Under a deemed-approved ordinance, bars would have to meet regulations related to trash, noise and other metrics. Residents gave input on the draft ordinance on Monday. Photo by Jared Whitlock

Residents review tougher standards for Encinitas bars

ENCINITAS — New standards that aim to curb noise and trash outside of bars got a public unveiling on Monday night.

The stricter measures are part of the city’s draft deemed-approved ordinance. A final version, complete with public input, will go in front of the City Council for consideration sometime next year.

In the meantime, some residents at Monday’s meeting chimed in on whether the city should have further rules in the first place.

Bev Goodman, who owns a business on Coast Highway 101, said that in the past she’s walked up to her store in the mornings only to discover broken windows and intoxicated people passed out in front.

But since August, the Encinitas Hospitality Association, a group comprised of bar owners, has made a concerted effort to improve the situation.

“Everything to me is so much better,” Goodman said, adding that an ordinance isn’t needed.

John Balogh, from the Encinitas Citizens Committee, a group of residents who have voiced concerns with the bars, said an ordinance would allow the city to hold all bars — not just new ones — accountable.

“We appreciate the efforts of some local bars that pick up trash and provide security services in a few downtown locations in the recent months,” he said. “But we need more than that — we need consistent and uniform standards.”

This summer, the City Council voted 3-2 to direct staff to develop the deemed-approved program, citing the city’s inability to regulate older bars.

Bars that obtained a liquor license more than 20 years ago face fewer performance standards than new bars.

But under the proposed rules, all alcohol-serving establishments covered in the ordinance would have to meet tougher measures for noise, trash and other metrics. Otherwise, they would face fines or eventually even the loss of their license.

At the meeting, the public also weighed in on how enforcement should play out and which bars should be covered under a deemed-approved program.

John DeWald asked if the program would allow residents who don’t like a particular bar to level false complaints.

“How do we make sure this isn’t a witchhunt or vendetta against a specific bar?” DeWald asked.

City Planning Director Jeff Murphy said that once a complaint is filed, a Sheriff’s deputy or city code enforcement officer would investigate the matter. There would have to be clear evidence that beer bottles, for example, were left near a business to consider the complaint.

“If it was somewhere down the street, there’s no way of knowing or pinpointing that a beer bottle belonged to this particular bar,” Murphy said. “In that case, it’s unlikely we would move forward with any citation.”

If the City Council and public are in support, Encinitas could also have the Sheriff’s Department visit bars on a proactive basis to enforce the ordinance, Murphy noted.

By a show of hands, most residents at the meeting agreed that bars should receive a warning for a first offense, rather than jumping straight to an administrative hearing. But if an establishment doesn’t comply, a citation and then eventually an administrative hearing should follow, they said.

Cities like San Luis Obispo turned to a deemed-approved program in recent years to place tighter controls on bars. A complaint hasn’t escalated to the hearing process in that city yet, according to city officials.

Encinitas could apply the ordinance to all of the city’s 111 alcohol-serving establishments, the 34 establishments that serve alcohol after 10 p.m. or the 48 businesses that were grandfathered in before current regulations were put on the books, city staff members said at the meeting.

Resident Tim Cavalli said the ordinance should include bars and restaurants that offer alcohol from 10 p.m. on, because those are the ones causing the issues. About 50 percent of the people at the meeting supported that view, while the other half said the program should cover all of the bars and restaurants with alcohol.

City staff members will note the public’s recommendations when the ordinance goes before the City Council.

Residents also wondered if an ordinance would stop “morphing,” when a restaurant offering alcohol transforms into a late-night bar. Murphy said the ordinance doesn’t prevent extending an establishment’s hours if its liquor license states it can stay open until 2 a.m.

“Neither the city nor ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) has the ability to change the conditions of those permits,” Murphy said.

But the business would still be subject to the standards of a deemed-approved ordinance, he added.

This summer, the City Council voted to make liquor license applicants complete a plan with information about noise mitigation and occupancy limits. Failure to comply with terms in the plan could result in fines.

A moratorium — a freeze on new liquor licenses — was also floated, but never passed.