Report raises questions over lack of bar fines

ENCINITAS — Efforts to tame the city’s notoriously rowdy bar scene appeared to have had some success over the summer — with a couple of glaring exceptions — according to a highly anticipated report on city code enforcement efforts in the downtown area.

The City Council received the report at its meeting Wednesday, which showed a steady decline in the number of complaints and incidents along Coast Highway 101, which in recent years has become populated with several bars.

The bar scene has become a major point of controversy for residents of the city’s downtown, which have complained about the noise and actions of drunken bar patrons, which spill into the residential neighborhoods after the establishments close.

Of the 23 establishments in Encinitas that stay open after 11 p.m., 21 of them had no reported code violations.

But the report also showed that two of downtown’s largest bars — Union Kitchen & Tap and Shelter Encinitas — repeatedly ran afoul of city codes during the summer, yet did not receive any fines from code enforcement. The inspection reports from Shelter from June to September show a pattern of loud music, over-capacity crowds, queues of people outside of the establishment, and fans blocking the doors. The Union inspection reports showed that code enforcement repeatedly warned the proprietor to not move tables and chairs from the dining area to boost capacity beyond the approved amount.

The council expressed frustration with both establishments and code enforcement over the repeated violations.

“They are playing cat-and-mouse, and I think it is time to put the trap down,” Teresa Barth said. “This has become a game… and I have zero tolerance for that.”

Several residents echoed the Council’s sentiments regarding the two establishments and their repeat offenses. Several of the residents who spoke urged the city to reconsider passing a stricter set of regulations on the alcohol-serving establishments, known as the “deemed approved” ordinance. The City Council voted against the ordinance in March, opting for the stricter enforcement of its current ordinances.

“In effect, it almost seems as if they were thumbing their nose at city staff and the evidence is overwhelming,” resident John Briggs said. “If this is how they act now, what will they do when they are not being monitored or scrutinized so closely?”

City Planning Director Jeff Murphy said that the deemed approved ordinance would likely not deal with some of the main issues still impacting downtown, such as drunken, loud bar patrons walking along Coast Highway and residential streets, because it would be difficult to link them to a particular establishment.

City staff has several enforcement mechanisms to deal with repeat offenders, including administrative penalties that start at $100 for the first violation and increase to $250 and $500 on subsequent violations. Additionally, the fire department and the state’s Department of Alcohol Beverage Control have its own set of enforcement measures.

The City Council members, while complimentary of staff’s efforts in monitoring the downtown scene, repeatedly questioned code enforcement manager Joan Kling and Fire Marshal Anita Pupping as to why the city never fined the establishments.

“How many times do they have to do something before you do something to get their attention?” Lisa Shaffer asked city staff.

Following the report, Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz asked the city staff to return at a future meeting with an item to potentially raise the code fines, which he said are “toothless” when dealing with bars that generate thousands of dollars of revenue on a given night.

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