Proposal to curb late-night bar noise falls flat

DEL MAR — Proposed new rules aimed at reducing early-morning bar-related problems failed to move forward at the Sept. 5 meeting after three council members did not support the suggestion made by their two other colleagues.

People who live near downtown have for decades voiced concerns about noise, trash, public urination and other nuisances caused by drunken revelers leaving the city’s handful of bars and restaurants that serve liquor after 11 p.m.

According to the staff report, efforts to address the issues historically had “mixed success.” Despite filing complaints with the city and Alcoholic Beverage Control, residents remain frustrated that problems continue.

Owners say they do their best to minimize the impacts and point out their businesses provide tax revenue for the city and late-night opportunities for residents and visitors.

To address the issues, Councilmen Dwight Worden and Dave Druker recommended adoption of a “deemed approved” ordinance, a law recently approved in neighboring Encinitas to solve similar problems there.

Currently under Del Mar law, restaurants and bars that serve alcohol after 11 p.m. in the downtown area can only do so with a conditional use permit, which allows concerns to be addressed at hearings and gives the city an opportunity to impose conditions of approval to address those issues.

The three businesses that predate the current code — Bully’s, Jimmy O’s and En Fuego Cantina and Grill — aren’t required to have a CUP so the ability to limit activities there are limited. (Bully’s is being sold and any new establishment will be required to obtain a CUP.)

A deemed approved ordinance, or DAO, specifies generally applicable nuisance control measures that apply to all such establishments, including those with “grandfathered” rights.

If the measures are violated the DAO provides a basis for enforcement that currently does not exist.

Worden and Druker said if there was council support for the proposal, a draft ordinance would be created and run through the approval process, which includes review by the Planning Commission.

The Del Mar Village Association and Business Support Advisory Committee would also be consulted.

Worden and Druker said Del Mar could model its ordinance after the one in Encinitas. Businesses there spent about 18 months trying to address residents’ concerns.

When that failed, City Council approved a DAO. It was only recently and has not been implemented. The city hired two retired sheriff’s deputies for enforcement.

The dozen or so people who weighed in either by email or during public comment were almost evenly split on the proposed new rule for Del Mar.

“The reality is that we don’t have a vibrant downtown,” Jim Watkins said. “What we don’t need is another nonessential ordinance unfriendly to business.”

KC Vafiadis, who owns the 15th Street building where Jimmy O’s is located, said the city should better enforce existing laws.

Keith Nordling, who has owned Jimmy O’s since 1999, said the proposal caught him by surprise.

“It’s coming out of left field,” he said. “It’s obviously singling out and targeting Jimmy O’s, and by extension, me, my wife and my employees.”

Nordling said over the years he reduced the seating capacity of the restaurant and tried to work with his neighbors.

“I hear the complaints from the residents and my heart goes out to them,” said En Fuego owner John Wingate. “But more restrictions? You guys are barking up the wrong tree. … I don’t think it’s fair and I don’t think it’s just and I don’t think it’s right.”

“Every city deserves a sports bar … but a night club on steroids is another situation,” said Sally Middleton, who lives on nearby Stratford Court.

She said the noise is constant and residents can’t enjoy their homes.

“Every night it’s the same nonsense,” she said. “It’s just a mess all up and down the street. We’re just perplexed that this is even allowed in the name of a sports bar.”

Cheryl Hallenbeck, who lives on 15th Street, said she and her neighbors “chase drunks out of our yards, have had attempted break-ins from drunken patrons who think they’re at their own homes, drunks walking around our balconies, peering into our upstairs windows” at two or three in the morning.“

We clean up liquor bottles and undergarments and put up with screaming, fights, blaring radios and worse from 10 p.m. and into the wee hours on an ongoing basis,” she added.

Councilwoman Ellie Haviland questioned how the ordinance would give the city more resources for patrol and enforcement. She said a first step should be to have a presence downtown “to figure out what is going on.”

Councilwoman Sherryl Parks called the proposal a “big hammer” on two businesses.

“Unlike Encinitas we only have a moderate number of businesses,” she said. “I think this is a big hammer to put on our business community. … A more modest approach than this one is necessary at this time. This is a big reach.”

Council members directed staff to research the cost of increasing patrols and enforcement. They plan to work with the DMVA and BSAC to see if there are additional business-friendly means to control the problem. 

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