Written comments to Alcoholic Beverage Control Board regarding the proposed liquor license moratorium

A copy of the below comments were submitted to the ABC Board earlier today:



Dear Members of the Board,

I am the founder of In My Backyard – DC, a group of DC residents committed to a more liveable and affordable District. We currently have more than 600 members.

We ask that you reject the liquor license moratorium petition in its entirety.

The moratorium petition should be rejected for three reasons:

1. The petition itself is inaccurate and unreliable.

2. Residents within the proposed moratorium zone are overwhelmingly opposed.

3. A liquor license moratorium would not be appropriate as outlined in the DC Code.

First, nearly everything about the liquor license moratorium petition prepared by the Shaw Dupont-Citizens Alliance (SDCA) is inaccurate.

The petition claims that the proposed moratorium zone had 107 liquor licenses at time of filing. According to the order on moratorium petition you published, there are in fact 80 liquor licenses within the proposed moratorium zone.

The SDCA then claims that the proposed moratorium zone also has the highest concentration of liquor licenses in the District. This is not even close to the truth. The liquor license concentration in the Adams Morgan moratorium zone is 75% higher.  The Dupont West moratorium zone concentration is 114% higher. The Dupont East moratorium zone concentration is a whopping 271% higher. This means the proposed moratorium zone, because it is nine times larger than the Dupont East zone, would need add an additional 217 liquor licenses to reach the same concentration.

The petition also claims that liquor licenses have caused a crime problem in the U Street area. This is also demonstrably false. Since 2000, crimes–violent and property–have dropped precipitously as more and more liquor licenses have been issued. See graphic here: http://bit.ly/imbycrimemap. Note that SDCA did not submit any kind of proof to support their assertions.

The petition paints a picture of the U Street area that is simply inaccurate. While it may have some problems with code enforcement, the U Street neighborhood is a pleasant and vibrant part of town that people from all over the country flock to visit and live permanently. Liquor licenses have been key to that success. With so many glaring errors in arguments that are central to the petition, it would be a mistake to use it as a basis for policy making.

Second, it is completely clear that the residents of the proposed moratorium zone are overwhelmingly opposed to the moratorium zone.

At the multi-ANC listening meeting session more than 85% of the 58 residents who spoke opposed the moratorium. A large portion of speakers in support of the proposal were SDCA board members. The opposition was so overwhelming that every single ANC affected by the proposal voted to reject the moratorium.

More than 1,200 District residents have signed a petition to reject the moratorium petition.

More than 600 District residents joined my group, In My Back Yard – DC, primarily to oppose the moratorium petition.

The Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance, in contrast, only accepts members from a two by four block rectangle, which represents only 19% of the proposed moratorium zone. Within that small zone, only a handful of residents have signed on to SDCA’s agenda.

Third, the moratorium would be inappropriate based on the standards laid out in the DC Code. The petition claims that a moratorium would be appropriate because of the effect of additional liquor licenses would have on 1) peace, order, and quiet, including the noise and litter provisions; and 2) residential parking needs and vehicular and pedestrian safety.

A liquor license moratorium would not have a beneficial effect on peace, order and quiet. Rather, a moratorium would simultaneously insulate liquor licensed establishments from competition and give them an extremely valuable asset: a transferable liquor license they can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. If it is the case that certain establishments are causing problems, a moratorium would reward rather than punish them.

A moratorium would also stop the competitive process that leads to new establishments that better serve the community and improve peace, order, and quiet. A cap on liquor licenses in the area would make it profitable for businesses to move towards a high-volume, low-service model that would negatively impact peace, order, and quiet.

While SDCA brings out a long list of alleged problems, nearly all of them are violations of existing regulations (overserving customers, zoning violations) or completely asinine (selling pizza, happy hours, etc). None of the real problems would be addressed by a moratorium, and other complaints are inappropriate for the ABC Board to address.

Likewise, a moratorium would not be an appropriate tool to address parking in the proposed moratorium zone. The U Street corridor is one of the best neighborhoods for public transportation. Along with the Metro station, the proposed moratorium zone straddles several major bus lines. Regarding taxis, it is also one of the best-served neighborhoods in the entire District. The moratorium zone is also extremely dense, which allows many people to walk to liquor-licensed establishments.

A moratorium would exacerbate parking problems, as well. A cap on liquor licenses may allow current license-holders to simply increase the volume of their sales and attract greater traffic in already impacted areas, rather than spreading out new establishments throughout the proposed moratorium zone.

The petition, when trying to prove that a moratorium would be appropriate to deal with residential parking issues, complains about taxis, WMATA, and valet service. However, these are all examples of services that make the parking situation in the proposed moratorium zone significantly better. If there is a case to be made for restricting liquor licenses on the basis of residential parking, vehicular or pedestrian safety, the petition fails to make it.

The Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance has presented the Board with an inaccurate, misleading, and deeply confused petition for the creation of a new moratorium zone, and have submitted no evidence to support their proposal. The petition asks the Board to go against the wishes of the residents in the affected areas, and to stifle the growth of the District for dubious benefits. Most importantly, the petition utterly fails to demonstrate that a moratorium would be appropriate under any of the standards set forth in the DC Code.

On behalf of the 600+ In My Backyard – DC members, I ask that you reject the moratorium in its entirety.


Michael Hamilton
Founder, IMBYdc