Encinitas council urges shift toward enforcement for bars breaking rules


A recent report found bar-related problems in downtown Encinitas improved over the summer, but because two establishments have been uncooperative, four council members at the Oct. 15 council meeting urged the staff to pursue fines going forward.

After years of some residents complaining about bars generating too much noise and litter in downtown Encinitas, a proactive city patrol program kicked off this summer. A report from city staff, presented at the council meeting, analyzed the program’s progress.

“This summer has been quieter, more orderly than prior years,” City Planning Director Jeff Murphy said. “This in light of having a busier summer this year than last summer.”

As evidence of the situation getting better, the report noted that most of the 17 calls to the Sheriff’s Department for late-night downtown problems from June to September came from bar employees themselves.

“This shows a level of self-policing that helps address the problem before it adversely impacts neighboring residents,” the report stated.

Twenty-one bars largely abided by trash, noise and line rules during the city program’s inspections of bars open after 10 p.m., according to the report. However, Union Kitchen & Tap and Shelter logged repeated noise and occupancy violations that weren’t met with fines.

In turn, councilmembers Tony Kranz, Mark Muir, Lisa Shaffer and Teresa Barth advocated a shift from education and warnings toward enforcement.

“I feel like we’re playing cat and mouse with the Union and Shelter, and I think it’s time to put the trap down, because this is a joke,” Barth said. “They’re running us around, and I don’t appreciate it one bit. For four years, they’ve heard it from the neighbors.”

Barth added that although the city takes in sales tax revenue from the bars, proactive inspections after 10 p.m. downtown drain law enforcement from elsewhere in the city. She also requested a report back accounting for law enforcement and city costs expended on keeping the bars in check.

At the end of the council meeting, Kranz asked for a future agenda item as soon as possible on potentially raising the fines for bars that keep breaking the rules. He added the city’s fine schedule, starting at $100 for repeat offenders, is “toothless” for bars.

Of the violations over the summer, council members particularly took issue with Shelter not receiving a citation for its employees placing a large fan near or in front of a fire exit during five inspections over the summer.

Joan Kling, city code enforcement manager, said fines weren’t issued because two of the fan violations occurred in June, before the program officially started. Once it began in July, a fire marshal, who has the power to cite for fire exit violations, was on hand only during one of the subsequent inspections. The fire marshal would have to witness two violations to draw a fine.

Murphy, the city’s planning director, said a fire marshal will join more inspections in the future and hand out fines if need be.

“We do see there is an issue with two particular businesses,” Murphy said. “We concur that the next step is — now that they’ve been educated, now they know what the requirements are — we will have the fire marshal attend more frequently.”

Resident John Briggs said the downtown situation has gotten better, but it seemed those two establishments were “thumbing their nose” at city staff.

“If this is how they act now, what will they do when they’re not being monitored or scrutinized so closely?” Briggs said, adding they should be held accountable for their actions.

Three residents renewed calls for the city to adopt a deemed-approved ordinance, a stricter set of regulations for bars. A council majority voted against that ordinance earlier this year, stating the city should first try enforcing the rules on the books.

The report notes that residents can register complaints or questions regarding Encinitas bars through a new city hotline: 760-633-CODE. City staff returns calls within 24 hours.

Beverly Goodman, who spoke on behalf of the Encinitas Hospitality Association, a group of bar owners, said the organization took residents’ concerns to heart by hiring “security ambassadors” to watch over downtown this summer.

“The bars do not like unruly and drunk customers any more than anyone else does,” Goodman said. “It is bad for business, as they disturb other customers trying to have a good time.”

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, it incorrectly identified Union Kitchen & Tap as the establishment that violated city codes when its employees placed a large fan near or in front of a fire exit during inspections over the summer. Shelter was the establishment responsible for those particular violations. The Encinitas Advocate regrets the error.