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Party Buses Draw Ire Of San Francisco Club Owners At Community Meeting

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Party dockin' by the club tonight.
Party dockin' by the club tonight.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Club owners in San Francisco are fed up with party buses.

They've seen the litany of problems that accompany the ever-increasing flood of drunken revelers stumbling off the mobile ragers all across the city. At a community meeting held at the San Francisco Public Library on Monday afternoon, their message was loud and clear: Enough is enough.

"As someone who has put on events in San Francisco for 20 years, party buses are just bad news," said Chris Smith, founder of Om Records and co-owner of swank SoMa hotspot Monarch. "We don't allow party buses at Monarch. If one comes up to our club, it's getting towed."

Smith's sentiment was echoed by many other club owner at the meeting, organized by the Tenderloin's Community Leadership Alliance.

"Most clubs I know say 'no' to party buses," said Steven Lee, owner of The Grand nightclub and member of the San Francisco Entertainment Commission. "People do all their drinking on the buses and it's not a benefit to the club. We have to deal with all the security and all the hassle without any of the benefit."

The venue owners worried that, because many party bus passengers are drinking to excess and then coming into their clubs, they're subjected to all of the negative aspects of dealing with the drunk people piling off of the buses--increased security needs, elevated risk of drawing noise complaints and large vehicles double parked right in front of their establishments--without getting enough monetary compensation to make it worth their while.

Since it's a common practice for buses to let people off around the corner from the club entrances, its often difficult to differentiate between people coming from a bus and those just walking in off the street.

Kendra Jones, operations director of bus rental company Private Party Bus, talked about some of the positives associated with party buses, the biggest being reducing the risk of drunk driving by removing the necessity of bar hoppers to get behind the wheel themselves. She urged the club owners in attendance to avoid painting all party bus operators with the same broad brush.

"We station security on all of our buses and we limit people to two complementary drinks per passenger," said Jones. "I think it's important to have management on board supervising what's happening."

Alcohol consumption on party buses is legal as long as the booze served on board stays on board; patrons carrying their drinks outside are liable to get a ticket.

While it's against the law to carry open containers of alcohol in regular passenger vehicles, party buses and limos are exempted. Limos are subjected to a robust set of regulations. But because the prevalence of party buses is a recent phenomenon, they remain relatively free of regulation.

A bill proposed by South Bay Assemblyman Jerry Hill aims to change that.

Named for 19-year old Brett Studebaker, who crashed his car on Highway 101 after spending hours drinking on a party bus, Hill's legislation would require bus drivers to read a warning against underage drinking when underage riders are present and immediately terminate the ride if any illegal drinking is discovered.

Bus operators caught flouting the ban could be fined upwards of $2,000 for the first offense alone.

"The growing popularity of party buses requires that the law keep pace with the trend," said Hill in a statement. "These are really rolling bars--and teenagers should not be allowed to drink on them."

Even with this increased regulation, many of the issues local club owners have with party buses would still remain--particularly the issue of fairness.

"How come bars have to pay for a license while buses can do whatever they want?" asked long-time San Francisco club owner and Entertainment Commissioner Audrey Joseph. "Fixed-use venues pay an awful lot of money to the city every year to sell alcohol and buses are selling alcohol without a permit and its not fair."

"Until they can stop drinking on the buses," agreed Lee, "the good clubs in the city are just going to say no."

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