Proposal targets rowdy drinkers on peninsula

There's just something about living by the beach that makes people a little more rowdy, especially when they're walking home late from Balboa Peninsula bars.

That's what Mary Bryant has surmised after the many years she's listened to drunks yelling as she tries to sleep in her West Newport bedroom, she said.

Now, the police officials are hoping they'll have another way to control just how rowdy people get.

On Tuesday the City Council will vote on a new law that would require new bar and restaurant owners who serve alcohol and want to stay open past 11 p.m., allow dancing or live entertainment, to apply for a license with the Police Department.

With the cops able to revoke licenses for misbehaving bars, it places police brass in the delicate position of balancing business needs with neighbors' complaints and public safety concerns.

"We don't want to stand in the way of business," said Capt. Craig Fox of the Newport Beach Police. "But we have to balance it with the safety and security of the community, and our service levels."

Even the sleepless Bryant, who hadn't read the new proposal, was reluctant to support more rules for businesses."It is a tough problem," she said. "We cannot have too many rules and regulations. If we could just live within the law and be good neighbors…"

The new license would allow the city to control noise, loitering, litter, disorderly conduct and parking concerns more strictly. It was prompted by problems of overcrowding, assaults, public drunkenness, public urination, and others nuisances, according to an April report by city staff.

Ali Zadeh, owner of the Port Restaurant & Bar in Corona del Mar, has dealt with angry neighbors. Right now, he has to close at midnight, but he applied with the city to stay open until 1 a.m. Going through the current administrative process was a hassle, he said.

"It would be more clear, at least people would know what they have to go through," Zadeh said.

Operating hours and other restrictions would be set on a case-by-case basis, Capt. Fox said. When reviewing a new application, the police would send an investigator to look at the business owner's past practices, and evaluate any problems with the current operation.

They'll evaluate how close businesses are to residences, at crime statistics, and if there is already a concentration of bars or nightclubs.

An example of an area that gets rowdy is the peninsula, Fox said: "It does draw a lot of police resources."

Under the new law, police would be able to issue citations and fines if a nightclub violated the terms of its license, but the proposal doesn't specify the amount of the fines. Ultimately, if the police chief suspended or revoked its license, a restaurant owner could appeal a decision to the city manager.

Balancing business owners' rights is something that new City Councilman Rush Hill considers carefully, especially because he owns a building with a restaurant near the Newport Pier. At one point, Hill wanted to let people stay in the building later than his permit allows, he said, but was stymied by the city.

Officials were reluctant to extend his hours, he said, because while they trusted the current management, they couldn't predict how future operators would act. An irresponsible restaurant owner could serve people too much alcohol, or let them wander into the streets with beer bottles, for example.

Hill was denied, but situations like his prompted the council in April to consider the current license proposal.

Mayor Mike Henn said this law would allow the city to distinguish between the fundamental permit to serve food and alcohol, which is vested with the land, with the license that would allow an operator to stay open late, offer dancing or live entertainment.

"It can provide more flexibility for council to grant applications," said Henn, who represents the peninsula.

One aspect that Henn wanted to clarify is why the license process would not have a chance for public input. As the proposal reads, the chief and city manager would have the power, but it doesn't appear that citizens would be able to voice their concerns about a certain lounge or nightclub.

"The public tends to have strong opinions about these kinds of applications," he said.

Often, when a bar or nightclub wants to expand it draws many complaints from neighbors. Unless an existing businesses wants to make some change to their city permit, like add capacity, they wouldn't have to apply for this new license. New operators, though, would have to go through the process. The license fee is $656.

The city needs to be careful about restricting restaurants so much that Newport gets a reputation as a sleepy town, said Sheri Drewry, the president of the Newport Beach Restaurant Assn. and owner of Wilma's Patio restaurant on Balboa Island. She would not have to apply for the new license.

"If we get a bad rap for the streets rolling up at 9 p.m., that's not going to help," Drewry said.

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