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Taco Bell

Madison's City Council lacked the 14 votes needed to override Mayor Paul Soglin's veto of a beer and wine license for a Taco Bell Cantina on the 500 block of State Street. 


Without enough votes at its meeting Tuesday night to restore the City Council’s approval of an alcohol license for a Taco Bell Cantina on State Street, Mayor Paul Soglin’s veto stands.

Soglin vetoed the license Dec. 12, arguing that the city has enough alcohol establishments. He also reasoned that granting an alcohol license to a fast food restaurant downtown would impair public safety and increase police costs.

“This body is under no obligation to approve liquor licenses,” Soglin said at the meeting Tuesday.

Soglin previously vetoed alcohol licenses for Lotsa Mozza Pizza and Mad City Frites on the 500 block of State Street, a problem area for the Madison Police Department. The concerns in the block have led the city to requiring applicants to stop selling alcohol earlier in the evening, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said.

“We have issues in this area with very heavy density alcohol license establishment, with particular concerns on weekend evenings,” Verveer said.

Madison’s City Council approved the license Dec. 5 for the Taco Bell Cantina at 534 State St. to sell beer and wine with conditions determined by the city’s Alcohol License Review Committee. The license restrictions include:

  • The establishment cannot serve alcohol later than 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and no later than 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • At least half of sales at the establishment must be from food.
  • Food must be available at all times.
  • Staff must regularly patrol the premises and discourage loitering.

Madison Police Capt. Jason Freedman said adding licenses is generally not a good strategy for the downtown, noting that addressing violent incidents there is a top priority for 2018.

However, he said the Taco Bell Cantina’s application did not raise any “red flags.”

“We did not see any security concerns with this applicant, and they appear to present a cogent, well thought out and flexible plan,” Freedman said.

The 500 block of State Street is a challenging area for the police department in addition to the 600 block of University Avenue. Soglin showed video footage of violent incidents downtown during his comments on the license.

Ald. Rebecca Kemble, a cab driver who witnesses these incidents, said “enough is enough.”

“I’m thinking about the general situation in our community and how we as a council have responsibility for it,” Kemble said. “Adding one more venue that serves alcohol is not helping.”

The council voted 9 to 7 with four absent alders, short of the 14 votes needed to override. Alds. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 1; Kemble, District 18; Marsha Rummel, District 6; Paul Skidmore, District 9; David Ahrens, District 15; Samba Baldeh, District 17; and Sheri Carter, District 14, voted to uphold the mayor’s veto.

Any council member who voted to support the veto or was absent from Tuesday's meeting could call for a reconsideration of the override vote at the council’s next meeting. Reconsideration needs 11 votes.

The council’s discussion raised questions of a moratorium on alcohol licenses until a broader policy is implemented and renewed calls for an alcohol license policy coordinator, a position that has been unfilled since Mark Woulf left in 2016. George Reistad was hired later that year as the city's food policy coordinator.

Ald. Ledell Zellers, District 2, said she could not support denying the license in the absence of a greater policy review regarding alcohol licenses.

“Certainly, as the mayor said, we can turn this license down for any reason or no reason, but I do think we should have some criteria and standards that we would then apply to license requests,” Zellers said.

'Click and collect'

Also at the meeting, the City Council opted to not vote on a new ordinance that would allow curbside pick-up of alcohol.

Under the ordinance, retailers that want to include alcohol in their “click and collect” service — when customers preselect items online that are then delivered to their vehicle at the store — would need to expand their licensed premises to include a designated area outside the store where customers can pick up their online order.

"As long as it was delivered to the car and the patron did not have to go inside, I would certainly veto this," Soglin said.

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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.

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