At last week’s meeting, both Assistant Chief Darren Pytel and Assistant City Manager Kelly Stachowicz were a bit surprised that, given the lack of students in attendance and the high percentage of those over 50, opinions about what to do were relatively evenly distributed in how to deal with the problem.
As Ms. Stachowicz put it, “There was not clear consensus among those in attendance how the City should proceed, with responses distributed relatively evenly along the spectrum of placing community limits and allowing for individual business discretion.”
Darren Pytel said, “It also became evident there is not really consensus amongst the community or amongst the bar owners on the terms of an ordinance -that was interesting.”
That was the opinion of the 80 or so people in the room a week ago. The question is, what does the 30-plus-year veteran law enforcement official who was just hired as Davis’ next police chief believe?
Darren Pytel was just hired on Friday as the new police chief, effective the first of the year. He figures to be an influential voice in this process.
He told the Vanguard, “That is actually a very complex question with no easy answer because we are trying to predict what students will do.”
Part of what the police have seen is that they have been dealing with fewer house parties over the last couple of years. From the perspective of Darren Pytel, he said, “That is probably because the typical UCD student has changed – students are generally high achievers and alcohol use may not be as high.”
He added, “We are also aren’t dealing with the huge nuisance houses. Most of the students aren’t of drinking age – and traditionally the house parties were largely underage parties. So yes, it could be the drinking age crowd would end up doing house parties or going to Sac.”
He suggested, “We would probably need to really survey the bar user crowd to make a better determination.”
He added, “One advantage to a slightly earlier closing time has to do with our staffing. Our swing shift runs until 2am so our minimum staffing drops in half at 2am. We can’t shift the shift longer because we need the overlap at the beginning of their shift too, which is a busy call time.”
When the council narrowly in October voted to allow the exemption for Blondies to go forward, they imposed a number of new restrictions on them that could become the backbone of a new policy.
Councilmember Brett Lee, in his comments, said that 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.”
For Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, the restrictions are going to change the downtown scene in significant ways, as he noted this was “a shot across the bow… about how things are probably going to go,” in terms of potential new permanent regulations.
He would add, “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.”
“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.”
But not everyone agrees that the council has gone far enough.
Former Councilmember Michael Harrington, who lives near the downtown, said in a statement last week, “I don’t know how it came to be that the City started allowing businesses to morph from nice family restaurants to jam-packed disco halls after 10 pm.”
He added, “I personally believe, even more so today, that the City should adopt a strict prohibition against selling alcohol after midnight.”
“I also heard some testimony that if we don’t allow the jammed disco bar scene until 2 am, all those partiers will go to unregulated house parties,” he said. “I have lived in the downtown since 1995, and I own several properties rented to students. Sometimes they have parties, and sometimes they overdo it, and the police have to stop by.”
Mr. Harrington added, “Several years ago the City amended the noise ordinance and made the owners personally liable if the renters incurred noise violations. I can tell you for a fact that this change has resulted in much more proactive owners, and the renters are well aware that if they get cited, it could lead to a near immediate eviction and other lesser sanctions.”
One voice we really have not heard much from in this conversation is from the students themselves – it is primarily they who create the market for late night entertainment.
At the Vanguard and Civenergy’s forum, students noted that the large number who are not of drinking age seemed to favor other late night entertainment options that do not involve alcohol. Perhaps that might be part of a compromise solution that would help to calm down the late night downtown.
—David M. Greenwald reporting