Barkeeps beware: Letting people walk out your establishment in downtown Sonora with an open container of alcohol during the Mother Lode Roundup Parade on Saturday could get you into hot water with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Several bars and restaurants in the City of Sonora recently received letters from ABC reminding them that allowing patrons to leave a licensed premises with an open container of alcohol is a violation of the state Business and Professions Code, regardless of the fact that the city will allow open alcoholic beverage containers in the streets while the parade is underway from about 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“That’s a standard law that’s in effect throughout the state of California,” said ABC supervising agent Mark Gedney. “It’s not a special restriction being placed on them, it’s what every licensee in California has to abide by.”
Gedney said it was “possible” that ABC would have agents in the area for the festivities this weekend.
State regulations also don’t allow people to have open containers “adjacent” to a business that’s licensed to sell alcohol, so Gedney said he would discourage any licensees from allowing people to do that.
“The area immediately adjacent to their premises is still an area that’s under their control, so we don’t allow consumption immediately outside of a location,” he said.
As it does each year, the Sonora City Council unanimously passed a resolution on March 5 allowing a temporary exemption to a city ordinance that bans open containers of alcoholic beverages in public for the parade.
Gedney said ABC’s regulatory authority only covers a “licensed premises and area around it.”
“If the city wants to allow people to drink on the street for that time period, then that’s entirely up to them to do that,” he said. “We don’t have regulatory authority of what happens in the street.”
Unless there’s a special restriction on the license, Gedney said licensed establishments can also sell unopened beer and wine that people can take outside as long as its sealed in its original container.
No hard alcohol is allowed to leave a licensed premises under any circumstance, even if it’s sealed.
Gedney said he wasn’t aware of any liquor licenses in the area that have a special restriction against “offselling” closed containers of beer or wine, but he encouraged owners to brush up on what their license specifically allows to be on the safe side.
Those caught breaking the rules could have their license slapped with an “administrative violation” by ABC that could results in penalties ranging from a fine to a suspension. Gedney said penalties are determined on a case-by-case basis.
Any sworn peace officer in the state is empowered to enforce such regulations, but Gedney said local law enforcement officers typically forward ABC violations to the agency.
Acting Sonora Police Chief Turu VanderWiel said the letter sent to local liquor license holders stems from a conversation he had about a year ago with ABC representatives, who expressed concern to him about licensees allowing alcohol to exit their premises.
“Even though we have a temporary resolution that allows for open containers, it doesn’t affect the individual liquor licenses issued by the state of California,” VanderWiel said. “We thought, well, maybe we can take an educational approach and they can send an information letters so the individual business owners can protect their license and don’t inadvertently operate outside of those parameters.”
VanderWiel said he’s aware of establishments that have allowed people to leave their premises with open containers in the past during the parade.
Even though VanderWiel was the one who presented the “open-container resolution” to the city council at its March meeting, he said it’s actually on request of the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Posse.
The posse organizes the parade and two-day rodeo each year and asks the city to temporarily waive the open-container ordinance during the parade as part of a longstanding tradition, VanderWiel explained.
VanderWiel said he doesn’t know exactly how long the tradition of drinking in public during the parade goes back.
Glass containers will not be allowed at the parade this year, which VanderWiel said was changed for the safety of the community.
Smoking cannabis in public is also still illegal and not allowed during the parade.
VanderWiel said officers typically only deal with minor offenses during the parade, such as public intoxication, though he said they are on high alert because of the elevated risk of an alcohol-related incident.
“Whenever you get large groups of people together with alcohol, the chance of alcohol-related incidents tends to go up,” he said. “Having open containers in the streets does not benefit the police department or our operation, but we do recognize the traditions and history associated with this event, and that open containers have typically gone with it.”
The letter sent by ABC alarmed several new bar owners in town.
Corinne Robinson, co-owner of Winters Tavern Motherlode Grill at 275 S. Washington St., called ABC to clarify the rules after she didn’t receive a letter as of Friday.
Robinson, who opened the bar and restaurant in December, was told that they may have missed a business or two on the parade route, but the same rules applied. Despite there being a permit to drink on the street, she said she planned to make sure her patrons stay inside.
“When my grandfather was a posse captain in the ‘60s, they would ride their horses into the bar,” she said of how times have changed.
This will mark the first Roundup parade since Chet White and Debbe Pallante took ownership of The Sportsman at 90 S. Washington St. in Sonora last July.
White said he contacted other bar owners after receiving the letter to make sure his business wasn’t being singled out, but he found out they had all received it.
To comply with the state regulations, White said they plan to have a person posted at both entrances in the front and back of the building to prevent people from going outside with open containers.
He also plans to encourage them to go down the street from his business if they have an open container.
“I appreciate them letting us know with this being our first year,” White said. “We’ve seen bloody Marys coming out of establishments and cocktails on the street (at past parades), so we thought it was the norm.”
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.