Mayor Pro Tem Davis on Tuesday night called it “a shot across the bow,” or telegraphing how “things are probably going to go,” in terms of potential new permanent regulations. And, while council was divided on the issue of granting the exemption to Blondies, they seemed very much united on the need to change the reality on the ground during the late night bar scene.
Last night during the Vanguard and Civenergy forum, members of the public expressed concerns that the changes did not go far enough, with some calling for more to be done to change the drinking culture, while others wanted to see more extreme measures for limiting the hours of drinking and doing more to combat the violence and nuisance on the outside of the bar as well as the inside.
Good points were made last night that there are 26,000 UC Davis students who are going out on the weekends looking for something to do, and many are under 21 and therefore not part of the bar scene. The point was made that we need to have more options in the downtown for those students. There were concerns that simply curtailing the bar scene pushes the problems back out into the neighborhoods or into Sacramento.
From my standpoint, I grew up in a college town where I often felt, and the perception by many of the students was, that the town wanted to take the students’ money but did not really want the students around in the community. I also felt like there was a huge anti-student bias in the town and vowed when I got older not to repeat those mistakes.
These are reasonable first steps, with conditions imposed upon Blondies, but not a cure-all. Mayor Dan Wolk on Tuesday remained skeptical, stating, “I don’t feel comfortable approving the use of essentially having a nightclub in our downtown without having that longer discussion.”
Mayor Pro Tem Davis was more hopeful, responding, “I was actually thinking we’re not creating a nightclub if we set the conditions the way they’re set here. We’re pointing a direction to a future that’s going to be fundamentally different.”
As he would point out later, “There’s a certain balance that should be struck.” The question is whether they struck it in the right place.
For one thing, the bars will be required to have all security and bouncers licensed and trained by the state. Moreover, they will provide for supplemental police services – at the bars’ expense – during the peak hours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday after 10 pm. The talk last night is that two police officers, paid for by the bars, would be stationed on G St.
After 10 pm, patrons “will be subject to security screening and bag inspections. Licensee’s security will use metal detection wands and conduct patdowns and bag searches for weapons and/or alcohol. Licensee will not allow patrons with alcohol and/or weapons to enter or remain on the premises.”
I admit that I was a little skeptical that I wanted our town to be wanding people entering bars. However, Assistant Chief Darren Pytel noted that one of the keys is that bars do not want to take these measures by themselves because it creates an uneven playing field. Bars are happy to increase security, provided they all have to do it.
He noted last night some have already started wanding – the problem was that no one wanted to take that first step. Mr. Pytel noted last night that already they have prevented several knives from going into bars. The key, as Robb Davis put it, was to separate alcohol from weapons.
Young people are already used to these kinds of security arrangements. For years, concerts have required metal detectors and inspections of large handbags. To go into raves, there are security measures. As long as the practice is predictable, there does not seem to be a huge problem.
For Robb Davis, some of these measures in particular are the keys to changing the scene. For instance, condition number 20 states, “The premises shall be equipped with an adequate number of seats to accommodate all customers. There shall be no service area that is designed or used as a standing area only or as a combined standing and seating area.”
One of the features of nightclubs is that they remove the chairs and tables and create an area for dancing only. By requiring the facility to provide the number of seats to accommodate all customers, that will eliminate that practice.
In addition, condition 21 requires that that the bar or nightclub not create an exclusive use that would be the service of alcoholic beverages. “Food shall be made available in all areas where customers are seated.”
Sergio Saenz, owner of Tres Hermanas, last night said they always serve food even during the late night events and they always offer free water. But that provision may not be universal.
Is this enough?
That is a key question. I will make several points.
First, I think these provisions are a good starting place. We need to remember that the murder did not occur at Blondies. From what I can tell, there has not been a murder at Blondies in Vacaville. The city council has taken interim measures to prevent Blondies in Davis from being a problem – all eyes will be on them and they have made it clear they understand that what might be acceptable in Vacaville will not work in Davis (for better or worse).
Second, just because we implement these measures today, does not mean we can’t alter them, modify them, or even increase them before they become finalized.
Third, I think it’s important that we start with modest changes that allow us to get a better handle on the situation. Again, we can always modify things further in the future.
Fourth, I agree with those who argue that many of these provisions will not change the scene outside of the bars. We may be getting closer to properly handling the issues of drinking, but there are nuisance problems that need to be addressed as well.
That brings me to the fifth point. One huge problem has been the lack of accessible restrooms in the downtown. As a father of a small child, it is difficult to find a restroom in general during the day. I was told that we will be adding public restrooms, so-called Portland toilets, in the downtown next year, that hopefully will help reduce the problem of public urination – some of which may not be malicious so much as lack of access to bathrooms.
The bars are going to pay for two additional officers in the downtown. I have advocated for the need for additional patrol officers and last night the idea was raised about a potential police substation downtown. Hopefully we can add that to the mix and it will help create the kind of police presence we need.
Mr. Saenz pointed out last night that when police are present in the bar, everyone is on their best behavior. Having a car drive around the downtown is not nearly enough.
The point was raised, and I agree, that we need to look at a more expansive downtown with more different types of options. What about an alcohol-free dance club that could serve people under 21, and those wanting to dance but not to drink late into the evening? What about other forms of alcohol-free entertainment? What about bringing retail back?
What I do not want to see personally is a move to shut down the late night scene – I think that does serve a group of people that will find other outlets in its absence. Rather, I think the key, as again Mr. Saenz said last night, is finding a way to provide that demand while doing so safely.
If we can do that I think we all win and all can agree on moving forward.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
Here’s coverage from Fox 40: