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Encinitas rejects ban on new downtown bars

The Encinitas Planning Commission on Feb. 16 backed away from a full-scale ban on new downtown bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, and said the city should instead pursue other ways to combat rowdy, drunken behavior late at night.

The panel made its decision Feb. 16 after wading through a newly released, 170-page assessment on alcohol sales downtown and the problems associated with it.

Rather than asking the City Council to consider a ban, commissioners directed city staff to research new regulatory options, including some suggestions put forward by the Encinitas Citizens Committee, a group of downtown residents and business owners.

“I could not, in any form, support a moratorium,” Commissioner Tony Brandenburg said.

Brandenburg, who is about to retire from the board, said he preferred a compromise solution — something that makes it tougher for places that cater to the hard-drinking, late-night crowds of “party bus” patrons to open in Encinitas, but doesn’t prevent a new pizza place that serves patrons a cold beer with a meal.

“There has to be a balancing act there somewhere,” he said.

Other commissioners agreed. Commissioner Al Apuzzo said Encinitas should seek to limit new late-night, alcohol-serving establishments, but shouldn’t become so restrictive that change of any kind isn’t allowed.

“Cities evolve and grow and change over time, so you have to accommodate that,” he said.

Encinitas has been struggling with regulation and control of alcohol-serving restaurants, pubs and bars in recent as the number of such places in town has grown.

Many homeowners and members of downtown’s Self-Realization Fellowship have urged the city to increase regulations and impose a moratorium on new alcohol-serving establishments in the area. They’ve argued downtown Encinitas is in danger of becoming the region’s next Pacific Beach, with late-night bar fights, vandalism, drunken driving and noise complaints.

Owners of downtown restaurants, ale houses, pubs and other alcohol-serving operations have said that a moratorium would be a drastic over-reaction, which would punish everyone for the bad behavior of just a few folks.

The city’s Planning Commission has been caught in the middle of the battle because it has been asked to approve many permit requests for new alcohol-serving businesses in recent years. In response to this, commissioners asked city planners last year to assemble a status report looking everything from how many alcohol sales places currently exist to what the statistics are for alcohol-related crime in town.

In the final weeks before the new report’s release, commissioners held off on voting on a new alcohol-related permit, saying they wanted to see the report before proceeding on a request by Union Kitchen + Tap for a patio expansion project.

The new report states that as of Feb. 8, there were 131 bars, restaurants and other places where alcohol was sold and consumed on-site citywide, including 13 places with pending permit requests being processed by the city. Out of that total, 83 places were located along Coast Highway 101, including 37 in Old Encinitas, 15 in Cardiff and 17 in Leucadia.

Out of the 131 establishments citywide, 40 were open past 10 p.m., the report found.

For comparison, two years earlier there were 116 places citywide, or 15 fewer than there is today. During the last two years, Old Encinitas has added three places, New Encinitas has added two, Leucadia and Cardiff both added five and Olivenhain’s figure was unchanged.

While the number of establishments is up, the Sheriff’s Department reported that driving under the influence arrests had decreased over the two-year period. The drug and alcohol-related crimes made up about 3 percent of the calls for service in the last six months. The highest percent of alcohol-related calls came from First Street Bar (25.8 percent) and Duke’s Cardiff Office (37.9 percent), the department reported.

Henry is a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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