New alcohol rules for downtown San Luis Obispo delayed

The San Luis Obispo City Council is grappling with how to enforce a new set of rules giving the city more oversight of businesses serving alcohol. The council approved the changes in May after years of discussion in an attempt to curb nuisances caused by excessive drinking downtown.

But a rift between the Downtown Association and the council on how existing businesses will be held to the new standards delayed the ordinance from moving forward Tuesday.

In May, the council eliminated the Downtown Association from a peer review process that would be triggered if existing businesses garner complaints for nuisances such as litter, public urination and unruly behavior. Instead, the council opted to only include an administrative hearing with city staff.

The city has long encouraged business owners to address the problems. Before the ordinance was enacted in May, at the council’s request, a conglomeration of downtown bar and restaurant owners formed the Safe Nightlife Association to address some of the problems.

That group has since launched a late-night transportation service for bar-goers, provided a downtown cleanup after late-night use and required all servers of alcohol to be trained in safe serving practices.

Members of that group said their efforts were rebuffed when the council eliminated the Downtown Association from the review process.

“This is not collaboration, not working together,” said Andrea Miller, owner of Spike’s Pub.

Councilwoman Kathy Smith, who was the lone vote against the changes in May because the Downtown Association was eliminated, advocated for adding the group back into the process.

“We almost set a private-public partnership and then bailed on that at vote time,” Smith said Tuesday. “I’m very disappointed.”

Opposing council members expressed concerns at an outside agency becoming involved in enforcing a city ordinance.

Councilman Dan Carpenter recused himself from the discussion because he recently became part-owner of a downtown business impacted by the ordinance.

City staff, directed by the council, is now revising the ordinance to add the Downtown Association back into the review process for businesses but making it clear it does not have decision-making authority. It will return to the council for another vote June 19.

The ordinance, which will take effect 30 days after the City Council approves the second reading, will require 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, among other requirements. The regulations will be attached to a conditional-use permit for all new businesses that sell alcohol.

Existing businesses will not be required to obtain the new permit but will be monitored under an ordinance that could trigger the new standards if they do not operate responsibly. Any alcohol venue found to have committed repeat violations could lose its grandfathered status and be required to obtain the conditional-use permit in order to continue operating.