The City Council unanimously approved a nuisance-based ordinance for alcohol establishments Tuesday night that they said will provide clarity and consistency for dealing with downtown bars and restaurants.
The 39-page law doesn't change the basic guidelines and restrictions overseeing establishments that serve alcohol, but it provides what City Attorney Brian Wenter described as a more streamlined and "cleaned up" set of rules.
"We have tools at our disposal now, but they are not as effective as the tools we are proposing," said Wenter.
The ordinance sets up a process for city officials to deal with establishments that have repeated violations or problems. Under it, businesses would be subject to restrictions, such as curtailing of hours for selling alcohol, by city staff. Establishments could appeal these decisions to the Planning Commission and the City Council.
Right now, there are 103 establishments in Walnut Creek that serve alcohol. Of those, 57 are older and not covered under rules adopted in 2004. The other 46 fall under the more recent guidelines.
The new ordinance puts all the businesses under the same set of rules. It takes effect 30 days after the council formally approves it on a second reading at its next meeting.
"This levels the playing field and there are no surprises for anybody," said Councilwoman Cindy Silva.
However, a number of business owners objected to the ordinance. They described it as "vague, ambigious and overboard in its application."
Michael Brown, an attorney who represents the Walnut Creek Hospitality Group, said a business could be blamed for bad behavior such as fights or urinating in public that aren't related to their bar or restaurant.
"It addresses conduct that might have nothing to do with the business establishment," Brown said.
Saul Tallarico, the owner of said current regulations such as dance permits already govern alcohol establishments and he doesn't see the need for a new law.
"There's a lot of standards we already have to live up to," Tallarico said.
Melisa Paden-Barrett, one of the general managers of agreed.
"It's very disconcerting that there is law after law after law," she said.
However, the council was unanimous in supporting the proposed ordinance.
"I think this provides a valuable tool," said Councilman Gary Skrel. "If people are conducting their business properly, then they have nothing to worry about."
"I think this provides a clarity of expectations," added Councilman Kish Rajan.
"It certainly is the right time for this ordinance," remarked Councilwoman Kristina Lawson.
The ordinance was spurred in part by a series of fights outside of bars on weekends last year. In February, using the existing conditional use process, including scaling the time it must stop serving alcohol from 12:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
The Planning Commission recommended approval of the ordinance last month.