newspaper
- Mail a notice to all persons living within a 500′ radius of the premises, and/or
- Obtain proof from the local planning department that the zoning permits an ABC license.
(Sections 23985, 23958, 23986, 23985.5 and 23790)
In case of death or incompetency to act as a sole licensee, who may exercise the privileges of the license?
The privileges of the license may be exercised by any person acting on behalf of the deceased or incompetent licensee or the estate for a specified period or until an administrator, executor, etc., is appointed. (Section 23102)
Does the law prohibit pledging the transfer of a license as security for a loan or as security for the fulfillment of any agreement?
Yes. The law prohibits a licensee from pledging the license as security for a loan or as security for the fulfillment of any agreement. In their transfer application both transferor and transferee must state under oath that the transfer is not being made (a) to satisfy the payment of a loan or to fulfill an agreement entered into more than 90 days before the transfer application is filed, (b) to gain or establish a preference to or for any creditor of the transferor, except as permitted by Section 24074, (c) to defraud or injure any creditor of the transferor. (Section 24076)
How long can the licensed premises be closed before the licensee must surrender possession of the license?
When licensed premises are closed, or the exercise of the privileges of the license is discontinued for any reason for a period of 15 consecutive days, the license must be surrendered to ABC. The license may be reactivated upon request of the licensee made at least 10 days in advance. (Rule 65)
May an applicant have some assurance of the issuance of a license before construction of the premises to be licensed is begun or completed?
ABC may approve an application for premises under construction. A retail license may be transferred or issued by ABC to premises which are under construction and the transferor has closed his business or surrendered his license. No alcoholic beverages shall be sold until the premises are completed. Actual delivery of the license is withheld until ABC is satisfied that all conditions set forth in the law and rules are met. (Section 24044 and Rule 64)