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Statement: “Last year, [the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control] processed 9,444 new alcohol licenses. They denied seven,” Scott Chipman, an advocate for Pacific Beach residents, said during an interview with Channel 6 that aired Feb. 11.

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: State alcohol licensing regulators recently approved an expansion of the Pacific Beach Shore Club, a popular oceanfront restaurant and bar.

The restaurant’s owners proposed building a rooftop deck to grow the number of patrons it can legally serve. Chipman and other residents pushed against the expansion, saying the neighborhood is already saturated with drunken revelers.

After regulators approved the expansion, Chipman appeared on Channel 6 and advocated for greater local control of alcohol licenses. He argued residents should have more say in who can serve alcohol and what conditions they must follow.

To back up the argument that state regulators have approved too many liquor licenses, Chipman cited a statewide statistic: “Last year, the ABC processed 9,444 new alcohol licenses. They denied seven.”

The numbers portrayed a stark contrast and touched on a major theme of debate in the Pacific Beach community, as well as other San Diego neighborhoods, so I decided to look into their accuracy.

Though Chipman said “last year,” the numbers he cited actually refer to statistics from the 2010 calendar year. In an annual report filed with state legislators, the agency reported issuing 9,444 new alcohol-related licenses and denying just seven.

Last year, the comparison was even more drastic. The agency reported issuing 12,600 new licenses and denying four. Most of the new licenses went to restaurants or bars, but more than 1,000 went to wine growers, beer manufacturers and importers.

I contacted John Carr, a spokesman for the agency, and asked why regulators had approved far more licenses than it denied each year. He said the annual reports didn’t contain another important statistic — the number of withdrawn applications.

Carr said the agency denies only a few licenses because restaurant and bar owners typically withdraw their applications when it becomes apparent the tide has turned against them. In the 2011 fiscal year, for example, the agency issued 9,327 new licenses and denied eight. In the same period, Carr said, applicants withdrew 604 requests.

To counter Chipman’s criticism, Carr also said the agency approves many licenses because residents want the businesses in their neighborhood. “They might bring a service to an underserved part of the community, they might enhance an established business district, and they provide jobs and another venue for members of the community to visit,” Carr wrote in an email.

Our definition for Mostly True says the statement is accurate but contains an important nuance.

Though Chipman’s statement referred to the wrong timeframe, it accurately described the stark comparison of approvals and denials, and the actual numbers from last year show an even starker comparison in his favor.

We felt the number of withdrawn requests constituted an important nuance because the statement would otherwise downplay how many licenses effectively don’t make it through the system.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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