A brewer at work at Beachwood BBQ and Brewing. Photos by Asia Morris and Jason Ruiz
There are over 160 breweries in Southern California, many with national reach and prestige, including the celebrated brewpub located smack-dab on the promenade of Downtown Long Beach. To capitalize on the craft beer industry’s momentum and to make the city more appealing to potential business partners, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to amend the city’s zoning laws to allow for craft brewers in need of home to consider Long Beach for the first time.
The vote amends Title 21 of the Long Beach Municipal Code (LBMC) which relates to the zoning of alcoholic beverage manufacturing and accessory tasting rooms, and at the recommendation of the council, will be submitted to the California Coastal Commission for review and certification. The LBMC previously did not include a definition or clear development standards for regulating alcoholic beverage manufacturing (ABM).
In February 2014, Mayor Robert Garcia, then a 1st District Councilman, asked city staff to explore options for the city to incorporate craft-brewing, citing the rapid growth and growing list of accolades of Beachwood as well as sustained success of other brewpubs like Belmont Brewing and Rock Bottoms as proof that the city should be more willing to encourage micro-brewery beer production in the city on a larger scale. Before the vote, Garcia echoed his sentiments from a year ago.
“There are some incredibly well known, well respected craft breweries that have opened up throughout the city and are really getting national attention,” Garcia said. “There’s a lot of interest for these kind of specialty type shops. They’re not bars per se, but places where this growing industry of beer and craft beer is growing.”
The mayor pointed to cities like Denver and San Diego that have become hubs of the industry and have reaped the benefits of the tourism it generates. Garcia likened the craft beer scene to wine tasting, and said that luring these kinds of businesses to the city can expand its reach.
The decision by the council came after more than a year-long process carried out by city staff to asses how other cities have implemented breweries into their city plans and how Long Beach could successfully follow suit. Director of Development Services Amy Bodek said cities like San Diego, Torrance and more recently Anaheim and Santa Ana were studied by the city during the compilation of its report, which was submitted by the planning commission to the council in December 2014.
“Those cites are leading the trend in creating more flexible land use patters that would allow the manufacturing of craft beer or spirits with certain proper development standards,” Bodek said.
She referred to the craft beer industry a “burgeoning industry," one that has potential suitors lining up to potentially make a home in Long Beach. The city’s first brewery—The Blendery, an offshoot of Beachwood BBQ and Brewing which is dedicated to the production of sour beers—is actually already brewing its first lambic-inspired and geuze-inspired ales, but more breweries could be on the horizon. Bodek said that over the past few months and as recent as last week the city has received inquiries from brewers since the word has leaked that the city was on the verge of relaxing restrictions on brewing in Long Beach.
“There is growing interest in this and we are becoming known in the area of the next potential wave for this type of industry to occur,” Bodek said.
As voted on, the ordinance would allow for breweries with tasting rooms to operate without a conditional use permit as long as they stay under a mandated cap of 15,000 barrels annually and meet certain other specifications laid out in the motion. The move to exempt the acquisition of a CUP was made to expedite the process and make it more friendly to craft-beer business.
Facilities will be allowed to brew from 7AM-7PM Monday through Saturday and tasting room hours would be restricted to 12PM-9PM Sunday through Thursday and from 11AM-10PM on Friday and Saturday and would be limited to selling product brewed on-site. Although being exempt from a CUP, brewing facilities would still be subject to customary buffer zones, including not being able to locate within 500 feet of a school.
The craft beer industry has experienced a kind of renaissance over the past three decades with brewery numbers increasing from around 50 in the 1980s to now several thousand facilities nationwide. Southern California, in particular San Diego has served as a craft-beer tourist hub with the likes of Stone Brewing Co., Ballast Point Brewing Company and Port Brewing anchoring a vast network of reputed beer producers in the county. Although Beachwood and Belmont Brewing Company are respected brewpubs in the city, the vote opens the door for full-blown brewing operations to take up residence in the city.
Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, one of the originators of the motion, thanked Beachwood for investing in the city at a difficult time for entrepreneurs and added that the kind of culture that the craft beer industry might create for the city could add to its luster.
“People are looking to the Los Angeles County region for this sort of business, but I think Long Beach has something very unique to offer and certainly by way of its placement, where we are and what kind of infrastructure we have,” Lowenthal said.