Task force considers more solutions to downtown alcohol issues

Another round of alcohol-related discussions dominated the Huntington Beach Downtown Task Force meeting Thursday as the committee talked about the possibility of new rules for bars, restaurants and liquor stores in the area.

The city would accomplish this by passing a "deemed approved" ordinance, which would tack on another layer of regulations focusing on nuisance-based problems. A number of California cities and counties are adopting such ordinances as a means of having more enforcement tools to use against "grandfathered" businesses.

The idea is one that new Huntington Beach Police Chief Robert Handy and former Chief Ken Small do not support.

But task force member Kim Kramer said he believes this route would be the best way to curb the alcohol-fueled problems downtown and wants the city to continue looking into such a law.

Huntington Beach Police Capt. Russell Reinhart argued that the city cannot make laws that would retroactively affect a business but that it can create new regulations.

The way a deemed approved ordinance works, Reinhart explained, is that the city would accept the current conditions that existing businesses are operating under but add another set of rules, usually regarding nuisance issues, that they must abide by.

For example, if multiple complaints regarding intoxicated people, drug use or various other crimes stem from a particular establishment, the city could hold that business responsible and take action against its owners.

"It puts responsibility on the bar owner to take responsibility for what their patrons do once they leave the bar," Kramer said.

San Francisco, Pasadena, Oakland, Petaluma and San Bernardino have adopted deemed approved ordinances, though Reinhart said no cities in Orange County have passed such a law.

Handy said he had experience with a deemed approved ordinance during his stint in San Bernardino, but it dealt more with liquor stores and high crime rates in the neighborhoods surrounding those businesses.

The chief added that he and the Huntington Beach Police Department are against a deemed approved ordinance, because it "paints a very broad brush with our businesses downtown."

In July 2013, the City Council passed stricter laws on bars and restaurants that have entertainment permits in hopes of reducing alcohol-related incidents. Some of the new regulations include requiring establishments to have surveillance cameras, admit no new customers 30 minutes before closing and offer last called no later than 15 minutes before closing.

The new rules are enforceable once a business renews its entertainment permit, which is done on a yearly basis. Many of the establishments downtown are still under the previous permit, but Reinhart said the changeover will occur by the end of 2014.

"I think we have the tools now, and we have to let some of them work," Handy said. "Some of the [laws] and the new entertainment permits have not been implemented and have not had time to really take effect."

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