Jul 26, 2014

Planning Commission Forwards Alcohol Law

Ordinance regulating bars and restaurants due to go before City Council May 1.

Planning Commission Forwards Alcohol Law

Bay City News Service

An ordinance that would tighten Walnut Creek city leaders' control over bars and alcohol-serving restaurants was unanimously recommended for approval by the city's Planning Commission Thursday, which voted to forward the measure to the City Council.

Drafted after a number of violent incidents at downtown bars and nightclubs in recent over several months, .

Any alcohol-serving businesses that opened in Walnut Creek after 2003 are required to operate under a conditional use permit, while more than half of bars and restaurants serving alcohol citywide were grandfathered in, allowing them to operate without adhering to the more stringent set of standards.

The proposed ordinance would level the playing field for all alcohol-serving businesses, according to city staff.

"We need to be able to hold ourselves to the standards Walnut Creek expects - quality of life and safety standards," said Laura Simpson, the city's principal planner. "This ordinance allows us to set those thresholds locally and have them apply across the board."

Simpson stressed that only a small fraction of the city's bars and alcohol-serving restaurants would be affected by the new ordinance, which would allow the city to impose new regulations on businesses that repeatedly violate anti-nuisance standards.

Those violations could include repeated incidents of violence, vandalism or drug use in a business, Simpson said.

The Planning Commission's vote to recommend the ordinance to the City Council followed months of vocal opposition from more than a dozen local bar and restaurant owners who say the new law is unnecessary and could lower their businesses' value.

About half a dozen of those business owners, all belonging to the recently formed Walnut Creek Hospitality Group, spoke at the Thursday night meeting.

"They're disheartened at the ruling," said Guy Louie, an attorney representing the group of bar and restaurant owners. "They are being regulated by (the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control), the fire department and the health department, and here's another ordinance ... that drives up costs and could potentially cost jobs."

The group of business owners have been meeting monthly with the city's police chief to address security concerns around their establishments and believe they have already found workable solutions to prevent those problems, Louie said.

Another concern for the group is the risk of declining property values when they decide to retire and sell their businesses, the attorney said.

The hospitality group, which in February threatened a lawsuit against the city if the ordinance passes, is still keeping "all our legal remedies available to us", Louie said.

The City Council is expected to take up the issue at its May 1 meeting.

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