Community Guide to Regulatory Relief



3 images: an ugly parklet, a pile of alcohol litter, bourbon street



Starting in March 2020, the California Alcoholic Control agency (ABC) declared it would decline to enforce a number of regulations surrounding alcohol sales. These declarations—termed “notices of regulatory relief”—are intended to provide bars and restaurants the ability to continue selling alcohol during lockdown. While it is important to help people out economically during a public health crisis, Alcohol Justice, the industry watchdog, is concerned there will be lasting impacts to health and safety.

The alcohol industry is already trying to make some of these reliefs permanent, since they could increase sales even after lockdown is over. The first bills to enshrine regulatory relief are already before the legislature in California. Beyond enshrining expanded access to alcohol sales, loosening of restrictions will embolden some alcohol sellers to violate standing laws about alcohol sales that were not suspended by ABC.

One defense against increased alcohol harm now and in the future is to document it when you see it and file a complaint with ABC. This is a guide to some of the harms that may impact your community. ABC is dependent on community input to guide its decision-making and enforce regulations. If you observe any of these, please register a complaint with them ASAP. Alcohol Justice manages a web form to help direct complaints to ABC at

A note on documentation: please do NOT take photos or videos as part of your complaint. This is dangerous for you and for anyone you may record. Written observation is sufficient for ABC to launch an investigation.

1. New sites of alcohol litter and public nuisance

People drinking outside and taking cocktails to go can impact quality of life, creating alcohol harm in streets and neighborhoods that were previously unaffected. Note any new instances of:
• Large quantities of alcohol-related litter
• Noise, loud music, and late-night activity
• Damage to public property
• Individuals engaging in aggressive or disruptive behavior
Note: ABC is only able to act on the above if they are connected to a specific bar or restaurant. Be specific about how the bar or restaurant is responsible for what you saw.

2. Giving public space over to private business

Bars and restaurants are able to use parking lots and curbsides to serve patrons. However, this privilege can be abused. Concerning behaviors about this expanded service space include:
• Blocking ability to walk past the venue, including for wheelchairs or strollers, without any other route to pass the venue besides going in the street
• Customers taking to-go cocktails directly to adjacent parks, playgrounds, and playing fields, especially when youth-oriented activities are occurring

Note: ABC is only able to act on the above if they are connected to a specific bar or restaurant. Be specific about how the bar or restaurant is responsible for what you saw.

3. Poor enforcement of public health requirements

Despite regulatory relief, venues are required to observe good public health practices to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. This includes:
• Requiring wearing masks when not seated at a table
• Requiring servers to wear masks
• Maintaining at least six feet of separation between tables
• Having readily available hand sanitizer
• Allowing indoor service in violation of state orders
     o To see if indoor service is allowed in your county, please check

4. Not providing bona fide meals

Venues remaining open despite lockdown are required to provide legitimate full meal options, called “bona fide meals.” This both incentivizes distancing and lessens intoxication. However, some venues might:
• Provide only snacks or appetizers
• Do not publicize the availability of food
• Actively discourage patrons from ordering food
• Food never shows up at the tables

5. Alcohol while driving

Mixed drinks and other unsealed alcohol beverages can now be ordered for takeout. This can lead to people taking open alcoholic containers into the drivers’ compartment of vehicles, which remains illegal. Cocktails to go and unsealed (self-provided or refilled) growlers need to be put in the trunk.

6. Taking alcohol from one venue to another

Outside service and cocktails to go, as well as possible lax enforcement of open container laws, means individuals may be buying a cocktail at one bar or restaurant and:
• Consuming it in space set aside for another bar or restaurant, unless such space is clearly “shared” between two venues
• Consuming it in a restaurant without a liquor license
• Consuming it at or near a cannabis dispensary
     o As of November 2020, this was technically legal but Alcohol Justice strongly feels this separation should be maintained and ABC may be able to use public reports to support stronger rulemaking.

7. Over-occupancy

Beyond social distancing requirements, bars and restaurants should make sure patrons do not:
• Cluster together on premises while waiting for a table
• Get up from their table and gather around friends’ tables
• Form large groups nearby to consume cocktails to go

Note: ABC is only able to act on the above if they are connected to a specific bar or restaurant. Be specific about how the bar or restaurant is responsible for what you saw.

8. Minors ordering alcohol

Regulatory relief can complicate ensuring minors are not served alcohol. This service might occur:
• Via delivery services, including Uber, Lyft and Drizzly
• By allowing a minor to sit at outside tabling at a venue licensed as a bar
• By agreements whereby bars “extended footprints” include restaurants that do not have a liquor license

9. Illegal parties

Despite the restrictions on indoor gathering, some venues still host parties, dance clubs, and/or concerts. If these venues hold liquor licenses, you should report these activities to ABC.
      • To see if a liquor license is associated with a particular address, go to

10. External advertising

Alcohol laws restrict the amount of outdoor advertising a liquor licensee can display. Under expanded outdoor footprints, many additional forms of outdoor advertising are now allowed. Nonetheless, please be on the lookout for:
• Overtly large alcohol advertisements (large posters, branded tents, prominent promotional items visible far from the premises)
• Advertising that discourages buying a meal with alcohol purchase
• Advertising that discourages compliance with public health measures

This is only a partial list. If you feel your quality of life is negatively impacted by changes in alcohol sales, report this to ABC.


All complaints are confidential.

1. Alcohol Justice maintains an online alcohol license complaint form.

2. You may email the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If you do, please CC your complaint to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

ABC provides a printable complaint form that you may find helpful in structuring your complaint. However, you are NOT required to use this form.