PoP-Ed: “It’s Time to Finally Fix D.C.’s Hospitality Licensing System” by Mark Lee

Photo by PoPville flickr user Eric Spiegel

The following PoP-Ed. was written by Mark Lee, Coordinator, D.C. Hospitality. PoP-Ed. posts may be submitted via email to princeofpetworth(at)gmail please include PoP-Ed. in the subject line.

“The fringe element should be taken out of the process.”

— D.C. Chef/Restaurateur Jamie Leeds, describing 7-year-long battle waged by only 5 liquor license protestors against her popular Hank’s Oyster Bar (The Current Newspapers, July 25, 2012)

Residents all over the city and local area patrons are frustrated by what’s been happening. As neighborhoods grow and residents hope for new social amenities, independent community businesses confront obstinate obstruction by small groups directly intervening in the licensing process. Now is the time to support alcohol licensing reform!

It’s time to end an out-of-balance licensing system that puts limits on dining, drinking and entertainment choices for the many by the few – slowing the city’s forward progress and hurting the local economy!

FORWARD…or…FRINGE? That’s the question facing D.C. Councilmembers beginning next week.

Small and unrepresentative groups continue to hold new and existing D.C. hospitality and nightlife venues hostage. They manipulate the liquor licensing process to coerce community small businesses into special restrictions inconsistent with city operating regulations.

The D.C. Council is currently considering changes to fix the system. They know that repairs to the law are required — but they need to hear from residents and local area patrons urging them to make meaningful reforms that offer real solutions.

A vibrant modern city needs new rules for a fair and transparent process. Reforms that take away the power of ad hoc groups of only 5 people (“Gangs of 5”) and small citizens associations claiming to speak for all. Solutions that stop these groups from causing long licensing delays and huge financial losses so they can impose special operating limits.

Real reforms will repair the system. Fairness will fix the law:

Let all voices be heard. End the unfair license protest powers of small groups and self-proclaimed citizens associations. Use the open forum of the elected Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) for community discussion and any decision to offer an advisory opinion to the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board.

Ensure city law regulates businesses equally citywide. Stop ANCs from creating their own special rules, restrictions and operating limits on their “turf” for hypothetical problems before a business has even opened. Equal enjoyment for all consumers and a level playing field for all businesses is the only common-sense solution.

Give optional licensing agreements a new name. Change so-called “Voluntary” Agreements to “Settlement” Agreements to make clear they are not required for licensing approval and to reflect their intended optional use for resolving real issues.

End lengthy and unnecessary licensing delays. Guarantee that the ABC license process is expedited in a timely manner. Make the steps more efficient and establish statutory timeframes (not just “guidelines”). This will prevent abuse of the system to threaten delays and force unpopular operating restrictions. The law should require a license decision on an orderly and predictable schedule.

It’s time to stop the ability of the few to speak for the majority — the tiny groups abusing the system and forcing unpopular restrictions on community establishments.

Hospitality businesses build neighborhoods, enliven our shared lives, and fuel the local economy. It’s time for all of us to return the favor and tell D.C. Councilmembers and Mayor Gray to finally fix the system and reform the rules.

Fairness supporters are going online at to add their voices in a grassroots community effort urging reform of hospitality and nightlife licensing regulations!

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