Community Commentary Opinion

It’s time to fix the Encinitas downtown bar scene!

The Encinitas bar scene has been causing trouble for some time. A handful of businesses are serving alcohol in an irresponsible way — a way that promotes public drunkenness, DUI-related incidents and a host of other problems. It all happens in the evening, after 10 p.m.

That’s when a series of what looked like upscale restaurants completely change their way of business.

It’s called “Morphing.” It refers to a restaurant, which has an emphasis on food during the daytime but turns itself in a bar or club in the evening, relying heavily on alcohol sales to generate revenue. It’s an entirely different business model. The kitchen is closed, a dance floor is opened up and entertainment brought in, often a small band or a DJ.

Of course this causes problems; businesses that rely so heavily on alcohol sales always cause problems, and many of them spill out into the surrounding community. Public intoxication is perhaps the most common, with young people who’ve had too much to drink getting into fights. Nuisance-related activities like public urination as well as more serious crime have also become more prevalent. And all of this generates more police calls for service, tying up law enforcement resources, and making them less available to local residents who might need help.

Many cities require businesses that choose this model to purchase a special permit, which brings in the revenue needed to police the operation. However, in the case of morphing, the establishments get around the law by claiming they are still restaurants, which usually don’t have these kinds of problems. So the city is left without sufficient resources to respond.

But there is a solution. It’s called a Deemed Approved Ordinance, a new kind of law that establishes a set of responsible operating standards that all alcohol retailers have to follow in order to stay in business. This approach has been successful in many cities in California, most recently in El Cajon where problems stemming from liquor and convenience stores have declined substantially. According to the El Cajon Police Department, arrests for public drunkenness dropped 35 percent, and arrests for drinking in public dropped 26 percent.

Actually, Encinitas was considering this type of ordinance last year but it was stymied by the local hospitality association. Not wanting to offend the business community, the city backed off from the ordinance and instituted some half-way measures. But it’s been almost a year now, and according to many residents I have spoken with, the problems have not gone away.

A lot of people live downtown and they’re concerned about the long-term consequences. Other cities with morphing issues have seen an eventual deterioration set in, with urban blight and economic decline. No one wants that for the Encinitas, not local residents, not the business community.

Let’s take a lesson from these other cities. Let’s ask our city council to implement a Deemed Approved Ordinance. We’ve waited long enough; the time for action is now.

Teresa Barth is a former Encinitas mayor and councilmember.

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4 comments

Xavier Watson July 15, 2015 at 4:30 am

Isn’t this the same Teresa Barth who just cost the taxpayers $350,000 to resolve the BIA lawsuit that was started at her initiation by sponsoring illegal policies? This would have paid for a year and a half of a full-time Sheriff Deputy devoted to remedying out downtown problem.

DM July 15, 2015 at 3:29 pm

We don’t need MORE laws. We have plenty of laws already in the books regarding public intoxication. The problem does not lie with businesses, the problem is a few individual citizens who choose to act irresponsibly. Punish the few who do break laws and cause public nuisance. Don’t create more legal mess by coming up with new laws. If there are specific businesses that are over serving their customers, use the existing laws to enforce suspensions of liquor licenses and require them to implement training for their staff to recognize when to “cut off” a customer. If the laws we already have are not being enforced, how would anyone expect a new law to be enforced? When you boil all this down, it comes down to bad parenting. Yes, it really does. Some parents don’t raise their children well, they don’t set limits and don’t enforce discipline when their child disobeys. This sets the stage for future deviant behavior. If parents would stop blaming others for their own failure and take responsibility for their children, those kids would grow up to be better citizens and know when to say when. If we really want to curb bad behavior, start in the home at an early age. If you want to write new laws, maybe instead we should be enacting laws against bad parenting and require licenses to have children. It starts with the parents, not the businesses trying to serve a community.

Arun Iyengar July 15, 2015 at 6:36 pm

So, @ DM is saying better parenting for all Enicinitas visitors must start now to solve the problem? It’s probably the most ridiculous solution I have heard! How does that solution solve the problem of public drunkenness the city is experiencing now – today?
About enacting the current laws and not pass new ones (another suggestion by @DM:) If I correctly understand Teresa Barth, the author of the article, because of “morphing,” the current laws cannot be implemented. So, it is obvious that we would need new laws.

Rolland Slade July 31, 2015 at 8:55 pm

Like Encinitas, my city of El Cajon tried to work with problematic alcohol retailers. However, the promised reduction in problems never happened! The concept of “self-policing” has proved itself to be ineffective, doing very little, if anything, to decrease public intoxication, underage drinking, and other quality of life issues we have had in our city. Finally, with this new law and enforcement of it, the worst offenders have been put on notice, to comply with the law or deal with the consequences. There is no impact to those retailers who are not violating the law! There is much to be gained by way of decreased alcohol sales to youth, improved serving practices, a decreased presence of public drunkenness and serial inebriate activity.

A recent report published by the El Cajon Police Department in March of this year shows that the Deemed Approved Ordinance has been working. It has been able to stop bad business practices, not by shutting down businesses, but by turning them into responsible operations.

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