Up until a couple of weeks ago, a typical weekend night might see the San Luis Obispo bar Creeky Tiki jammed packed with people taking advantage of the 2-for-1 drink specials.
Other establishments in the city, such as Marston’s Bar & Grill and MoTav, also offered 2-for-1 specials to lure in the college-age crowds.
But recently, in cooperation with the San Luis Obispo Police Department and the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association, San Luis Obispo bar owners have voluntarily stopped those deals, according to Police Capt. Jeff Smith.
Police became concerned after noticing higher levels of intoxication and the potential for dangerous, reckless and illegal behavior. In a January meeting coordinated by the Downtown Association and attended by police officials, bar owners unanimously decided to stop the 2-for-1 drink bargains.
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“It hasn’t become a big problem, but it’s something we are noticing that has been becoming more of a problem,” Smith said at a recent Planning Commission meeting. “The (bar owners’ decision) is just an example of our relationship and what we see as cooperation.”
College students unhappy
Dominic Tartaglia, the Downtown Association’s executive director, said that the decision to end the specials has sparked criticism from many local college students. But he also is calling for bar patrons to take responsibility for their actions.
Tartaglia said business owners routinely are faced with cleaning up urine, vomit and “other obscene things” the morning after bar revelry.
“I know that a lot of college students are disappointed in this decision and that they blame the Downtown Association for this presumed sanction but they are completely off basis,” Tartaglia told The Tribune in an email. “... The party needs to stop when people are unable to control their bodily functions, stand on their own or when they become aggressive or a nuisance to other people.”
Bill Hales — co-owner of ASH Management, which owns Creeky Tiki, Bull’s Tavern and McCarthy’s, among other county bars — said that the decision is proactive and indicative of a good relationship with police.
Hales said competition inspired multiple local bars to offer 2-for-1 deals. But he’s not worried about attracting customers.
“A good chunk of the bars around SLO were offering (2-for-1 specials),” Hales said. “But it’s not a problem for us to stop.”
Tartaglia said bar owners still are maintaining other deals such as half-off drink specials or beverage discounts when customers buy a burrito.
Smith gave an informal presentation on alcohol-related safety problems at the Jan. 24 Planning Commission meeting. Smith noted that despite some community members’ perceived rise in alcohol-related crime, police haven’t noticed any significant increase or growing trends.
“We have a vibrant downtown community and nightlife,” Smith said. “This is a college town, and that’s part of the culture for us.”
Critics want more action
But downtown San Luis Obispo resident Allan Cooper of the group Save Our Downtown said that he would like to see a cap on the number of alcohol outlets in specific areas of the city. And he’d like police to ask suspects of alcohol-related crimes where they were last served alcohol.
“That would be a great protocol,” Cooper said. “This explains why no alcohol outlet over the past four years has faced any disciplinary action.”
Cooper also would like to see that a complaint process against alcohol-serving businesses be handled initially by the city through administrative hearings, rather than directed through the Downtown Association.
But Tartaglia believes the organization’s meetings and collaboration with bar owners are the best way to ensure accountability when complaints arise — and city administrative hearings or City Council involvement should be a last resort.
“The committee that we host is largely a peer review group,” Tartaglia said at the meeting. “We have sent out letters to specific bar owners when there are problems, whether it’s a noise violation on Dana Street or officers coming to our committee to talk to us or bar owners themselves. The bar owners will rat each other out and say, ‘Hey, we have a problem that we need to address, because we’re all at risk.”
Additionally, Smith said that police are working with city parking officials on the best way to handle late-night Uber and Lyft pickups, saying that Higuera Street can get packed with cars on the side lanes.
“I’ve been working with our parking manager to try to see if we can create some zoning where ride services have the availability to drop off and pick up in a safe mode where we don’t see them out in the streets,” Smith said.
Planning Commission Chairman Chuck Stevenson said that topic also has been discussed as part of the Downtown Concept Plan.
“One of the big-picture issues is when we get more autonomous vehicles, there’s going to be more need for drop-off areas,” Stevenson said. “That’s going to be something the City Council will need to look at and try to figure out how to accommodate. It makes sense to get people out of their own cars more, but you need a place to drop them off and pick them up.”