ENCINITAS — Three councilmembers gave a moratorium on new bars the thumbs up at Wednesday night’s meeting, falling one vote shy needed for the measure to take effect.
Councilman Tony Kranz opposed the moratorium. But he said that doesn’t mean he’s “throwing in the towel” when it comes to addressing problems associated with late-night drinking.
“It’s important to take this incrementally, and I don’t think a moratorium is the first step in the process,” Kranz said.
Kranz said the council should pursue other changes like a “deemed-approved ordinance” — a check-in program that requires bars to regularly demonstrate they’re complying with public safety and noise standards.
Should a deemed-approved ordinance and other calming measures fail, Kranz said the council should take a look again at a moratorium.
The moratorium would have put a 45-day hold on new or expanding liquor licenses for pubs, bars and breweries planning to stay open past 10 p.m.
By law, after the 45 days, a moratorium can be extended for 10 months, and then a year following that.
Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar joined Kranz in voting against the moratorium. She said the newly formed Encinitas Hospitality Association, a collection of 26 bar and restaurant owners, has demonstrated its taking residents’ concerns seriously.
“I think they’ve shown us in the past week they’re committed to this process,” Gaspar said.
At its July 11 meeting, City Council directed the association to bring back a proposal addressing nightlife issues on Aug. 28.
Danielle Yi, spokeswoman for the association, said the group has posted banners in front of bars reminding patrons to act responsibly, among other initial steps. It also plans to host weekly community meetings for residents to air out concerns and help the association craft its proposal.
Shirley Finch said past meetings with bar owners have largely proven fruitless.
“We don’t want to get into lengthy meetings…we’ve already been there done that,” Finch said.
Residents have long complained about the downtown bar scene getting out of control. So the City Council asked the Downtown Encinitas Mainstreet Association to facilitate stakeholder meetings with the bars, residents and law enforcement last year. The resulting recommendations on curbing excessive drinking and rowdy behavior didn’t go far enough, many residents maintained last month.
Meanwhile, bar and restaurant owners said the Encinitas Hospitality Association will be different. Because more from the community will be involved, and the owners are more engaged this time around, the meetings will produce solid solutions, they argued.
Four businesses have an application in for a new liquor license or to expand their current one, according to Planning Director Jeff Murphy. If the moratorium had passed, the applications for two of those businesses, and possibly a third, would have been frozen until it expired.
Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer said a moratorium is simply a timeout while councilmembers mull over potential solutions. It isn’t about “punishing responsible business owners” or “vilifying neighbors who want to live peacefully downtown,” she said.
“I see the moratorium as a tool in which we’ve captured the attention of business owners, and the residents and staff, and we’ve signaled this is a priority issue for the council,” Shaffer said.
Shaffer added that she personally supports mandatory midnight closures for all bars. But that’s not on the table; the city doesn’t have the legal authority to make existing bars turn off their lights by midnight.
“We couldn’t shut you down at midnight even if we wanted to,” Shaffer said.
Mayor Teresa Barth said she’s disappointed the moratorium failed.
“It’s symbolic more than anything — to say that we are taking it seriously,” Barth said.
City Council will hear the Encinitas Hospitality Association’s proposal Aug. 28. At that time, councilmembers will also consider the deemed-approved ordinance and changes to conditional use permits. Additionally, councilmembers are due to discuss land-use modifications aimed at controlling the number of bars.
Most City Council items only demand a three-fifths vote to pass. However, items like moratoriums require the backing of four out of five councilmembers.