The San Luis Obispo City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to at least have staff look at regulating bars in the downtown, despite how bar owner after restaurant manager stepped forward to say they were being unfairly singled out.
A crowd of 106 people gathered for the special afternoon meeting on public safety concerns and alcohol retail establishments in the city.
The council received a 300-page, $22,000 report by a Berkeley consultant that evaluated the number of police events in the city and showed a disproportionate number of such events at or near downtown liquor establishments.
The council also reviewed eight recommendations for regulating all alcohol sellers. They varied from tightening zoning rules to establishing fees that alcohol outlets would pay to help cover the added police time.
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Council members ordered staff to explore the recommendations while meeting with liquor vendors, business leaders, police, representatives of Cal Poly and Cuesta College, and other interested parties.
Councilmen Allen Settle and John Ashbaugh expressed concerns about the fees. Councilwoman Jan Marx and Councilman Andrew Carter said they could possibly support all eight recommendations, and definitely wanted them explored.
Marx persuaded the council to explore establishing a downtown entertainment zone, which could mean higher fees but also more services for bars.
Bar owners repeatedly faulted the study as a snapshot of one year with no reference to past years, and they said they weren’t consulted when it was done.
Some bristled at how the report emphasized that some businesses that have a bar and restaurant license “morph” into nightclubs and bars in the evening.
Todd Newman, manager at Downtown Brewing Co., said the council was being “asked to go in a fairly specific direction,” and he worried that the businesses were being “defamed” in the process.
Myriam Olaizola, owner of Black Sheep Bar & Grill and Buffalo Pub & Grill, said her business invests locally and holds nonprofit fundraisers.
“We feel we need a solution that focuses on the problem and doesn’t just focus on a new tax for businesses,” she said.
“You have directed us to be in the downtown and not out in neighborhoods where we could disturb people and cause people to lose sleep,” said Andrea Miller, owner of Spike’s Pub.
There were also daytime business owners who complained about the security problems and litter that the bars can bring to downtown, but they were far fewer than the bar supporters, judging from the applause for certain speakers.
Mary Mitchell-Leicher, who owns an office building downtown, said her building lost 50 percent of its tenants in the last year to the airport area.
“The airport provides something that downtown does not, free parking and a clean, safe area,” she said. She said daytime customers are being lost because of higher parking meter fees, but night-time businesses get to have completely free parking.
Carter said Native Lounge was one restaurant that morphs into a nightclub, after Native owner Sean Faries described how his business needs a license allowing it to be both a restaurant and bar so that it can serve people under 21 and families.
Carter held up Native ads depicting women in bikinis and other promotions for adults.
“Morphing is particularly appropriate here, because the ads for Native Lounge are not appealing to children,” Carter said. Faries was told he couldn’t speak by Mayor Dave Romero because the public comment had ended.
“If he wants to call me out, let me speak,” Faries insisted angrily.