Last November, voters elected to partially repeal the dry laws in the Heights. Now, they have pushed a full repeal over the goal line.
Tuesday night, Heights voters supported a proposition overturning a law older than Prohibition that banned establishments from selling alcohol for consumption in a defined area of the Heights. Nearly 61 percent of ballots were cast in favor of the measure, with just 22 percent of registered voters showing up at the polls.
Before restaurants and bars in the area can begin pouring drinks without the former protocol of offering memberships to a club, the Houston City Council must certify the results. And once that happens, Heights businesses will have to apply for new alcohol licenses.
According to Scot Luther, head of the Heights Restaurant Coalition, the full impact should be felt at some point in January 2018.
“It’s been a hassle for those guys to serve in the Heights – administratively and cost-wise, it’s just a burden; and for customers it’s a burden,” Luther said. “[Customers] must go and whip out their license or membership card every time – there’s a layer of complexity, and there’s also a cost to the operators to run under those private club laws. It will be cheaper, because operators will not be under the burden.”
Luther, as well as Coltivare and Eight Row Flint owner Morgan Weber, saw what they believe to be false narratives during the process, such as reasoning that dry laws are keeping chains out and keeping people from opening restaurants – which they refuted as the Heights is set to go completely wet.
“Go to Westheimer and Montrose; you’ve got the same demographics, expensive land costs, same everything. You don’t see a bunch of chains. Chains aren’t coming in – they can’t afford $70/foot land; it’s impossible,” Luther said.
Weber echoed Luther, furthering the point that it has been tedious to own and operate a restaurant that wishes to serve in the dry zone.
“The sense is that this was keeping chains out and independents are willing to deal with it, but that’s not the case,” Weber said. “The reality is that it’s an incredibly cumbersome back-of-house and management nightmare we contend with on a daily basis.”
For a drinker, Weber says the pain has ended with having to swipe their license or ID to become a member of the private club; but for owners, the work was just beginning. Per TABC guidelines due to current laws, bank transfers must be made on a daily basis to keep the alcohol sales separate from overall food sales, and that’s something other restaurants in town don’t have to deal with according to Weber.
“Figuring out how to operate a restaurant or bar under those guidelines is not ‘not doable.’ In fact, I think it’s more difficult for independent guys like us to dedicate all the energy to managing this thing properly on a daily and ongoing basis,” he said. “This [has been] an absolute nightmare.”
Alli Jarret with Harold’s in the Heights echoed Weber’s sentiment.
“The Yes vote only changes that we get to file one tax return, eliminate two bank accounts, pay less in permits, eliminate club software expenses and allow alcohol to be delivered to us,” she said Tuesday. “All of this helps us grow our business and give back more to schools, churches and non-profits seeking assistance in our community.”
Luther and Weber both told The Leader that the key was getting the younger demographic who supported the change to work up motivation to flock to the polls; and Tuesday night, it was clear they were successful.
HISD District 1 race heading to runoff
Who will replace the outgoing Anna Eastman remains undecided, and two candidates will head to a runoff Dec. 9 after none garnered the required 50 percent of the vote.
Elizabeth Santos, a homegrown District 1 graduate decade-long tenured teacher, ran on a campaign that put a major focus on taking aim at reducing the culture of high stakes standardized testing, was closest to threshold, but fell just short at 44 percent of the initial vote.
“I want to thank [the voters] for the new insight,” she said Tuesday night. “I know the district pretty well, but thank you for allowing me to become a part of your life in some way. It’s been an amazing experience in getting to know my neighbors better.”
Gretchen Himsl, who has two children within HISD, ran on the platform that had district-wide equity on all fronts as central to her campaign, wound up with about 34 percent of the initial vote.
“I would like to thank the voters for their interest and passion for our schools in Houston. Parents, teachers, administrators and neighbors all want our children to succeed in school and to be ready for life after graduation. I want to encourage everyone to keep advocating for change, improvements and programs they believe in,” she told The Leader Tuesday night. “The best thing to come out of the campaign process has been to meet so many parents, teachers and community members that care so passionately about our schools. I am so happy and inspired to have met so many dedicated, caring people that want our schools to be the best they can be.”
Monica Flores-Richart, who ran on a platform stressing district-wide equity after she said she witnessed real barriers to entry for the district’s low-income communities to high-quality magnet programs, bowed out after garnering 21 percent of the vote.