City researching potential bar moratorium

City researching potential bar moratorium
The Encinitas City Council directed staff at it’s previous meeting to develop a draft moratorium on liquor licenses. The city has looked at the legal considerations of a moratorium and how other cities have addressed the matter. Photo by Jared Whitlock

ENCINITAS — Questions city staff members are looking into: Have other cities given the green light to a bar moratorium? And would a moratorium affect businesses that are currently applying for liquor licenses? 

Last week, City Council asked staff to develop a draft moratorium on new liquor licenses for a vote at its July 10 meeting.

A moratorium would put a citywide hold on new bars, pubs and breweries. Additionally, businesses trying to expand their liquor licenses to serve more customers or remain open later would have to wait until the moratorium expires, according to city Planning Director Jeff Murphy.

If adopted, a moratorium would take effect immediately and last for 45 days. After that, City Council has the option of extending it for an additional 10 months. From there, councilmembers could continue the moratorium for an extra year.

Even for businesses that are midway through obtaining or expanding their liquor licenses, a moratorium would freeze their application with the city. Once the moratorium ceases, businesses could resume the process, Murphy said.

Murphy couldn’t confirm on Tuesday how many pending liquor licenses are in the city’s database.

“We’re still examining that,” he said.

Cities have taken varying approaches to restricting new liquor licenses. Temecula, for instance, opted for a 45-day blanket moratorium in 2011.

Fullerton clamped down on alcohol-serving businesses in its downtown in 2007 with a moratorium. It extended the moratorium a month and a half later, but gave an exception. In a nod to the importance of downtown businesses, its City Council allowed new restaurants selling beer and wine to get licenses, provided they tighten enforcement and meet other conditions.

“We’ll bring information to council on what other jurisdictions have done,” Murphy said. “Fullerton is certainly a model to look at.”

Legally, to institute a moratorium, the City Council must submit written evidence showing that halting liquor licenses will benefit public health and improve safety, according to the California Public Resources code. To pass, a moratorium has to get the green light from four out of five councilmembers.

Murphy noted he’s not aware of any successful legal challenges to an alcohol moratorium in California, though he said city staff members are still researching that.

Some residents argue a moratorium is necessary while the city grapples with how to reduce DUIs and late-night partying.

Resident Laurie Baum said the number of bars downtown has reached a saturation point.

“We’re not against drinking,” Baum said. “But the bars are getting so bad that they’re creating a burden for law enforcement.”

Haven Dunn, owner of D Street Bar and Grill, said a moratorium wouldn’t directly affect his business since it already has a liquor license. However, he said the ban unfairly sends the message that, “we’re all bad guys.”

“Most of us are honest businesses concerned with safety,” Dunn said. “We shouldn’t all be lumped together.”

Although City Council will consider a moratorium, Dunn noted he’s more concerned about talk of making bars shut down at midnight.

After the July meeting, in response to concerned residents, City Council will consider a host of other alcohol-related legislation at an undetermined date. On the table — earlier closure times, demanding more frequent check-ins from all bars and changes to how liquor licenses are approved.

“There’s two parts to this,” Murphy said.

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