City staff is proposing that the council extend the current moratorium on establishment or expansion of bars, nightclubs and restaurants serving distilled spirits, or restaurants exceeding 2,500 square feet, for an additional ten months and fifteen days.
The Vanguard doesn’t see the purpose for a such an extension. The original moratorium made some sense – after all, there was a current applicant, Blondies, wishing to immediately establish a nightclub at the location of the former restaurant/bar Little Prague. The moratorium gave the city the leverage they needed to impose interim conditions on Blondies for being able to open.
Staff writes that they are “proposing to report back to the City Council in January with potential changes to the City’s Zoning Ordinance, and possibly new standards for businesses that have Alcohol Licenses.”
They add, “Staff recognizes that property owners and restaurateurs have invested in Davis properties, building plans, and other financial transactions. It is staff’s goal that the analysis and public discussion fostered by the moratorium proceed as expeditiously as possible.”
They list seven establishments that are bars and restaurants in the planning and building review stage. Of them, Hot Italian, Pizza 101, Stone Soup, Three Mile Brewing, and Zuma Poke, are not subject to the moratorium for different reasons, most of them because they don’t exceed 2500 square feet and Three Mile Brewing because breweries are not covered.
That leaves two covered by the moratorium – Blondies, which has been dealt with, and Tasty Kitchen – which is subject to the moratorium but staff writes that it “anticipates an exemption for minor alteration and repairs, given anticipated hours reflected in ABC license.” Apparently it won’t be open past 10 pm.
So what is the need for a moratorium if staff is coming back in two months with recommendations for Zoning Ordinance Changes?
The first question we need to ask is whether there is urgency anymore to pass a moratorium, when the only proposed location that would fall under a moratorium will close at 10 pm? Given the length of time of the permitting process, it seems very likely that the council will have new zoning requirements in place long before this becomes an issue.
But the second point seems just as important – given that the city has imposed interim terms on Blondies, why not simply make those rules the interim zoning requirements, which could then be finalized at a later point in time?
Council relaxed some of the conditions, such as those prohibiting any live entertainment or the sale of alcohol after 11 pm. Council will now allow live musical entertainment and sale of alcohol until 1 am.
The conditions also include a provision that, after 10 pm, “patrons will be subject to security screening and bag inspections. Licensee’s security will use metal detection wands and conduct pat-downs 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.”
As Councilmember Brett Lee put it, he was supportive of reduced hours, but “11 pm seems a little early, midnight might seem a little early, I think in the interim, 1 am seems reasonable.” He added, “I really doubt that we’re going to eliminate all live entertainment at restaurants and bars. I find it hard to believe that the council would do that.”
However, there was also pushback by council. Mayor Dan Wolk said, “It would seem irrational to me that we would tonight approve a use that goes directly at what we put the moratorium on to grant an exception to that moratorium with certain conditions when it seems like essentially coming up with those conditions in a sense is what we imposed the moratorium for.”
He argued that these conditions, like wanding and live entertainment, “[t]hat to me is a larger discussion that I don’t think tonight is necessarily about. I think tonight is about whether we grant the hardship exemption, period.”
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs said he hopes hitting the pause button “ultimately results in real solutions to the late night situation in our downtown.” He noted that it has been getting worse for some time, “it’s not just a new thing.” He said that he is “confident that letting the moratorium play itself out is the best course of action.”
Robb Davis stated, “We’re doing exactly what we said we’re going to do – it’s happening in our community.” He said that discussions, meeting are happening. He added, “We are changing the downtown scene in significant ways. “
“We’re already having a discussion on how to create a safer environment – an environment that will look in two years different from what it looks like today,” he said. “There is a conversation going on about what does it mean that our young people, especially, are over-consuming of alcohol to the extent that they are.”
Mayor Pro Tem Davis added, “This issue of granting the appeal with conditions is really saying, we’re willing to let you open this business in a way that will not contribute to the current situation in the downtown.” At that point, he said, “the applicant can take it or leave it. If they say no, we will not abide by those conditions, the appeal is effectively denied. So we’re in the driver’s seat…”
He added that this is “a shot across the bow… about how things are probably going to go,” in terms of potential new permanent regulations.
But, as many have pointed out, wanding is a common practice both at concerts and nightclubs in other areas.
Instead of a moratorium, it seems like the council could just make these conditions permanent and revisit the issue in six months to see if there need to be alterations to the policy, or additional restrictions.
Given the lack of proposed sites, the council could come back in January without extending the moratorium and implement these policies. Council can always implement another urgency ordinance if a new and unanticipated applicant arises in the next two months – but that seems unlikely.
—David M. Greenwald reporting