California Liquor Licenses and Permits
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How To: Obtain Local Zoning Permit Approval

Before issuing a liquor license to you, the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Department requires that you obtain any zoning permits that may be required by your city government (or county government, if in an unincorporated area) for the privilege of selling alcoholic beverage on the property itself. These zoning permits are generally called Conditional Use Permits (otherwise known as a 'CUP').

Very Important: A zoning permit is different from a liquor license. A liquor license is issued by the state to the owners of the business to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages at a given location. A zoning permit, however, is issued for the land itself and generally stays with the property after a business changes ownership.

Once you have selected a business location for your liquor license, you will likely need to obtain a zoning permit from your city that allows you to sell alcoholic beverages at your property. In most cities and counties, the planning or zoning department issues zoning permits.

Do I need a zoning permit? To find out if your local government requires a zoning permit for the sale of alcoholic beverages at your location:

  • First, determine if you are in an incorporated city or in outlying, unincorporated county area.
  • Next, contact the planning, community development, or zoning department of your local city or county and ask to speak with a planner. Give the planner the address of your business location. Explain that you need to know if a zoning permit is required for the particular type of ABC liquor license that you are interested in (e.g on-sale beer & wine, off-sale full liquor). The planner will research the location's zoning information and tell you if a zoning permit is required for your location.

If a zoning permit is required, you will need to prepare and file a zoning application with the city or county. This requires the drafting of specialized maps, careful research, notification of local residents of your application, negotiation and the preparation of a written application. You may also need attend a public hearing before a zoning administrator, zoning board or local governing body (such as your city council) where you will need to make a case to your community as to why your business should have the right to sell alcoholic beverages, and answer any questions or objections that may be raised by planning staff, neighbors or local community groups.

When filing your liquor license application, ABC will require that you file a 'Zoning Affidavit' (ABC form 255) where you tell ABC whether your local city or county does or does not require a zoning permit for your location. If a zoning application is required, ABC prefers to receive documentation that you have either filed for, or been approved for, a zoning application. The ABC investigator assigned to your liquor license application will confirm the information that you entered on your zoning affidavit to ensure that your license is not issued in violation of local zoning ordinances and that your Conditional Use Permits application, if required, has been approved.

This step is critical, because ABC will issue you a license only if you have the necessary zoning permit for your property. If you are denied a zoning permit, you can’t get a liquor license. Because this is so critical, most people want professional help for this step. Contact us in order to receive help with this this service. We have 35 years of experience aiding business owners like yourself in obtaining zoning permits, conditional use permits, minor use permits, and variances.

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Zoning Services

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