Seeking to tame problematic restaurants and bars, the Newport Beach City Council may increase fines for noise, occupancy and other violations.
On Tuesday, the council will discuss adding a higher level of fines — up to 10 times the current amount — for certain laws and for repeat offenders.
In recent years, neighbors in Corona del Mar and on the Balboa Peninsula have complained about noisy bars and restaurants. City officials say they sometimes have to stake out the businesses late at night to document violations, and that their staff members' time is often wasted during lengthy investigations.
The steeper penalties, they hope, will curtail scofflaws.
Currently, the fine for these low-level municipal code violations is $100 for the first offense and up to $500 for the third violation.
"That type of fine is just seen as a cost of doing business, and not necessarily a deterrent," said Community Development Director Kim Brandt, who oversees code enforcement.
She has proposed fines of $1,000 for the first violation, and up to $3,000 for the third violation, but only in specific cases.
Those would include businesses that violate their conditions of approval or their operators licenses — two ways the city can impose noise curfews, occupancy limits and the like. The higher fines would also specifically apply to establishments that allow dancing or live entertainment without the proper permits.
These issues "affect the health, safety and general welfare of the community," a staff report says.
Some business leaders aren't happy. Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Richard Luehrs said the new fines could threaten businesses already struggling with high food costs, and the city has enough rules to limit the impacts on neighbors.
He pointed to a January 2011 council decision to require new restaurant operators to apply for a permit, revocable by the Police Department.
"I'm fairly sure that with that hammer hanging over their head," Luehrs said, "I would be really surprised if a restaurant didn't take its conditions of approval very, very seriously."
But operators licenses are primarily for new businesses.
Brandt said the higher fines will be levied very carefully. The city manager, police chief, fire chief, public works director and the community development director would all have the ability to institute the higher tier.