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Madison City Council upholds veto of Taco Bell liquor license

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State Street

Pedestrians make their way along the 500 block of State Street in Madison.

Mayor Paul Soglin’s veto of a Taco Bell liquor license will stand after the Madison City Council failed to get the votes needed to override it Tuesday.

Council members voted 9-7 in favor of overturning Soglin’s decision to block a Taco Bell Cantina, 534 State St., from selling beer and wine due to his concerns about alcohol-fueled violence Downtown. But 14 of the council’s 20 members are needed to successfully override a veto. Four members were absent Tuesday.

Soglin said “it is the cumulative effect of the volume of liquor consumed and the volume of people consuming it” that results in costly problems Downtown.

“If there’s more opportunity for alcohol sales and people to drink, that is generally making the situation worse,” said Ald. Rebecca Kemble.

Supporters of the liquor license said conditions pulled back the hours when alcohol could be served — similar to what has happened with other restaurants — and larger policy decisions about alcohol Downtown should be discussed outside the context of an individual license.

The license would have allowed the Taco Bell Cantina to sell wine and beer until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.

“Random decision making is certainly not policy making,” said Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff.

The mayor argued that granting previous licenses didn’t need to factor into the decision on the Taco Bell one, but instead the bigger picture of alcohol availability was at issue.

“This is a council that is so preoccupied with precedent, it’s almost a fetish,” Soglin said.

Soglin has floated the idea of taking the issuance of Downtown liquor licenses to referendum.

Soglin vetoed liquor licenses for State Street businesses Mad City Frites in 2015 and Lotsa Stone Fired Pizza in 2016, but the City Council overturned those vetoes. He vetoed the Taco Bell Cantina license on Dec. 11.

The Taco Bell Cantina brand differs from the chain’s regular restaurants by having a different decor, serving urban business districts and selling alcohol.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Soglin showed a five-minute video of violent incidents caught on security cameras Downtown in recent years to argue against increasing alcohol capacity.

“I don’t know how anyone could believe by allowing this cantina to go forward, that somehow it’s going to make the issues we saw on that screen better or worse,” Ald. Matt Phair said in response to the video.

Ald. Ledell Zellers, whose 2nd District includes the Taco Bell’s location, was comfortable with the plan as it limited the time when alcohol could be sold and restricted sales to beer and wine.

There is a chance the issue could be taken up again at the council’s Jan. 16 meeting. One of the four absent members, or a member who voted against overriding the veto, could ask for a reconsideration of the vote.

In that case, 11 of the 20 council members must agree to reopen discussion. But if the seven who voted against overriding the veto kept their position, there still would not be enough votes to overturn it.

The council also voted to move forward with the planning process for a Bus Rapid Transit system with about $2 million in state and federal dollars covering costs. Members also affirmed the right for mothers to breastfeed children in the council chambers.


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