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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

The San Juan Capistrano Planning Commission approved a recommendation to the city council on when restaurants in the Los Rios Historic District currently allowed to serve alcohol with food can do so, during a meeting on Tuesday.

The Planning Commission’s recommendations include allowing alcohol to be served until 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, from June to September. Recommended hours from October to May are until 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Tea House and Ramos House Café are two restaurants allowed to serve alcohol with food in the Los Rios area, under accessory use permits granted in the 1990s.

Planning commissioners are recommending guidelines for when alcohol can be served at Ramos House Café and The Tea House, restaurants on Los Rios Street. Photo: Camryn Shonka of Camryn Clair Photography.

The Planning Commission unanimously approved the recommendations. The Cultural Heritage Commission is also looking at the matter and considering a recommendation to the city council, which will have final approval on the issue.

Some of the details recommended by planning commissioners differed from city staff recommendations, which included going until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Vice Chair Tami Wilhelm said 9 p.m. was a more appropriate limit.

“The reason I felt good about this as a framework is it does maintain the status quo,” Wilhelm said. “It’s good to have rules. Once you have rules, you have the ability to enforce them.”

Commissioner Matt Gaffney said he was generally in favor of the staff findings. Commissioner Darren Fancher said they remain historical stewards of the area, and it’s important to look at property rights with businesses.

Chairman Harrison Taylor, who lives in the Los Rios area, said the district has been “kind of the Wild West” in terms of adherence to legal restrictions, and Los Rios Street is one of the most popular streets in San Juan.

“It’s about time that we all bring up the rules and we, as a commission, figure out what the ground rules are, fully vetted by our legal attorney, and move forward,” Harrison Taylor said.

Harrison Taylor said he spoke with the city’s legal representation about voting on the matter since he lives in the Los Rios area, and it was determined he could discuss and vote on the matter since he is a tenant. City officials tend to recuse themselves if they live in proximity to an area under discussion.

The consideration at the May 11 meeting was a continuation from discussions at an April 27 meeting. The specific matter under consideration by the Planning Commission was a code amendment that would amend the Los Rios Specific Plan to re-establish an accessory use permit (AUP) review process for the only two food establishments that currently have AUPs. The amendment was requested by Phillip Schwartze, who represents the property owners of The Tea House and Ramos House Café. The AUP process was removed from the plan in 1999.

Los Rios residents, including Mayor John Taylor, spoke during the public comments part of the agenda item. John Taylor, who is the father of Harrison Taylor, said he was speaking as a resident and not a councilmember. The important thing to remember is Los Rios is a residential neighborhood, John Taylor said.

“We have to take this very carefully and very measured,” John Taylor said.

Resident Stephen Rios said Los Rios Street has a legacy that the Planning Commission should help preserve. John Taylor and Rios also both spoke at the April 27 meeting.

Damian Orozco, operator of The Tea House, said they were asking for a couple nights a week to stay open later and see how that goes. During the April 27 meeting, Orozco said they want to expand their dinner service and offer “high-end cocktails,” and were not looking to offer bar services.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com

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