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Insurgente reopens brewery in Tijuana; City promptly shuts it down again

Bartender Joann Cornejo serves two craft beers at Machete Beer House in National City on Dec. 19. The establishment held an event for Insurgente, a brewery facing shut-down in Tijuana.
Bartender Joann Cornejo serves two craft beers at Machete Beer House in National City on Dec. 19. The establishment held an event for Insurgente, a brewery facing shut-down in Tijuana.
((Wendy Fry / San Diego Union-Tribune) )

The popular cross-border brewery was closed in October amid a permit dispute involving the Baja California governor

A popular craft brewery in Tijuana that received permission from a state judge to continue operating amid a permit dispute was shuttered Thursday for a second time by city officials.

The brewery, located across the street from the governor’s brother’s home, has drawn the ire of state and local officials and the support of beer-lovers on both sides of the border.

Cervecería Insurgente was preparing to reopen its tasting room on Friday, after receiving permission from a state judge. But, Tijuana inspection workers arrived late Thursday morning to place a bright orange “Clausurado” sign across its doors.

It is the second time the city has forced the brewery to close since October.

“It is evident that we are being subjected to harassment by the municipal authorities and (Mayor) Arturo González Cruz, who does not tire of seeking excuses to close us,” the company said on Twitter.

This time, city officials said the business lacks an environmental impact document.

“They said we don’t have a document, which we showed them during the inspection,” said Ivan Morales, one of the owners.

In a press release sent Thursday evening, city officials said the business has five days to produce the environmental impact manifesto or they face a 45-day closure.

“After a series of citizen complaints, an inspection operation was carried out by authorities of the City Council XXIII of Tijuana, at the Insurgent Brewery facilities, which when not presenting the current Environmental Impact Manifesto, the premises were closed,” read the city’s statement.

The city’s press release also said other irregularities were found during the inspection indicating that Insurgente’s current “space is not suitable for the industrialization of craft beer.”

Shortly after a city worker posted the orange shutdown sign across Insurgente’s front doors Thursday, Baja California Gov. Jaime Bonilla came by and took a look at the front of the business.

Surveillance video shows the governor’s SUV pulling up slowly across the street. In the video, Bonilla gets out, shields his eyes from the sun, and looks toward the door of Insurgente before going into a building across the street.

Bonilla said the surveillance video had been edited to cut out his security guard bringing Christmas presents up to his brother’s house.

He was adamant that he was not checking on the business, but furious the cameras were positioned to see who goes into and out of his brother’s home.

“Like I don’t have anything else to do as governor of the state than to worry about this brewery,” said Bonilla. “No one respects the laws in Tijuana. They don’t seem to understand this is a new government and they can no longer get away with whatever they want like they have for the past 30 years.”

He said he planned to ask the state to investigate because the brewery’s cameras could compromise the security of his brother.

“They are illegally surveilling a citizen’s house,” said Bonilla. “There’s going to be consequences. I don’t give a rat’s a** who their friends are.”

Bonilla said the business is loud; bothers the neighbors (one of whom is his brother); and that the owners used a family connection to obtain illegal permits under a prior administration. He said the brewery will not be permitted to reopen.

“Read my lips. They are not going to be opening the brewery there,” said Bonilla, definitively.

He indicated the permit dispute may have intensified. “If they want to raise it a couple bars, we’ll raise it a couple bars,” he said.

“I’m not going to have an illegal brewery operating in front of residences and in a commercial and residential zone. It’s not appropriate,” he said earlier this month.

Tijuana first closed Cervecería Insurgente on Oct. 5. The business filed a lawsuit in state court. It has operated at its current location since 2014.

Earlier this month, a state judge ruled the brewery could reopen and continue operations while the permit dispute made its way through the legal system.

The owners began brewing around mid-December.

Owners Ivan and Damian Morales, two brothers who grew up in Chula Vista and Tijuana, developed their business from a home-brewing operation in their mother’s kitchen to an international and award-winning brewery. They’ve made beers with Stone, Modern Times, Thorn Brewing Co., and other big name brands.

On Wednesday night, Insurgente released a statement that said they planned to re-open their tasting room in Tijuana.

“We have been able to resume operations at our production plant and we are pleased to announce that next Friday, December 27, we will reopen the doors of the tasting room located on Juan Cordero Street, our home since 2014,” the statement read in part.

González, the mayor of Tijuana, said the brewery obtained a commercial permit when they were supposed to ask for a “special transformation permit,” because they are producing beer on the premises.

Both Bonilla and González mentioned issues with the brewery operating near a hospital and near homes.

Whether or not the business’s permits are legal has not yet been decided in court.

A judge agreed to allow the brewery to continue operating while the case is heard, but he has not yet made a determination on the validity of Cervecería Insurgente’s permits.

The brothers recently held a celebratory event at Machete Beer House in National City, upon receiving an initial ruling in their lawsuit that allowed them to reopen.

Casual beer lovers to professional craft brewers filled the bar on Dec. 19.

“They make really great beer,” said Tony Suarez, 34, of San Diego, who attended the event.

“The business is good for the beer culture in Mexico and the U.S. and I think it’s important to support small business,” he added.

Brandon Fuentes, 39, from Chula Vista said the brewery brings a positive image to Tijuana at a time when the city desperately needs it.

“It’s also cool that something as simple as beer can bring all these people together,” said Fuentes.

“I just like drinking beer and that’s it,” said Elijah Rodriguez, 34, of Chula Vista.

Thorn Street Brewery Company General Manager Tom Kiely, 34, of Chula Vista said he wanted to support the brothers, with whom he’s collaborated on special brews.

“It’s tough enough trying to run a business and make a living without the government trying to mess with you. If the government really wants to mess with you, what can you do?” said Kiely.

Michael Lettieri, 36, of University Heights, a fellow at UC San Diego’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, attended. He said he wanted to support Insurgente and disagreed with the government’s approach, calling it “a terrible look” for the Morena political party, to which González and Bonilla both belong.

“Tijuana’s got real problems and Insurgente is not one of them,” said Lettieri.


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