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Downtown San Luis Obispo bars will continue to serve alcohol during the mornings of Cal Poly’s graduation weekend, despite a request from city and university leaders that they refrain from doing so.
“Overall, we did not feel that closing bars at 6 a.m. was the correct approach to handling the situation,” said Kimberly Walker, chair of the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association’s food, beverages and services committee and owner of Granada Hotel and Bistro. “Instead, all of us — with the mayor and vice president for student affairs — felt that an educational campaign would be more effective and more appropriate.”
There was a “collaborative” meeting between the food, beverage and services committee, Cal Poly Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey and San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx on Tuesday, Walker said.
During the meeting, they discussed the request from Humphrey and Marx that downtown bars not serve alcohol before 9 a.m. on commencement days. Though the businesses understood Humphrey and Marx’s concerns, they felt there were better ways of preventing intoxicated students from disrupting the graduation ceremony, Walker said.
Some ideas were releasing an educational video campaign, which would also include posters and flyers, Walker said.
Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) President and agricultural business senior Jason Colombini said not all students would pay attention to posters.
The university is planning to launch a campaign about celebrating responsibly around graduation, which might provide alternative events — perhaps a breakfast or farmer’s market — to deter students from visiting bars before graduation.
Cal Poly is looking into other possibilities as well, Colombini said.
San Luis Obispo isn’t the first downtown area to consider working to curb students’ drinking.
In 2010, after a chaotic Picnic Day, the Davis Downtown Business Association spearheaded a business-to-business agreement to refrain from selling alcohol before 11 a.m., said Kelly Stachowicz, Davis’ deputy city manager.
“I think the city realized they would have to do something or Picnic Day would be cancelled,” she said. “But you can’t really do that with commencement.”
Explaining in late April Cal Poly’s attempt to stop bars from serving alcohol before commencement ceremonies, Humphrey mentioned other schools, such as University of California, Davis and California State University, Fresno, had similar policies with bars in their downtown areas.
UC Davis, however, does not have a policy between the school and the city’s businesses. The only agreement that exists is on Picnic Day and is between businesses.
“The covenant is driven by the Davis Downtown Business Association, not by the school,” Paul Cody, the assistant director for student involvement at UC Davis, said in a statement.
“But we do appreciate it,” said Patsy Serviss, UC Davis’ human relations manager of student affairs.
Picnic Day is widely regarded as a party day, but commencement is centered around family, Serviss said.
But she added that for days where bars traditionally opened early, student and citywide support brought changes — not the university making policies.
Though the request was denied in San Luis Obispo, Marx labeled the situation as a success because it raised the issue to bar owners, students and the community.
Humphrey was not available for comment Wednesday.
Granada Hotel and Bistro, which Walker owns, does not open early on commencement days, but Walker said many bar owners didn’t think there was an issue with students becoming too intoxicated prior to commencement.
“I can tell you that quite a few of the bar owners that were present at the meeting felt that the student population at Cal Poly right now is some of the best they have encountered and served,” she said.
At the meeting, Marx presented the numbers of students who were arrested between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. on commencement days, and there were approximately one or two in the past two years — much lower numbers than on St. Patrick’s Day, Colombini said, though bars have not been asked to close then.
That number, however, didn’t change Marx’s opinion on the problem Cal Poly faces.
“That has no bearing at all on how many inebriated students there were running around,” Marx said. “That’s just how many there were who were arrested.”
Walker added that it’s hard for owners to know what’s going on once people leave the bars. Students should be able to celebrate in a way that is respectful to the ceremony and other students, she said.
ASI student leaders spoke during the meeting and asked that bars remain open on the mornings of commencement.
Closed bars won’t prevent students from drinking, Colombini said, and it might actually lead to them to drinking more.
He plans to visit bars on the morning of commencement, and said students should be given the right to make their own decisions.
“A few bad apples shouldn’t ruin it for the rest of us,” he said.
“Where does it stop?” Colombini said. “We’re graduating from college, we can make our own decisions. What is it now, ‘Oh, it’s your first day of work, don’t drink to celebrate. Be responsible,’ or ‘Oh, it’s time for retirement, don’t drink too much, don’t get too rowdy there when you’re 65.’ We’re mature, we’re adults, we’re graduating from college.”
Sean McMinn and Elyse Lopez contributed to this report.