Council voted 4-1 to approve the staff report that establishes a moratorium on the establishment, creation or expansion of any and all bars, nightclubs, restaurants serving distilled spirits and restaurants exceeding 2500 square feet. The moratorium will extend through November 13, but council is offering the one current applicant, Blondie’s Pizza which is proposing to move into the spot formerly occupied by Little Prague, to seek a hardship exception at the next meeting on October 13.
Councilmember Brett Lee noted the change in the atmosphere at the bars. “As a longtime person living in Davis, the bar scene has changed and it has changed very noticeably over the past five years,” he said. He said that, rather than addressing the issue “haphazardly” we need a “comprehensive approach which is not reactionary but actually lays out a plan of what we would like it to be and what we would like it to be in the future so the downtown is vibrant and it’s also an attractive and enjoyable place for people.”
Community Development Director Mike Webb explained that the intent of the moratorium “is to provide an opportunity for the community, for the council, for staff to engage in further dialogue around the issue at hand which is alcohol service establishment and the calls for the service and the incidents that can occur at these facilities if not properly managed and regulated.”
Assistant Chief Darren Pytel explained that, so far, the bar owners have been reluctant to be “that first place that does anything different from the rest – so somehow their business suffers from ways that the others aren’t.” They are looking for uniform ways to deal with the security issues.
He explained, “What’s happening downtown is we have restaurants and they morph into nightclubs at nighttime – so the business model significantly changes. Other cities have regulated how businesses morph – everything from whether music is permitted or whether people have to have seats, types of bottles or cups that are allowed, to hours of service.”
City Attorney Harriet Steiner explained some options for the city council, for cases where an establishment is otherwise running a legal business, saying that “if a business is operating as a nuisance so it could be operating not in compliance with existing law both state and local law, it could be what we call a disorderly house, in other words it’s not maintaining decorum with people that come to that business and there’s a history of that, those types of issues are not so much that the use is illegal but the way its operating is not proper those usually get abated through a nuisance process.”
At this time, this moratorium would impact one current applicant – Blondie’s Pizza, which is seeking to come into the space that used to house Little Prague. It would operate as a family-style restaurant until 9:30, at which point it would become a bar.
Bill Kopper, a local attorney and former Mayor of Davis, represented the applicant. He explained to council that they have already leased the site and want to construct a restaurant and sports bar. “Blondie’s is getting a permit to construct improvements and they would have had it weeks ago if not for delays in permit review at the fire department. This is a ministerial act, they have all of the zoning necessary to construct the restaurant.”
He said that Little Prague was a restaurant/bar, and this will be a restaurant/sports bar, so he called it “the exact same business.”
He expressed condolences for the death of Peter Gonzales, but added that “it should not have any bearing on holding up Blondie’s building permit.”
He noted, “Blondie’s is the only business affected from getting a building permit.” Mr. Kopper continued that his client would enter into a contract with the city to implement any new regulations on the day the business opens. “You don’t have to worry about the amortization issue as to his business,” he said. This “defeats the claim for this particular interim zoning ordinance.”
This issue, he pointed out, came up relatively recently when then City Councilmember Don Saylor attempted to propose an interim ordinance to keep the hookah store at Fifth and G from opening in the city. He stated, “The city council wisely rejected it because it was an illegal spot zone and in fact this is essentially a taking of my client’s property.”
The spot has been vacant for over a year, Mr. Kopper pointed out, and owners have had difficulty leasing it. “The Little Prague space has become a blight frankly,” he said. “It’s only days now before there are going to be boards in the windows – it’s in terrible terrible shape.”
He said they have the zoning and they will agree to any new regulations that are passed.
Jason Ojeda, their marking director, explained to council that this will be a full restaurant that is family style and will be open late on the weekends. He explained that, at their Vacaville place, “there are kids there all the time. Sometimes it feels like Chuck E. Cheese. It’s really good New York Style Pizza and it draws a large family crowd.”
They have all-you-can-eat specials where kids eat free. “Any time before ten o’clock of course, you see kids,” he stated.
However, Mayor Dan Wolk took issue with that assertion. “I get that, but what happens after ten o’clock?” he said.
Mr. Ojeda responded, “Yeah, we do deejays…”
“How late do you stay open?” the mayor asked.
“We stay open till 1:30 in the morning.”
“That doesn’t sound very family friendly,” the mayor retorted.
Mr. Ojeda responded that it was family friendly until ten.
Councilmember Lee didn’t want to single anyone out, but said there are a number of restaurants downtown that “past a certain point they become nightclubs.” He argued this was a much bigger issue that needed to be addressed comprehensively.
He said he was impressed that the applicant would be willing to adhere to the regulations right away, and he asked the city attorney if there was a way they could “allow people to move forward during this period if they could agree to sign onto” any new regulations.
Harriet Steiner noted that the applicant could apply for a hardship situation which would allow people with pending permits to petition the city to recognize that the moratorium constitutes a hardship and the council, after a ten-day notice and hearing, could grant an exception to the moratorium. She believes the council could condition that exception to go forward in a binding manner.
The staff recommendation was moved by Mayor Dan Wolk and seconded by Lucas Frerichs. They agreed to a friendly amendment that would allow the pending applicants to have a hardship hearing on October 13 for an up or down vote by the council.
Robb Davis expressed frustration at the limitations of the discussion under time constraints, as well as discomfort with the moratorium itself.
“I’ve been really uncomfortable with the moratorium partly because whatever we do it does feel like we’re singling out certain applicants,” he said. He argued that this would be a largely symbolic act. “I’m not going to support the motion because I think that we are moving forward and that there are other ways that we can achieve this without creating difficulty for one single applicant who we would hope and would expect would fully participate in what we as a city decide to do going forward in this area.”
Later he would add that he is opposed since we are already going in the right direction, “I’m not in serious opposition to the direction.” He added that “there’s a fairness [issue] to this that bothers me a bit.”
Mayor Wolk explained that, before the city entitles another use, “we strategize at some of these issues that we’ve been having, we need to have that conversation.”
Rochelle Swanson stated, “This moratorium… is about a pause.” She added that it is not the intent of council to make actions that will harm the downtown, rather this is about “recognizing this tragedy that we had in our community and being responsible.”
Brett Lee added that “the good actors will come forth on October 13 and will agree, in principle, to support whatever changes we make. Bad actors, on the other hand, will get their permit and it could be up to a year before the changes actually are required.”
Council approved the action 4-1, with Robb Davis dissenting.
—David M. Greenwald reporting