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Bar Owners Fight Proposed PB Booze Regulations

September 26, 2011 1:10 p.m.

Pacific Beach has become a hotspot for the college drinking crowd. For most PB residents, the party is out of control. Pacific Beach has 18 times the amount of crime compared to the city average, according to a report conducted by the Pacific Beach Planning Group. Pacific Beach community members are calling for regulations on bars but the requests are not being welcomed by business owners.

Related Story: Bar Owners Fight Proposed PB Booze Regulations


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. People who live in Pacific Beach know that they're living in an area that many consider party central? San Diego. But the party has gotten too big, too how did, and too alcohol saturated for some people in the community. A new report by the PB planning group claims that some restaurants and clubs in Pacific Beach are flaunting the law by over loading the community with what are essentially just bars. In order to get that report before the City Council, the area's counselman will have to present it, but Kevin Faulkner says now is not the time. Joining me to talk about that report and its implications are my guest it is. Scott Chipman is member of the PB planning group, and a 35-year resident of Pacific Beach. Welcome to the program.
CHIPMAN: Thank you, Maureen. And I have to clarify, I'm not speaking for the planning group here.
CAVANAUGH: Gotcha. And Todd Brown is member of discover PB, and owner of Bub's dive bar in Pacific Beach and downtown. And Todd, hello.
BROWN: Good afternoon.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Scott, what kinds of problems does the report from the group PB planning group identify?
CHIPMAN: Well, primarily, we're dealing with high crime, high alcohol crime, high general crime, and high DUI. And particularly the central business district.
CAVANAUGH: Who do you think is to blame for this problem?
CHIPMAN: Well, we're not intending to point fingers at any particular establishment. I think there's a general consensus that there are too many alcohol establishments in a concentrated area. The state recommends one alcohol license for every 2,000 people. We have one alcohol license in Pacific Beach for every 312 people. I think that's a cooperation of alcohol licenses, then it's what the behavior is when people get to Pacific Beach. What are they encouraged to do when they get there and the consequences of that both in the business district and in the neighboring blocks around the business district.
CAVANAUGH: Scott, how does something like that happen? Your claim that there are so many more places selling alcohol than the recommendations? Is no one monitoring this? How does that actually happen?
CHIPMAN: Well, unfortunately citizens have been -- have had to monitor because a lot of their cashes, they couldn't really understand -- their concerns other than they couldn't really understand what was happening. Pacific Beach has had a number of alcohol license enforce a number of years. 10 or 15 years ago, more and more restaurants were purchased and turned into bar-like restaurants. There is actually a flaw or a loophole in ABC policy that allows a restaurant to function like a bar. And there's really an incentive for people to get a 47 license, restaurant licenses with full spirits rather than a full bar 48 license. Because a 48 license requires more scrutiny and regulation.
CAVANAUGH: Todd brown, let me bring you into the conversation. As a bar owner, have you seen alcohol related climbs increase in the past years?
BROWN: Alcohol related crimes --
Or general problems and I'll be honest with you. I've never seen at the point we're at right now a better level of operation of the restaurants and bars and nightclubs down in Pacific Beach. But I think that goes along with the fact when you have a situation like that, where the operators clean places up and remodel places and put a different situation together where people want to come down, you have more and more people come down to the beach. So in our industry, say have 100,000 people come down on a single night or like over 4th of July weekend, you're talking about two million people on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, right? I don't know of any industry anywhere, and certainly not the hospitality industry, if you work of a 100,000 people that come into our community on a night, 11 hundredth of a% is 100 people. And so 99.99% of the people that come down there enjoy food, fun, alcohol, and have a great time and walk away. 100 people that decide to misbehave, do things that are detrimental to the community can create an impact. But again you're talking about 99.9%. Of and I think part of the issue as Scott said about the alcohol license concentration, if you work specifically off the numbers, much of the numbers that are listed in his report, you're going to find it's based on the residents only and doesn't take any account the factor of how many people come down to the beach to enjoy Pacific Beach over the years.
CAVANAUGH: Are you basically saying that as a member of discoverer PB, too many people are discovering PB?
