By unanimous vote of its city council, National City has made itself more welcoming to beer manufacturers. The December 19th vote amended its municipal code to allow breweries and tasting rooms to open in mixed-used commercial zones. Previously, a beer business was required to obtain a conditional use permit, an onerous process that costs thousands of dollars and took months to complete — with no guarantee of approval.
"It can be a project killer" says Jacqueline Reynoso, president of the National City Chamber of Commerce, "You're waiting on a maybe." Several prospective beer businesses have looked at setting up in National City over the past couple years, yet few have committed to opening in the area. The chamber initially proposed the change in January of last year, with the hope craft beer establishments will bolster the city's economic development efforts, as it has recently in neighboring Chula Vista.
"Since the ordinance passed," Reynoso adds, "We have had a couple of breweries show interest."
While the rule changes make it easier for breweries to open within industrial zones, Reynoso points to the provision allowing them in mixed-use zones as most important. Breweries and tasting rooms will, by right, be allowed to open along commercial corridors such as Highland Avenue, National City Boulevard, and 8th Street. The "by right" designation will be subject to National City Police Department review, with restrictions on operating hours, noise, and live entertainment. However, the entire application process will be whittled down from several months to under two weeks.
Councilmember Alejandra Sotelo-Solis called passage of the ordinance "a huge victory," that will add to the city's rising appeal among young families, entrepreneurs, and developers, who are attracted by its affordability and proximity to downtown San Diego.
"National City is definitely growing," adds Sotelo-Solis, noting the city's efforts to attract entrepreneurs include improving business façades, public transportation options, and bike friendliness. The goal, she says, is for National City to be self-contained, to "provide amenities that people have been going outside our community to receive."
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For three years, Machete Beer House has been the city's only craft beer spot, but new ones have been in the works, even before the new ordinance. Chula Vista brewery Novo Brazil Brewing has plans to open a tasting room in 2018, on 8th Avenue at A Street. Cofounder Joel Tubao owns the property through his real estate business, and says Novo will be the anchor tenant of a small public market concept. He plans for the project to feature 8 or 10 vendors offering the likes of artisan goods, coffee, and street foods.
But first up, after two years in business as the South Bay's only homebrew supply shop, Embarcadero Brewing and Supply's new tasting room will open soon. Marco Peña, who opened Embarcadero with his brother and two cousins, says it was such an arduous process to acquire a permit just to serve beer, trying to make beer in National City seemed out of reach. Instead, the shop's brewing offshoot, Embarcadero Brewing Company, opted to contract brew at Chula Vista's Bay Bridge Brewing.
With the change in city policy, Embarcadero's partners will revisit the idea of their own National City brewery. First they'll get their tasting room open, says Peña, "Then we plan to put in our own brewhouse, our own system, and this is definitely going to make it 100 times easier."