Public Convenience or Necessity (PCN) Letter

California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) is charged with the responsibility under state statute to review and issue licenses for the sale and/or manufacture of alcoholic beverages. State law provides that ABC shall deny an application for a license if, “the issuance of that license would either create a law enforcement problem, or result in or add to an undue concentration of licenses.” It also has the power for good cause to deny a license were it to create a public nuisance (e.g. Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 23800, et seq.) or be contrary to a local zoning ordinance (e.g. Bus. & Prof. Code, § 23790.)
However, an exception can be made. Under the law, if the local municipality makes an independent determination that public convenience or necessity would be served by the issuance of that license, then ABC may grant the license. The Public Convenience or Necessity (PCN) is a discretionary action decided by the municipality’s Planning Commission or City Council only after reviewing the location, need, and surrounding land uses.  Then, the determination is communicated back to the licensee and/or the ABC in the form of a PCN Letter. Depending upon the municipality, the licensee may actually be the one who writes the PCN Letter.
Given the prevalence of liquor establishments, proactively acquiring a PCN Letter prior to ABC application is becoming a more common practice.  It is also an opportunity for the prospective licensee to “extol the virtues” of the establishment. This can be accomplished by “throwing in the kitchen sink” – attaching a menu, including testimonials from friends/family/future neighbors/colleagues, explaining your concept and how it sets it apart from the other liquor establishments in your neighborhood, etc. This is also an opportunity to anticipate possible protest issues and allay any concerns (e.g. parking, zoning, schools, etc.) that the community may have and that ABC will likely confront.
Acquiring a PCN Letter is just one of many steps in the process for acquiring a license with ABC. For a detailed presentation of the licensing process, please review the attached flowchart provided by ABC, visit our webpage concerning Alcoholic Beverage Control Law, or give us a call.