BROWN: Well, the fact is, as Scott, I'm not just here to speak specifically for Pacific Beach, the business improvement district, discover PB. Here as a bar porn, as a former honorary mayor, someone who's been involved in the community for 13 years in business and 12 years living there, you know, that's what we're supposed to be. If you look in the community plan for Pacific Beach, everything in this report goes specifically against it. And of course we want people to come down to the beach and enjoy themselves just like we want them to not display negative behavior that would have a negative impact on the community.
CAVANAUGH: Now, what -- Scott was telling us about the idea that there's so-called restaurants that are just -- really just in essence bars and are flaunting restrictions. Would that be your experience in seeing that happening in Pacific Beach?
BROWN: Quite honestly, he uses myself and my restaurant as an example of that. And the license that we have now, there was a license for 42 years as the barbecue pit, then it changed hands and changed hands again multiple time, restaurants, and then I got it. And I can tell you right now, we sell ten times the food that anybody sold ten years before we got there I have a full kitchen staff that has full healthcare benefits, and when I'm yelling at them about ticket times and food quality, I think they'd argue that we're not a restaurant.
CAVANAUGH: We have Scott and Todd, Jennifer hill on the line with us. I want to ask you about the claim that there are a lot more establishments in Pacific Beach selling chop than they should be?
NEW SPEAKER: Okay. The ABC policy, it's actually state law, state statute. Concerning Pacific Beach, that's what the conversation's about, per statute, there are more ABC licensed establishments that are active licenses in the eight census tracks that make up Pacific Beach than statutorily permitted watt the statute by law. What that means is in the eight census trans that make up Pacific Beach, there are a total of 88 licenses permitted per population, and that changes every ten years too, depending on what the census bureau numbers come out that includes both on sale, which are restaurants and bars, and also off sale low pressure systems which are liquor stores, grocery stores etc. Currently there are 100 and 81 active licenses in the same census tracks. So it's a little less than 100 over the number allowed.
CAVANAUGH: How does that happen?
BROWN: Specifically how it happened in Pacific Beach is that the statute that governors high crime over concentration which is used quite often concerning -- obviously when there's more licenses permitted or existing than are aloud per statute us, that statute became effective in 1995. Prior to that, license issue issued did not fall under the high crime and over concentration regulations. From our statistics, well over 80% if not more of the licenses that are currently existing in that area were issued, originally issued well before 1995. And we have licenses down there that were issued in the '40s and '50s still. So in 1995 when the statute was enacted, it was automatically -- not even all the census tracks, some of them automatically were overconcentrated when the statute came into being because of the grandfather licenses.
CAVANAUGH: My last question to you, Jennifer, you have the zoning regulations for a certain amount for a certain reason. And there are 100 more establishments than should be in your present regulations. So in that sense, isn't the consequence of that trouble in the neighborhood 1234 and will ABC be hiring more investigators to keep track of what's going on in PB?
NEW SPEAKER: I don't have the authority to discuss hiring. That depends on the state legislature and how many positions they want to give our department. But how we monitor it is very simple. We air complaint oriented organization. As complaints come in, we rely to them. We have numerous operations that we do. We operate off of complaint, general enforce. In certain areas. We actually give grants to local agencies, to specifically work ABC violations in their areas. We do task forces, inspections. Would I love more staff? Of course. Who wouldn't? But my staff are very, very good. And we do monitor. But quite honestly we don't get a lot of complaints specific to locations in Pacific Beach. There's been a lot of, you know, talk about it over the last so many years about issues. But individual complaints about a violation occurring at a specific location such as selling to drunk, selling to minors, we just don't want get the numbers of those complaints and every complaint we do get, we do investigate.
CAVANAUGH: Jennifer hill, thank you very much. Talking to us from the state alcohol beverage control agency. Scott Chipman, let me get your response to what you heard there.
CHIPMAN: Well, let's start. There's a number of things here. Number one, the number of alcohol licenses. We have had a lot of alcohol licenses for a number of years. And we're not trying to take away anyone's alcohol license. We want a before the behavior when people come to these alcohol establishments. However, that over concentration of low pressure systems should be taken into account when now licenses are being considered. We have had several new licenses just in the last 18 months. We have had a convenience store that was allowed to fill its shelves 100% with alcohol and sell alcohol till 2:00 in the morning. That's in excess. We have had a restaurant that was allowed to extend their hours of serving alcohol from 11:00 PM to 1:00 AM. There was a reason why it had an 11:00 PM stop serving time, and that reason didn't go away. But somehow the ABC decided it was okay to go onto 1:00 AM. We have had a new alcohol license upgrade from a restaurant license to a full spirits, and that restaurant again was allowed to serve until 2:00 in the morning.
