The San Luis Obispo City Council recently approved an action plan setting stricter operating standards for businesses serving alcohol to reduce crime and excessive drinking in the downtown area.
The plan, proposed by San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) Chief Deborah Linden, focuses on new regulations that would allow the city to differentiate between restaurants and nightclubs by defining operating hours and security practices for each. In addition, it will create special training standards for people serving alcohol to avoid excessive drinking in bars and minors being served.
Although the plan was recently approved, officials started working on this issue in 2009 when the city council paid $22,000 for a report assessing the number of police responses in the city. The report showed that there was more crime happening in or around the downtown area.
“(Crime) is obviously an issue that has drawn attention from the city and bar and restaurant owners,” SLOPD Captain Chris Staley said. “In 2010, we had over 2,000 calls for services in the downtown area, and 824 citations were given.”
The downtown area consistently experiences crimes such as assaults, theft, alcohol offenses and vandalism, Staley said. He said this has been an issue for the past few years, gaining a lot of attention from city officials.
In response to the 2009 report on crime, the Council considered a fee for bars and restaurants serving alcohol to help fund additional police patrol.
Some bar and restaurant owners did not approve of the fee, but agreed these issues must be addressed. The Council took this into consideration and began exploring different options to make downtown safer.
“A lot of people like to make the assumption bar and restaurant owners sit on a large pile of money — we don’t,” said Bill Hales, the owner of six downtown bars, which include Frog and Peach and Mother’s Tavern. “It’s a difficult economy, and we pay a lot of fees already. One more fee would be just too much.”
Instead of a fee for owners, the Council approved Linden’s new action plan 5 to 0, and will begin creating official rules and regulations for restaurants and bars within the next year.
The new regulations would be included with the conditional-use permits for new business that sell alcohol. Existing businesses would be under a “deemed approved ordinance,” which would force the new regulations on the business if they were irresponsible with serving alcohol.
Spokesman for Safe Nightlife Association, a collection of bar and restaurant owners that is attempting to improve the downtown environment, Steve Tolley said his association will focus on reaching out to the college-aged residents of San Luis Obispo.
“We are just trying to find ways to make downtown safer,” Tolley said. “Aside from the additional use permits, we want to start doing outreach to Cal Poly and Cuesta students. Just to educate them about alcohol.”
The establishment of the Safe Nightlife Association was an initial step toward making a safer environment downtown. In the association, bars and restaurant owners actively work together with the city to properly operate their businesses and keep downtown a clean safe environment.
The association started a campaign in October called “One 86, All 86,” where bars keep the most out-of-control customers out of their establishments by creating a database that would distribute their picture and information to every bar and restaurant in the area. The term “86” is slang for someone being banned from an establishment.
“The program is still in its infancy,” Hales said. “We want to make people think twice about doing stuff they shouldn’t.”
The campaign’s first active weekend attempted to control party goers during the Halloween weekend. According to Hales, there were not as many problems downtown this year as in the past.
“We are still a new program and are working out the kinks,” Tolley said. “The first time we used ‘86 one, 86 all’ was Halloween, and we didn’t even need to put anyone in the system.”
Aside from dealing with rowdy drinkers, Safe Nightlife Association is also bringing back SLO Safe Rides, a shuttle service that ensures intoxicated patrons get home safely when they have too much to drink.
Although progress is being made toward creating a safer environment downtown, the new rules and regulations will not be fully crafted until next year. Until then, Safe Nightlife Association will strive to create a safer downtown San Luis Obispo.