In the month that has followed the September 20 stabbing death of Peter Gonzales in the early morning hours at the KetMoRee restaurant and nightclub, the Davis Community has focused on cleaning up a night scene that many believe has become increasingly dangerous.
The Davis City Council passed a moratorium on new large late night bars and then last week approved an exemption in a contested 3-2 vote to allow Blondies to open under strict new conditions, most notably wanding for weapons.
The public knows little of the details of actual attack. A preliminary hearing scheduled for this past Monday was re-scheduled for December. We don’t know if the assailants, one of whom remains at large, were drinking, whether it was a fight that got out of hand, or how the incident transpired.
While community members worry that the late night scene in the Davis Downtown has gotten out of hand, and councilmembers have vowed to make drastic changes, the question remains, at least for me, whether we are even focused on the right problem.
There seems to be a belief among many that the chaotic nature of the hours, between 10 pm and closing time, have drawn in not only students looking to drink, dance and blow off steam on their weekends – which some last week said can extend from Wednesday night into Sunday, with the usual nights being Thursday, Friday and Saturday – but also those looking to commit a crime.
However, a completely unrelated event may cast doubt on whether these kinds of changes are really enough to prevent violence.
On Saturday night, in the little town of Madison, with 503 residents, at the Madison Town Hall, there was a brazen knife attack at a quinceañera birthday party (a celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday).
Eighteen-year-old Daniel Portugal, an uninvited guest, stabbed six people, all adults, including two members of the performing band. According to sheriff’s deputies, all the victims are expected to survive and the stab wounds range from minor to serious, with one victim undergoing surgery.
The motive for the attack was unclear, but the family knows the alleged suspect and his family.
Ricardo Alvarado said two of his band mates were stabbed, as was a woman who tried to stop the attacker.
“It looked like a war zone,” he told KCRA. “People were actually laying out here, in front, stabbed, laying in cars with all their wounds. About six, seven people got stabbed, so there are a lot of ambulances, helicopter here.”
In our view, the Davis City Council has taken the first steps to address the worst aspects of a problem that has clearly been brewing for some time. We clearly need to take additional steps to make sure that, while young people can have fun and blow off steam on a weekend, we have in place as many ways to ensure safety as possible.
The council has also done a good job of not going too far. The council last week turned back restrictions that would have prohibited live music at Blondies and would have ended the sale of alcohol at 10 pm.
As Councilmember Brett Lee put it, the council isn’t going to end live music in the downtown, so why put that as an interim restriction? The same is the case for the early ending of alcohol sales. While some in the community argue that we should have a midnight curfew on alcohol sales, the council wisely resisted that in putting it at 1 am.
While many argue nothing good can happen after midnight – and perhaps that is true – we also need to be realistic. As I’ve noted previously and it was argued at the forum last week, becoming too aggressive in the downtown core doesn’t end the problem – it moves it.
Restrictions in the downtown could force more of the drinking and partying into the neighborhoods. That makes it more disruptive to the neighbors and it also makes it harder to control and police. It has a possibility of pushing drinking from Davis, where students often walk or use taxi services to avoid driving while drinking, to Sacramento and other neighboring cities.
But the other point is that we have focused a lot on the downtown bar scene as though the death of Peter Gonzales was caused by the scene itself. That is the point I am making with the quinceañera incident – people looking for trouble will find a place to cause that trouble.
A lot of people think that if we end the bar scene, we end the violence in this community – and I’m not sure that is really the case.
I think we need to examine the data. Violence over the last decade has declined in the city of Davis. And, while police have claimed that the number of violent incidents is on the rise in the downtown, data provided in a recent Sacramento Bee article suggest that, even in the downtown, the number of incidents has declined in the last few years.
My view is that if we end the late night bar scene, something will replace it. If it is a bunch of large parties in Davis, it is just as likely that the violence will find its way there, as it did in the case of the quinceañera in Madison.
While we can take steps in the downtown to mitigate the risk through increased patrols and wanding, that will be far more problematic and difficult to achieve in large private parties in the neighborhoods.
I am far from convinced that we have really fixed the problem of violence. The police claim that already they have found knives and weapons through wanding, but once word gets around, people will leave their weapons in their cars and, if incidents arise, they could simply wait until their would-be victims exit the bar before pouncing.
—David M. Greenwald reporting