Downtown Encinitas experienced a rather quiet Cinco de Mayo this year, despite concerns from the community about loud and overcrowded bars along Coast Highway 101 and new regulations from the city regarding drinking and noise downtown.
Homeowners and members of downtown’s Self-Realization Fellowship have complained to city officials, fearing Encinitas could become the region’s next Pacific Beach, with late-night bar fights, vandalism, drunken driving and noise complaints.
Deputies from the San Diego County Sheriff Department’s North Coastal station and a city code enforcement officer visited more than a dozen bars and patrolled Coast Highway 101, from Leucadia to Cardiff, between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. on May 5. The Encinitas Advocate joined them on the patrol through midnight.
Overall, in downtown, there were two arrests (with at least one relating to alcohol), 14 bar checks, seven pedestrian stops and two field interviews, according to statistics from the Sheriff’s Department.
Throughout the night, the bars did not appear overly crowded, although small lines did begin forming outside D Street Bar and Grill and 1st Street Bar, and loud music emitted from Shelter, after 11 p.m.
Mario Morales, proactive code enforcement officer for the City of Encinitas, said he believes alcohol-related activity in the downtown area has decreased in the last three years due to the city’s Proactive Code Enforcement program (PACE), which began in 2014 and has code enforcement officers randomly visit alcohol businesses throughout the week to make sure they are in compliance with city laws.
“We started getting everyone aligned and let them know we’re here now,” he said. “The bars weren’t ready for us, so they were still misbehaving, but when we started patrolling more, everybody started to calm down.”
He said it’s not always about citing people, but also about educating them on why the regulations are important.
During his rounds, which are random throughout the week, Morales will ensure bars are not over capacity, their servers all have licenses to work with alcohol and other safety measures are in place, like lines only taking up a certain amount of space on the sidewalks. Noise levels are also checked.
For the most part, the businesses are compliant, Morales said.
“A lot of the time, they’ll fix problems on the spot because we have that relationship with them,” he said.
Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Rich George also credited ride-sharing programs like Uber and Lyft for keeping drunk people off the streets in recent years. The busiest time for alcohol-related activity is during the summer months and on the night before Thanksgiving, he added.
“I’ve seen problems in other communities and, personally, I don’t think it’s too bad here,” George said. “But I do think having the initiative to control what we have right now is important.”
Authorities have also increased their visibility downtown, making their presence known to bars and their patrons, he said. A new sheriff’s substation is also expected to open this summer in downtown at 149 W. D Street.
George said problems have decreased downtown since he began working for the department three years ago.
“When I first started here, things were pretty bad,” he said. “There were fights and it was really busy.”
Capt. John Maryon said he believes the Sheriff’s Department “finally has a handle” on downtown.
“I don’t get the phone calls from the residents complaining about all of the fights and other issues they were dealing with down there,” he said. “I do know we still need to maintain our presence down there otherwise the problems will return.”
In December 2015, the council approved a $150,000 increase to the Sheriff’s Department’s budget to allot for overtime, particularly in the downtown area.
The overtime funds proved especially effective on Dec. 31, 2015, when deputies had a strong presence in the downtown area, Maryon said at a city council meeting in January.
In addition to extra deploys in the area, the overtime fund also paid for four deputies with two vans from the Sheriff’s Department’s Transportation Unit to take anyone arrested downtown to jail.
Maryon said this allowed the Community Policing and Problem Solving unit and Crime Suppression Team to stay downtown to continue their efforts without having to leave for booking.
Ultimately, 12 people were arrested that night, with 10 of those for being drunk in public. One other person was arrested for driving under the influence, and another was arrested for possession of methamphetamine.
This last New Year’s Eve, there was one arrest, Maryon said.
The city is also making efforts to ensure a safer downtown and city overall, following complaints from residents regarding noise, crowds, people urinating in public and other disturbances.
Videos have also surfaced on social media of businesses seemingly playing loud music in the late hours of the night.
“I think we need a better handle (on the current situation),” Planning Commission Chairman Glenn O’Grady said in a January meeting.
The city council is working on a “deemed approved ordinance,” which will allow the city to enforce nuisance codes according to uniform standards across the city. The city has passed a slew of alcohol-related ordinances including: alcohol service to stop at 10 p.m. for new businesses along the coastal corridor, with possible later cutoffs once they prove their good behavior; a noise ordinance downtown and update the standards elsewhere; stiffer fines for code violations; and measures to curb party buses and the long lines of patrons waiting to get into bars.
Current rules call for $100 for a first violation and $200 for the second. Council member Tasha Boerner Horvath wants $1,000 in both instances.
Haven Dunn, owner of D Street Bar and Grill, said he believes there’s an oversaturation of alcohol-serving establishments downtown and no more liquor licenses should be issued.
“We do not feel that there are problems downtown as a whole, but there are certain spots that fuel the perception that downtown Encinitas has problems in regards to alcohol-serving establishment,” he said. “In other words, a few bad apples are ruining it for the rest.”
He believes the announcement of the opening of the Modern Times Brewery has residents concerned because of pre-existing parking and oversaturation problems.
Another downtown business owner, who wished to remain anonymous, said he believed residents were being unfair to the businesses in their complaints.
The businessman, who also owns property in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, said he did not want to see downtown Encinitas turn into the Gaslamp.
“I have no problem with people complaining, as long as their complaints are fair,” he said. “They’re somewhat fair now, but I think people need to stake their spots. When they start taking videos at midnight on a Friday or Saturday night, yeah, it’s not fair. If they have videos from a Tuesday or Wednesday at 2 a.m., I get it. ... As a business operator, I would always appreciate it if people came to complain to us directly first, which never happens.”