The Santa Cruz Police Department would like to see certain alcohol outlets pay higher fees, meaning the downtown scene could soon be changing for some nightclubs and restaurants.
The change would affect restaurants that turn into nightclubs at night, such as Clouds Downtown and Rosie McCann’s Irish Pub, which has already begun receiving calls asking for their upped drink prices.
“I think it’s a bad time with the economy,” said Rosie Mccann’s manager Verna Lyon. “Everybody’s in a space where they can’t afford to pay anymore. We never had calls before for how much our drinks are.”
In July, the city council voted to increase fees for all alcohol outlets by 80 percent, the first increase in ten years. Those fees are determined based on the risk that an alcohol outlet creates and previously ranged from $207 to $1,527. However, the fees for the 2009 fiscal year will range from $377 to $2,775. Restaurants that bring in DJs and turn into nightclubs after the sun goes down will have to reclassify as “high risk alcohol establishments.”
“People are having a great time, and I don’t mind it at all,” said Councilwoman Katherine Beiers. “But it’s clearly when things close between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. that there are an enormous amount of issues on the street, and we really have to increase police control.”
The rules for nightclubs and restaurants had been relaxed after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake as an attempt to stimulate businesses, Beiers said.
“We purposely designed the downtown district so that it would become an entertainment place — with the theater and lots of restaturants,” Beiers said. “So, it was very purposeful to have all that. And it’s successful. But we also have to maintain safety.”
The Santa Cruz City Council is adopting other measures to attempt to increase safety in Santa Cruz. These include plans for bilingual teams of officers to do outreach in various neighborhoods, increased funding for gang and violence prevention programs, and a decision to accelerate the installation of new lighting on Pacific Ave.
These plans come after a spike this year in homicide and rape throughout the city, which included a break-in and sexual assault on the Westside, a double shooting downtown, and the stabbing of a 16-year-old high school student on Chestnut St. and Pacific Ave.
“We don’t understand how a boy got stabbed out in front of 7-Eleven, and now we’re getting charged,” Lyon said. “Why aren’t they charging the liquor stores?”
Zach Friend, spokesperson for the Santa Cruz Police Department, said the department’s recommendation that the zoning laws be changed is independent of the city’s recent incidents. Instead, he noted, the recommendation is designed to address an overall trend.
“It’s been going on for a few years, and we’ve been working on addressing it for a few years,” Friend said.
Lyon said that Rosie Mccann’s works very closely with the police and that while she “loves working with the police because it keeps us safe,” she felt the City Council was doing the restaurant a disservice.
“We work with the police to keep the sidewalks clear and our bouncers are always helping the police whenever there’s an issue. We work hand in hand, so I’m not sure why we’re getting a write-up.”
Lyon worries the change in zoning laws on top of an 80 percent increase in alcohol fees will force them to pass the cost on to their customers.
The Santa Cruz City Council and the police department said the plan is a way for all bars and nightclubs to help pay for the police presence needed to handle complaints and issues downtown. They said that restaurants that turn into nightclubs are paying fees too low relative to the risk that their high alcohol sales create.
Beiers said she recognizes that the new regulations aren’t necessarily beneficial to local businesses or customers.
“Certainly some of the owners of some of the various establishments are questioning the necessity, and it’s a tough time, and they may have to pass the increase on to the customer,” Beiers said. “I’m certainly sympathetic to all that.”