Moratorium on new bars in SLO is uncertain

Council must show a threat first, and a rise in alcohol-related incidents is attributed to more enforcement and not to more crimes

acornejo@thetribunenews.comAugust 18, 2013 

The area in front of MoTav on Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo is packed with people in the wee hours of a Saturday morning in May 2011.


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The number of alcohol-related incidents such as public intoxication and assaults has increased in downtown San Luis Obispo — but not because there is a growing problem, according to the San Luis Obispo Police Department.

Instead, the department contends that more people were arrested for such offenses in the past year than the previous year because of ratcheted-up enforcement.

The San Luis Obispo City Council will receive a report Tuesday outlining enforcement actions in the past year, following a series of new guidelines introduced in August 2012 to give the city more control over businesses selling alcohol.

The council had asked the city to consider the possibility of implementing a moratorium prohibiting new businesses from selling alcohol downtown. That will also be discussed Tuesday. However, to do so, the council must prove there is a threat to the public health, safety or welfare.

“Although the number of police-related incidents downtown increased over the last year, it is unclear if this or other data rise to the level of an urgency ordinance to establish a moratorium,” according to the staff report.

The concept of a moratorium was introduced by former Councilman Andrew Carter and supported by members of the Save Our Downtown, a grass-roots group dedicated to preserving the downtown.

“Some people feel the moratorium is necessary,” said Doug Davidson, deputy community development director. “The community will have a say.”

Alcohol offenses downtown increased by 24 percent compared to the prior year, according to statistics collected by the police department. The number of assaults also grew by 5 percent. 

“According to the police department, they do not believe that there is a growing problem and believe that the bars are being responsive to police department requests,” according to the staff report.

In August 2012, the city implemented new regulations to curb nuisances caused by excessive drinking downtown. Those required new bars, nightclubs and restaurants serving alcohol after 11 p.m. to have a manager on site when entertainment is performed, install a video surveillance system at all entrances and exits, and provide training for employees on responsible serving practices.

Those changes were made in part to give the city more supervision of businesses that “morph” from restaurants into nightclubs or bars after their kitchens close.

The city also partnered with the Downtown Association, which created the Food, Beverage and Services Committee, formerly the Safe Nightlife Association, to institute programs such as cleanup efforts and safe transportation.

The city is calling both actions a success so far, saying there have been no violations of the rules since their inception a year ago.

Since the new rules were sanctioned, the city has approved three additional permits for restaurants to serve alcohol until midnight. Those restaurants are Eatz by Design, Sidecar Restaurant and Turncoat Wine Company in the Creamery. In addition, one nightclub permit was issued for Creekside Brewery on Broad Street.

“There are no data or analysis currently available correlating additional licenses issued downtown over the last year to increased emergency calls, property damage, criminal or nuisance behavior in the proximity of a new alcohol establishment or directly attributable to them,” according to the staff report.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Follow her @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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