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SLO spurns bar owners

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When the city of San Luis Obispo began to wage its war against late-night alcohol-related problems three years ago, restaurant and bar owners said they were needlessly being targeted.

Then the business owners got involved in the process, and for a time, everyone seemed like buddies. But that relationship may have soured.

On May 15, the City Council majority flung its support behind a new set of regulations governing late-night venues that sell alcohol. Council members voted 4-1 to back a new permitting process curbing alleged safety problems.

The new rules place extra requirements on new establishments that serve alcohol after 11 p.m., such as requiring video surveillance systems and staff training on serving practices.

Though existing businesses won’t be affected by the ordinance, repeated problems traceable back to an established establishment could trigger the city to impose the new rules.

Previously, the city touted the fact that so many restaurateurs were participating in the process, forming the Safe Nightlife Association, a subcommittee of the Downtown Association. Since it formed, the Safe Nightlife Association has proactively curbed problems, such as reviving the SLO Safe Ride, encouraging good behavior from customers, and a cohesive “One 86, All 86” plan that effectively and temporarily prohibits unruly patrons from entering multiple establishments should they cause problems.

As part of the administrative process for doling out reprimands, city staffers recommended including the Safe Nightlife Association in an informal, “peer-review” panel prior to an administrative hearing with the city. Members of the Downtown Association and the Safe Nightlife Association said they welcomed the opportunity to be a part of the process.

But following a long discussion, Councilman Andrew Carter and Mayor Jan Marx pushed to eliminate the associations’ role. They said it would be
a precedent for similar peer reviews.

Councilwoman Kathy Smith, the dissenting vote, argued that the inclusiveness of the business owners was one of the processes’ strengths.

Following the last-minute change, the roughly seven business owners and association reps in attendance were visibly upset and immediately filed out of City Hall.

Bill Hales, co-owner of Ash Management and a founding member of the Safe Nightlife Association, said being excluded was a “slap in the face” to those who supported the program. It may affect business owners’ willingness to work with the city, Hales said.

“Unequivocally, we have always tried our best to be good neighbors, but if they’re going to pay us lip service and then tell us to just shove it, well then screw it,” he said.

Hales said he and other business owners would not have supported the new regulations if they knew they’d be excluded from administrative hearings.

The new regulations are nearly three years in the making, after the city paid a Berkeley-based consultant $22,000 for a report linking late-night police incidents to alcohol establishments.

According to Assistant City Manager Michael Codron, the final version of the ordinance is scheduled to go before the council for adoption June 5. If approved, it will take effect July 4.

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