CAVANAUGH: So your point is that there have been a lot of loosy goosy kind of things happening with the regulations that are heard in place in Pacific Beach.
CHIPMAN: Yeah. When we're watching what's happening with the modifications to existing licenses, it's just -- it makes no sense. They're not doing those things that would be necessary to protect the community.
CAVANAUGH: I want to get to the point of your report. And your recommendation for the use of conditional use permits for new bars and restaurants in PB. How would that help to fix the problem as you see it?
CHIPMAN: Right now for $100, someone can apply for a modification for their license. And it's considered an informal process. We want the CUP process to be employed that would allow or actually require notification of the community. So the community can be involved in the decisions. Again, we're not trying to change existing alcohol licenses. We're concerned about the proliferation and the continuing morphing of old licenses. We had a Mexican restaurant that became a hooters. Hooters modified their license three time it is. And now it's beachwood, which is basically a three-story bar. That's what happening over a 4 or 5-year period. It's not what Pacific Beach has done in the last ten years. We have to look forward ten years and say where will it go if the policies in place now continue?
CAVANAUGH: Your council can't submit this to the City Council. But your councilman has declined to do it. His statement reads the vast majority in Pacific Beach residents and bars act responsibly and are good neighbors. I'm committed to working with enforcements to crack down to noise and safety problems. Requiring -- but rather adds more red tape and creates greater uncertainty for businesses in an already tough economy. I'm going to ask Todd his reaction to this. But first, Scott, what is your reaction not just to the statement, but to the fact that your City Council member is not going to take this 52-page reports and really do anything with it?
CHIPMAN: Well, it's not my responsibility to act for him. We're here to educate the public. Everyone knows there's a problem at Pacific Beach. It's on the news at least once a week. A police officer was run into by a drunk driver just two nights ago. So if we're going to continue to educate Kevin Faulkner on where the source of the problem is and where the solution is also. So the real issue here is if there's going to be a crack-down, where is that crack-down? Because the crack-down has been occurring for years already. We have had monopolized police resources, 600 DUIs in Pacific Beach on average a year for the last 5, 10 years. And that number is four times higher than the next near highest community in the region. And we're already monopolizing police resources. Of so there is a crackdown. But enforce. Alone is not going to do the job. We have to have environmental policy that encourages best business practices and surges over consumption and over serving.
CAVANAUGH: Todd brown, do you think this idea of the CUPs would affect business in Pacific Beach? It sounds --
BROWN: Absolutely I do.
CAVANAUGH: But it sounds from what you've said that business is booming down there.
BROWN: I'll be honest with you, I don't think it is. For my business personally, we're status quo from where we were a year ago. Things are tough. It's tough do business in the beach specifically because of all the prices of the products that you deal with. Beer goes up, food goes up in every aspect. And it tightens your margins. And when your volume stays the same and your costs go up, it becomes more difficult to do a business. And with the healthcare rising costs we deal with the same issues that other industries do. And we have a lot -- it's a very heavily impacted employee based business. There's a lot of employees.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, Scott, to close, because we're out of time. What's the next step for this report?
CHIPMAN: We're going to continue to educate, you know, the hospitality industry itself as identified the PB alcohol industry is about $100 million a year. They're say they're bringing in between 6 and $7 million in tax revenue a year. It doesn't come to Pacific Beach. And there's been other cities that have tried -- have done an analysis of their cost versus tax revenue, and have found that they weren't even coming close to covering the cost of the enforce. . So the next step is really just more education, get more people to understand where the source of the problem is, it's alcohol policy, the ABC has not done their job. They're not an enforce. Agency. Last year, they processed 90444 licenses. They denied seven. So there's going to be a continued proliferation unless we get a change in the policies to provide more local control.
CAVANAUGH: Well, apparently this controversy will go on, but we're out of time. I've been speaking with Scott Chipman, speaking on his own behalf here, and Todd brown also speaking on his own behalf, but member of discover PB. I want to thank you both very much for speaking with me today.
CHIPMAN: Thank you Maureen.