Newport approves bar license system

NEWPORT BEACH — Some bars and restaurants that want to stay open late, have live entertainment or dancing must now get a license from the Police Department.

The City Council on Tuesday voted to approve the new law, which is designed to give the city more control over bars that allow drunk patrons to spill onto the streets and bother neighbors.

Newport Beach, a town known for generations by its resort atmosphere, has tried over the years to regulate restaurants and bars in a way that satisfies residents, business owners, police and city officials.

Now, the police chief will be able to set operating hours and revoke a bar's license if it repeatedly serves people too much alcohol or somehow becomes a serious problem.

Police Chief Jay Johnson used a similar rule when he supervised bars and restaurants through his previous role with the Long Beach Police Department, he said, and it helped control problems with drunks.

"It essentially gave me some teeth for the bars and establishments that were not responsible, to help me keep them in line," he said.

Some council members and residents at the meeting said they were concerned that too much power would rest with the Police Department and the city manager, who would hear appeals.

Councilwomen Nancy Gardner and Leslie Daigle voted against the resolution because they thought the council should have the final say.

"I think if I were a resident or a business owner I would like to feel that the ultimate arbiters are the people I could vote out of office," Gardner said.

During the discussion, the council members amended the law to include a process to notify neighbors. Now, property owners within 300 feet of the business in question will get a notice and the opportunity to tell the police what they think of a particular bar or restaurant.

The rules apply to bars or restaurants that serve alcohol, and want to either stay open past 11 p.m., have live entertainment or dancing. New businesses and existing business that want to increase occupancy or otherwise change their conditional use permits would have to apply for a license.

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