ENCINITAS — The Encinitas Planning Commission passed on calls for a moratorium on alcohol serving establishments along the Coast Highway 101 corridor, rather directing its staff to return in April with definitive recommendations on how to get a handle on the perceived growing problem with the proliferation of those establishments along the corridor.
The city’s planning department will return in late April with its recommendations.
The decision came after a two-hour hearing on Feb. 16 in which residents urged the city to halt issuing permits for bars and restaurants that serve alcohol after 10 p.m., which they said have swelled in downtown and have altered the charm and character that Encinitas is known for.
Residents spoke of the rowdy behavior of patrons at these establishments, many of which are labeled as restaurants but effectively operate as clubs and bars in the late hours.
“These consumers do not respect our community…they come here to get hammered,” said Benjamin Gershman, who moved to Encinitas from the East Coast and is in the indie rock band O.A.R. “It (Coast Highway 101) has turned into a college street that resembles fraternity row.”
Dennis Holz, representing the Encinitas Citizens Committee, asked the Planning Commission recommend that the City Council adopt the so-called deemed approved ordinance, which would introduce strict regulations on establishments that serve alcohol. The City Council opted against such an ordinance in 2014.
The Feb. 16 meeting was set as an informational session in which staff returned with an expansive report that detailed the number of alcohol serving establishments, state Alcohol Beverage Control Board regulations regarding these establishments, and a detailed comparison of Encinitas and other coastal cities and the number of establishments in the corridor, among other things.
Interim planning director Steve Chase said that the report yielded several clear storylines: that the city’s law enforcement efforts in downtown are working, that two bars — Duke’s Cardiff Office and 1st Street Bar in downtown Encinitas — are responsible for two-thirds of the calls for service in the entire corridor, and that several organizations — the city, ABC and law enforcement are responsible for keeping the bar and restaurant scene under control.
“We will leave it to you to determine if it is covered accurately,” Chase said.
Proponents of the restaurants said that Encinitas lacks a late-night restaurant scene and that it gives options for people who work late hours to have a meal that isn’t from a drive-through window.
City officials and commissioners, however, said that the restaurants downtown, however, don’t behave like restaurants after 10 p.m. Residents reported party buses that drop large groups of people off at several of the establishments on a regular basis.
“They aren’t coming here to eat, they are coming to get hammered,” said commissioner Tony Brandenburg said.
Capt. John Maryon, who oversees the city’s Sheriff’s substation, concurred with Brandenburg and the others. He said that he has issued protests for many of the restaurant ABC license requests based on the fact that many of the census tracts in the downtown area already have an over-concentration of the establishments, and that many restaurants operate chains outside of Encinitas with much earlier closing times.
“Why is it that this pizza place is asking to stay open to 2 a.m. when they have locations in 4S Ranch or other places that don’t stay open that late?” Maryon said, referring to a hypothetical example. “It is because it is what is accepted and they are trying to get in on it. And it is a burden and a drain on our resources.
“I think it needs to slow down,” Maryon said.
The commission, agreeing with the residents, stopped short of a moratorium, however.
They said they wanted to give staff the time to craft recommendations that they could then recommend to the city council, which would have to vote on the issue. The recommendations would deal with conditions that would prevent restaurants from turning into bars and new enforcement mechanisms to ensure restaurants are abiding by the terms of their permits.
Greg Drakos and Al Apuzzo also said that a moratorium might impact businesses that are in the pipeline that might not be part of the problem.
“You have to have nuance,” Drakos said. An outdoor patio where the restaurant wants to serve food during the afternoon is not Armageddon.”