Footloose in Hermosa Beach

Kevin Bacon is thankfully nowhere in sight, but a Footloose situation is brewing in Hermosa Beach, California, a small town south of Los Angeles.

The state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has been cracking down lately on local liquor establishments there, issuing citations of up to $3,000 for dancing in establishments not explicitly licensed to allow it. (One Indian restaurant was cited for having a belly dancer on the premises.) One citation noted with horror that a busboy walked right through a crowd of wanton dancers without trying to stop them.

Hermosa Beach City Councilmember Robert Benz sees this as heavy-handed state interference in local affairs. The City Council complained to the governor, who promised an investigation. "What the ABC is doing in Hermosa Beach has nothing to do with alcohol. It's more like land use planning," Benz insists. He objects to state attempts to enforce different closing hours for different kinds of bars, which Benz says creates problems with groups of drinkers moving from place to place.

"ABC officials tell me, 'Everybody knows nightclubs have more problems.' They view dancing as a catalyst for worse problems. Shake that booty, and pretty soon you're raping grandmothers." But Hermosa Beach has seen no increased crime because of restaurants that serve booze, insists Benz, who thinks how the city regulates local establishments is its business.

In retaliation for the ABC's perceived meddling, Hermosa Beach officials are threatening to arrest any ABC officer who hassles someone for dancing, something the city sees as its citizens' right.

Carl DeWing of the ABC defends his agency's position. In many cases, he says, officers are responding to neighborhood complaints about noise and disturbance. All alcohol-serving establishments have legally specified roles, DeWing adds, and "if they start going beyond that they are violating the conditions of their license. If you let it slide, a restaurant designed for family-type fare could wind up as a nightclub, with live entertainment, noise, public urination, and drunkenness. Nightclubs have security problems which restaurants don't have. You change the impact on the community." DeWing adds that if Hermosa officials interfere with an ABC officer doing his duty, they are the ones guilty of a crime.

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