If a citizen-led petition gains 15,000 signatures, the city of Pearland will see a measure on the ballot to allow entertainment businesses, or businesses that make more than 51% of their revenue in alcohol sales, to come to Pearland. According to Texas Constitution Article XVI Section 20, this change can be made only through a local election.

Proponents of the petition, who include several Pearland City Council members, want the petition to gain the 15,000 signatures needed to land the measure on the ballot and potentially overturn the 51% rule. As of late June, the petition has 11,000 signatures.

“Regardless of how you feel about this given thing, if you love what makes our country distinctive, you should want the voters of 2021 to decide, rather than the voters of 1891,” said Council Member Luke Orlando, who announced his support for the petition.

Orlando is joined by council members Alex Kamkar and Adrian Hernandez. Other City Council members have voiced support for leaving this to the voters but are apprehensive about bars coming into the city, citing worries of increased crime and a glut of bars.

The Pearland Entertainment Beverage Coalition, the political acton committee created to circulate the petition, must garner roughly 4,000 remaining signatures by July 20 to trigger a November election.

“We just want to get this on the ballot and get people to vote,” PEBC chair Seth Thompson said.

The 1892 Texas Constitution requires an election to change alcohol allowances in the city, according to city attorney Darrin Coker. The law was first changed in Pearland in 2002, allowing restaurants to serve mixed beverages within the city limits. Before that, if residents wanted a mixed beverage at a restaurant, they had to fill out an application and be approved for a private club in order to be served, Coker said at the March 1 council meeting.

“It’s a very unusual nuance of Texas law, and I agree, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Coker said.

In 2007, Brazoria County held an election to allow off-premise beer and wine sales from grocery and convenience stores. When that passed with 75% in favor, it changed the law in Pearland.

In 2016, the city of Pearland held an election to allow off-premises liquor to be sold. When that passed with 66% in favor, it ushered in the possibility for liquor stores in Pearland.

“Every time it has been on the ballot, it has passed overwhelmingly,” Orlando said.

The PEBC’s petition needs to gather 15,000 signatures—roughly 12% of Pearland’s total population. As Pearland’s population continues to grow, this means more signatures are required than in the previous elections.

Thompson said the PEBC’s only objective is to get this on the ballot.

“We are bleeding sales tax revenue to other cities, so we want to keep our sales tax revenue local,” he said.

Those who are concerned about the item are worried about an increase in crime if bars are allowed to open.

According to 2020 data from the Texas Department of Transportation, the city of Pearland had 47 crashes caused by driving under the influence. By comparison, Sugar Land and League City—both of which allow bars to operate in city limits—had 34 and 72 DUI crashes that year, respectively.

Additionally, both cities are of relative size to Pearland. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Pearland had 124,532 residents in 2020, Sugar Land had 118,498 residents and League City had 110,598 residents.

Council Member Woody Owens referenced the death of police officer Endy Ekpanya in 2016 to a drunken driver in his concerns about having more bars in Pearland. However, he supports leaving it to the voters.

“I won’t support it and vote for it if it comes to a vote, but I’m not going to say to the rest of the people that they can’t vote on it,” Owens said.

Entertainment district

Council also voiced concerns about where bars and wine lounges would be located if the measure passes in November.

“We don’t want a bar on every corner,” Mayor Kevin Cole said. “We’ll ultimately have a conversation around where they would go, but I don’t want to have that conversation until we get those signatures.”

The Pearland Town Center, near Bass Pro Shop off Hwy. 288, and the Old Townsite could be potential entertainment districts, Cole said.

To have an entertainment district, the city would need to create new zoning, which is possible, Community Development Director John McDonald said. The city is zoned residential and commercial.

An entertainment district could be a way to potentially control how many bars are able to open, Bakfish Brewery owner Kris Szecsy said.

Bakfish, along with Vallensons’ Brewery, is one of the places residents can go to sign the petition or learn more about it. Both breweries are allowed to operate within city limits because breweries are covered under a different law, Coker said.

Szecsy said he hopes the item gets on the ballot and passes because it could mean he would have more businesses able to sell his product.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the community to decide what’s best for them,” he said.

Christian Piorkowski, the owner of CP’s Liquor, which opened in Pearland in April, is in support of the item making it to the ballot and passing.

The measure would allow Top Golf and Pappas restaurants, which often make over 51% of their revenue in alcohol sales, to come to Pearland, Piorkowski said.

“It’s not just bars—it’s family-friendly businesses, he said.