The issue of the late night downtown scene returns this week to the city council, following the moratorium that was imposed on new large downtown businesses in the wake of the September murder at KetMoRee. Council will not act on the staff recommendations this week, but rather will provide direction for potential future ordinances.
Staff argues, “When improperly managed, entertainment venues (such as nightclubs and bars) can contribute to crime and disorder. This phenomenon is demonstrated in the downtown core where there is a high density of drunk in public and violent incidents.”
Staff argues that the five-year review of data shows an increased number of violent incidents in and near the downtown establishments. I would argue that the violent incidents may or may not be increasing – the graphic shows them jumping from 162 to 219 in 2012, and from 219 to 254 in 2014, before dropping to 209 last year.
Staff argues, “A review of crime suggests that the overall atmosphere of downtown has changed over time. Specifically, the data demonstrates that the percentage of gang-related, violent, and weapons-related crimes involving on-sale alcohol licensees have increased dramatically over the last five years and was the highest in 2015.”
At the same time, the staff acknowledges, “Immediately following the homicide in September 2015, the frequency of drunk in public and violent incidents in the downtown area significantly decreased. Although speculative, the decrease observed may be attributable to the increased attention this area received from a variety of sources (press, law enforcement) subsequent to the homicide. Increased attention may have contributed to greater compliance or ‘better behavior’ from both patrons and on-sale licensees.”
One of the questions before the council is whether to impose a “hard” closing time on new and existing bars.
The staff reports notes that, while most of the preliminary conditions were acceptable to bar owners, a hard closing time of prior to 2:00 am is strongly opposed.
Concerns expressed here and elsewhere are the possibility that “a hard closure time increase the numbers of private parties occurring in residential neighborhoods? A majority of the bar/nightclub business actually starts after 11:00 p.m. There is some thought that if bars/nightclubs stopped serving at midnight or 1:00 a.m. then the student-aged crowd would simply resort to house parties to socialize.”
Additionally, we and others have expressed the view that “a hard closure time in Davis [may] cause the student-aged crowd to leave Davis and drive to other communities, like Sacramento, instead.”
Staff notes, “The City cannot directly impose rules (by ordinance) that restrict alcohol sales to certain hours. This is an area where the City is preempted by State law which establishes that alcohol can be sold until 2:00 a.m. (assuming the ABC license does not contain a sales restriction). However, the City can require a CUP [conditional use permit], which may set operating hours different than a 2:00 a.m. closure, which could be used to create a hard closure. Alcohol sales are only indirectly controlled through the CUP.”
Other cities like Sacramento use what is known as a “soft-closure.” Under this scenario, “the entertainment establishment may be prohibited from allowing new entry and/or reentry after an established time (1:00 a.m.). Additionally, the entertainment establishment is prohibited from having lines for customers wanting to gain admittance after a set time.”
Staff reports that Sacramento believes these requirements contribute to a reduction in problems. Staff notes that there is strong opposition in making any zoning changes and imposing hard closing times, but “there seems to be less opposition to imposing soft closing times, especially when faced with a choice between hard closure or a soft closure.”
While staff believes a hard closure, of not allowing nightclubs to operate past midnight, would result in fewer alcohol-related problems, there are questions about “whether we would see increases in other party behavior, which could be less controlled, and whether the student-aged crowd would simply go to Sacramento and create other safety issues.”
Any answer to those questions, staff believes, is “speculative.”
However, having a soft closure might reduce or eliminate those issues. The argument is that the business would remain open and serving alcohol up until 2:00 am. Second, it would reduce “the problems associated with constant movement of patrons from bar to bar and the problems associated with people who have already consumed alcohol standing (in) lines for long periods. Patrons would have to pick their place by a certain time and then either stay there or, if they chose to leave, they won’t gain entry into another establishment. This allows servers to monitor consumption or overconsumption (a person cut off at a location would not then gain entry into another location).”
Moreover, adopting these rules would mean Davis businesses operate under the same conditions as Sacramento and, therefore, it is less likely that students would travel across the causeway.
From the Vanguard’s standpoint, a soft closure time would reduce our concerns about the impact of a hard closure. The question is whether the soft closure would address enough of the community concerns.
—David M. Greenwald reporting