Changes to Oakland’s cabaret laws will take a step closer to reality by being discussed by the Public Safety Committee this evening and will then go to the City Council for approval. As we previously reported, the changes — first proposed by Councilmembers Nancy Nadel and Rebecca Kaplan in October — aim to smooth the process for businesses opening up in Oakland, lessen the permit costs for small businesses, and ease the burden for police regarding late-night activity. After input from the city administrator’s office and Oakland police, the amended proposal includes changing the definition of “cabaret” to exclude restaurants with live music, increasing the cabaret permit renewal fee for the redefined businesses and lowering the price for small ones, outlining the process and timeline for certain businesses to gain extended hours, and detailing the fee for those extended-hours businesses.
According to the report submitted to the Public Safety Committee, a cabaret would be redefined as “any place where the general public is admitted for a fee, entertainment is provided, and alcohol is served. A place that does not charge for admission but where the general public is admitted, alcohol is served, dancing is permitted, and the venue operates past 12:00 a.m. shall also be construed as a cabaret.” Restaurants that hold live music as an accompaniment to dining would be excluded from this definition.
Cabarets must also abide by certain conditions in the new guidelines. For example, those that don’t meet the required building, fire, and police codes will be reported to the Nuisance Abatement Division, which did not exist when the cabaret ordinance was first adopted. While cabarets with occupancy of more than fifty would be charged an annual $750 fee, an increase from $300, those smaller would be charged $250 annually. Small cabarets also would be exempt from initial application fees.
The extended-hours permit was one of the biggest items of contention for police, who believed that allowing businesses to stay open longer would create more of a headache for them. The idea was initially proposed as a way to allow patrons to sober up after 2 a.m. instead of jumping in their cars. In a two-year pilot program, the permit would allow no more than ten businesses to stay open as late as 5 a.m. but would not allow the sale of alcohol during that time. The Office of the City Administrator and the police would review and approve the applications, awarded only to downtown and Uptown businesses in good standing. The application period would begin May 31 and end June 11.
The ordinance’s sponsors hope to generate more revenue for the city, not just by the added sales tax from having more cabarets and businesses that can stay open later. Extended-hours permits would include a $1,000 application fee, and a permit fee starting at $2,000 for businesses with occupancy of less than 250, and increasing $500 for every 50 people, with a maximum of $5,000. They estimate that the city will generate $60,000 in additional revenue from these permits. And that’s assuming that ten businesses are dying to stay open till the wee hours. They expect the cabaret permit to generate about $16,000 annually. Currently, about 53 businesses are permitted as cabarets in the city, and of those, about ten to fifteen would no longer be required to pay a cabaret fee under the new rules. The rest would qualify for the $750 fee.