Planning Commission calls for new alcohol regulations

Planning Commission calls for new alcohol regulations
The Planning Commission recommended that the City Council reconsider the deemed approved ordinance. The council voted against the ordinance in 2014. File Photo

Citing the need to bring balance to the downtown area, the Encinitas Planning Commission recommended the City Council consider new regulations to crack down on unruly alcohol serving establishments along the Coast Highway 101 corridor.

With the vote, the Planning Commission advanced the so-called “deemed approved” ordinance and several other recommendations to the council for consideration.

Deemed approved ordinances give cities more latitude in enforcing nuisance rules and revoking business licenses on establishments that are subject to less restrictions due to their grandfathered status.

In the case of Encinitas, the ordinance would target all alcohol serving establishments that are open after 10 p.m., or 41 of the city’s 131 alcohol serving establishments, making them subject to tougher noise, trash and other nuisance standards.

Encinitas considered a deemed approved ordinance in 2014, but opted to take a proactive enforcement approach to the downtown bar scene.

But the commission agreed this month that more needed to be done, especially as it pertained to restaurants that operated more like bars after 10 p.m., but without the same restrictions as bona fide bars.

“The crux of the problem is those “stealth bars” that stop serving food after 10, those are the organizations we need to tamp down,” recently appointed planning commissioner Kevin Doyle said. “It feels like cheating, and I think it feels like cheating to a lot of local residents.”

Several residents and a representative from the Self Realization Fellowship who spoke at the meeting urged the commission to take action to rein in the nightlife scene, especially in downtown Encinitas, where they said much of the problem lies.

The residents said they weren’t opposed to restaurants that serve beer and wine, but more with the restaurants that stop serving food and continue to serve alcohol into the early morning hours.

“The issue is the bars, the issue is the drink-only places,” resident Shirley Finch said.

Another resident, Katie Poponyac, echoed Finch’s concerns.

“The nature (of downtown) has changed because now it’s just a party place,” she said.

A representative from the Self Realization Fellowship, which has spearheaded some of the efforts to revive the deemed-approved ordinance, said there was an urgent need for “checks and balances.”

The commission also advanced several other recommendations to the council, including consideration of a new entertainment license similar to the one Carlsbad recently adopted, and regulations on party buses that swarm into downtown and bring unruly patrons into the area, a sore point of many residents who spoke.

Most of the commissioners, however, disagreed with a staff recommendation to explore a new fee or per-drink surcharge to help pay for increased enforcement. Glenn O’Grady was the lone proponent of the proposal.

Commissioner Al Apuzzo, who represents New Encinitas, also requested that the city council look at applying the rules differently east of Interstate 5, which doesn’t have a lot of dining establishments that stay open after 10 p.m. and isn’t part of the problem.

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