Two weeks ago when the council passed the urgency ordinance to put a building moratorium on new bars, the council invited the only current applicant, Blondies, to submit for a potential hardship. During his comments to council, representing Blondies, former Davis Mayor Bill Kopper stated that they would agree to any new regulations that are passed.
City staff is recommending, however, that they deny the exemption application from Blondies. Staff argues, “The application states that a moratorium is not necessary because Blondies has agreed to comply with future regulations. Although Blondies cites an agreement to comply with future regulations, this agreement is provisional.”
The city here is using a legal technical justification to justify a denial. They write, “The conditional agreement proposed by the application reads ‘Blondies New York Pizza Company shall comply at the effective date with future City ordinance or regulations that are applicable to all restaurants with ABC 47 licenses in the City’s Commercial Zone and do not violate State or federal law; provided that all other restaurants with ABC 47 licenses in the CC Zone must comply within a year.’”
Staff then argues that it “does not believe that this conditional offer is sufficient to support an exemption from the moratorium. Staff also does not believe that this conditional offer would assure compliance with any new regulations adopted by the City.”
They continue, “Staff believes that this proposed agreement does not provide the City with the same authority the City would have if Blondies is not permitted to open until the City has determined what new zoning and operational regulations would apply to new nightclub uses and the moratorium is then dissolved.”
If staff wanted to allow Blondies to open and operate as the council and community weighed in on what changes they wanted to see, then it stands to reason that they might have offered alternative language that would have been acceptable. But they didn’t go that route, and instead offered a legalese-encoded blanket denial that is likely to end up with a lawsuit and some sort of settlement down the line.
But they also know that buys them time. Time for the council and community to discuss how things might change. Time for the community to calm down as distance grows between current deliberations and the September 20 tragedy at KetMoRee.
The truth is, Blondies has become a political football here.
Dan Wolk already let his feelings be known in the recent Sacramento Bee article last week. He stated, “We shouldn’t be approving another nightclub without having this community conversation… I have to be honest: I don’t think we should have more of these nightclubs downtown. If we’re going to have nightclubs, it can’t be the status quo. You’ve got to have more security. You’ve got to have more limits.”
It is hard to know where the rest of the council stands on such things. But perhaps if council has the ability and intention to deny another nightclub downtown, perhaps they ought to let Blondies know now, as they are incurring significant costs during this delay as laid out in their hardship application.
It is pretty clear from some of the staff report that the thinking of Dan Wolk and others is guiding the staff recommendation. If they wanted binding assurances that Blondies would comply – my guess is they would get them. Therefore, staff could very well have suggested alternative language as a take it or leave ultimatum, and Blondies most likely would have concurred.
But that was not their intention.
At this point, I think we need to better understand what the end game is. Is it to ban all future nightclub type options in the community? We have already seen the announcement by Sergio Saenz, the owner of Tres Hermanas, who has announced they are stopping their nightclub portions of their operations by the end of October.
Is the end game the end of nightclubs in Davis?
I remain very concerned about the response to this murder. There are a lot of decisions that will be made by older residents without a lot of input from the college students that are just as much part of our core identity as anyone else.
Will banning nightclubs solve the problem? Will it stop the late night downtown scene or just morph it? Will it push would-be partiers into neighboring cities, or will it push them into the neighborhoods where the problems could become more spread out and more difficult to control?
Finally I have seen a lot of mentioning about outsiders as being at the core of the problem – just as they were said to be during Picnic Day. Determining who outsiders are in a college community is difficult.
For all of the talk about the increased presence of gang members in downtown Davis, we have not seen a lot of gang cases from Davis trickle into the courts. The stats provided by the Sacramento Bee do not show a huge and growing trend of violent crime, either in Davis (which has actually seen a marked decline of violent crime over the last decade) or in the downtown (which has seen a decrease in crime over the last few years).
Is limiting or closing down the late night scene a way to stop this alleged increase in downtown violence? Or are we merely treating a symptom without a lot of data to back it up?
In short, I favor community dialogue as a way forward. I think, out of fairness to Blondies, the council should let them know whether they should drop their application altogether or whether this really is a temporary pause.
—David M. Greenwald reporting