Reversing the Madison City Council’s decision last week, Mayor Paul Soglin vetoed an alcohol license for a Taco Bell Cantina on State Street Monday and suggested taking liquor license approvals to public referendum.

“We have enough alcohol outlets in the city of Madison,” Soglin said. “The cost to the public is too great, the safety issues are too great and it’s about time we recognize that the issuance of a liquor license is not a right, it is a privilege and we have no obligation to grant it.”

The mayor’s primary concern is safety and minimizing alcohol-fueled violence. He said the costs associated with Madison Police Department patrols at bar time are “exorbitant” and adding additional establishments that sell alcohol, even if they close early, “makes no sense.”

At a Dec. 5 City Council meeting, Taco Bell franchisee representative Pat Eulberg said safety precautions have been implemented at the proposed "Cantina" such as adding 17 security cameras and lighting up the storefront.

“Our company has a very deep experience with responsible service of alcohol, and we know that that is a big piece of a successful operation,” Eulberg said.

Madison’s City Council approved a license for Taco Bell to serve wine and beer at 534 State Street until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Other license requirements included 50 percent or less of Taco Bell’s sales can come from alcohol, food must be available at all times and staff must regularly monitor and discourage loitering around the premises.

The applicant previously requested a full liquor license. The City Council would need 14 votes to override the mayor’s veto.

Soglin did not elaborate on his referendum suggestion. 

Some alders who voted for the license said they do not want to see more alcohol offerings on State Street, particularly the 500 block, but that they could not find a reason to deny a license. Soglin pushed back and said the city does not owe the applicant anything.

“There is absolutely no reason you can’t simply say no,” Soglin said, emphasizing that a liquor license is a privilege and not a right.

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Soglin also expressed concern over the burgeoning trend of fast food restaurants staying open later and offering alcohol for sale. He said he would not support any application for alcohol in a fast food restaurant in Madison.

Additionally, Soglin said he is against any new alcohol license in the State Street, University Avenue, Capitol Concourse area unless it is associated with a full-scale restaurant.

“I really think I’m aligned with the feelings of the people of this city, and I just don’t see a huge public outcry for fueling more alcohol either in the campus-area or in fast food restaurants,” Soglin said.

Soglin previously vetoed an alcohol license for Lotsa Mozza Pizza, also located on the 500 block, which the Council overrode. In 2015, he vetoed a license for Mad City Frites.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.