Four Santa Barbara business were busted this week for selling alcohol to minors. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), with help from Santa Barbara police, organized a sting operation on Saturday, July 26, during which underage decoys tried to buy booze at nine different bars and restaurants.
They were successful at Santa Barbara Brewing Company, El Torito, Benchmark eatery (which opened just two weeks ago), and Uncle Rocco’s New York Pizza (which has been cited three times before). Officials noted it was a surprisingly high violation rate. Leslie Pond with the ABC office in Ventura said reports on the incidents are still pending, but he explained when such an offense takes place, the person who sold the alcohol is issued a misdemeanor citation and the business is either fined and/or has its liquor license suspended or revoked.
First-time offenders can be fined anywhere between $750 and $3,000, depending on the location’s alcohol sales revenue, Pond explained. Second-time offenders face fines between $2,500 and $20,000, and third-strikers immediately lose their license. Suspension lengths vary by circumstance. However, if a business keeps a clean record for 36 months straight, any prior strikes are removed from their record and the clock starts over. The ABC can still revoke the license of a repeat offender even after the 36-month mark, but those cases take a higher degree of scrutiny, Pond said.
According to ABC’s records, Uncle Rocco’s New York Pizza at 437 State Street had been cited for selling liquor to minors on three previous occasions. The first offense, in 2006, resulted in a 15-day suspension of its license to sell beer and wine. The second took place in 2009 (within 36 months) and led to a 25-day suspension and a $2,500 fine. The third happened in 2012 (after 36 months) and resulted in another 15-day suspension. Owner Rocco Maramonte was not immediately available for comment.
Police spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood said that during such sting operations, the underage decoys are not made to look older with different clothes or make-up, and they’re not taught any strategies of deception. “There are no tricks,” he said, explaining if a decoy is asked for a driver’s license or ID, they hand over a valid card that shows they’re under 21 years old. “There’s no math that needs to be done,” Harwood said of the obvious differences between underage and over-21 IDs. “People just need to do their jobs.”
Harwood said the police periodically conduct decoy and shoulder-tap operations, depending on funding, and that officers in the Nightlife Enforcement detail often issue citations on busy days and nights. On a monthly basis, the department offers free training to waiters, bartenders, and others in the service industry on alcohol-serving laws.