San Luis Obispo City Council to weigh bar problems

Downtown San Luis Obispo is known as a hopping place at night, and the bars are a major reason why.

But the bars and restaurants that sell alcohol might face new regulations in the future meant to minimize problems associated with drinking.

The issue will be discussed Tuesday during a two-hour special session of the City Council as it receives a report on how alcohol establishments downtown are linked disproportionately to the use of police time, a situation brought to light by police and other city departments.

The report states that “police events in the city are influenced by the operation and concentration of alcohol outlets. This is especially true for the downtown.”

The report states that having such a “night-time economy” can create problems in many cities, including San Luis Obispo.

City staff is asking the council to discuss possible ways to regulate all establishments selling alcohol to minimize such problems. The report identified areas to look at including:

But there is no specific action anticipated at Tuesday’s meeting beyond the council receiving the report and hearing from the public.

Police Chief Deborah Linden is asking the council, in turn, to direct her to meet with all the parties who would be affected by such future regulations.

Linden said her agency has been meeting with owners of the alcohol outlets already and anticipates doing so again before any regulations are adopted.

She also said that city staff is looking at solutions that have worked elsewhere.

“Our outlet owners are nervous because this is their livelihood, and we understand that. That’s why we want to work with them,” she said.

Bill Hales, who holds ownership in Mother’s Tavern, Bull’s, The Library and McCarthy’s, among other establishments, says he was caught off-guard by the proposed regulations.

“We’ve been told we’ve had a great working relationship with the city over the past few years,” he said. “We’re eager to be part of any solution, rather than being a problem.”

Speaking on behalf of a coalition of downtown bar owners, he added, “We understand the concerns, but some of these issues, such as homelessness, are bigger societal issues. We want other businesses to work with us for positive solutions. We’d like to have a liaison with the Downtown Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the Police Department.”

One impetus for dealing with the question now is that there will be many more residents living downtown if and when major mixed-use projects either proposed or under construction are completed.

Council members have noted that could create friction between downtown dwellers and visitors who frequent the bars.

“We know there are projects that are already approved that will bring in mixed-used housing to downtown,” Linden said. “We know that conflict is coming. The more we can do to prevent that problem, the better off we can be.”

For some time, council members have heard about conflict downtown between stores oriented to the day trade and bars oriented to the night trade.

Some store owners have complained that they arrive at their businesses each morning to find evidence of celebrants over-imbibing the night before, including urine, vomit and trash in their doorways.

In 2008, the report states that there were 21,643 “police events” not including traffic stops in the city. Such events can include calls for service, cases where there is a possible crime and no arrest, and arrests or citations.

Of those, the report states that a total of 24 percent involved alcohol or drugs in some form. Forty-eight percent of the 2,826 arrests made in the city involved alcohol or drugs, the report states.

The report is available online and shows which bars, liquor stores and grocery stores get the most calls.

Many are the well-known establishments along Chorro and Higuera streets downtown. They include Frog & Peach Pub with 33 police events, Native Lounge with 30 and Downtown Brewing Co. with 31.

And geography seems to matter even for the off-sale locations that sell alcohol: the 7 Eleven on Marsh Street downtown had 31 police events, while Costco on Los Osos Valley Road had three.

Tribune Senior Staff Writer Bill Morem contributed to this report.

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