Legislation that would allow California's bars, nightclubs and restaurants to seek permission to remain open an extra two hours until 4 a.m. has attracted the opposition of San Rafael-based Alcohol Justice and others.
The bill, SB 645, was introduced by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who sponsored a similar bill in 2004. That bill, which would have extended the last call only in San Francisco, went nowhere.
Bruce Livingston, Alcohol Justice's executive director, said Leno is "a great public health leader; it's really sad he's introducing this. It just doesn't promote public health or public safety. It's about getting more profit for the bars and restaurants later at night at the public's risk. Neighborhoods
don't want it."
Alcohol Justice, one of the Buck Trust's three major beneficiaries, attempts to counterbalance alcohol industry marketing with research and educational campaigns that inform the public about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption.
Leno said, "I take public safety concerns very seriously. That is why I drafted the bill the way I did."
Rather than automatically extend the hours of all establishments serving alcohol, Leno's bill would establish a process by which individual bars, nightclubs and restaurants might receive permission to extend their hours. The process would begin with a community endorsing the idea by having its city council or board of supervisors approve the later hours. Next, the longer
hours in that community would have to be approved by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Then finally, individual establishments serving alcohol could apply to the ABC to have their hours extended.
Angie Pappas, a spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association, said this process is the primary reason her association is supporting the bill.
"Because the bill is not a statewide mandate of any kind," Pappas said. "It just opens up the door for a conversation to happen at the local level so communities can work out the details on a case by case basis."
The restaurant association says the bill also provides a potential for economic growth, not only for establishments selling alcohol, but also for other late-night businesses such as cafes, bookstores and record stores.
Leno said he expects hours would be extended only in areas where establishments are already open late, such as San Francisco's South of Market district and San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter.
Garry Graham, co-owner of the 19 Broadway Bar and Nightclub in Fairfax, said, "I would stay open till 4 a.m. if the town would allow it, after you had the full discussion of the merits. It's a local issue."
Leno said allowing establishments to remain open past 2 a.m. is not a novel idea.
"Visitors to San Francisco are often quite stunned that the city goes to bed as early as it does," he said. "There is later than 2 a.m. alcohol service in 24 states across this country. I've done a lot of research and in these 24 other states I cannot find data that shows that they have much greater rates of DUI, alcohol-related traffic accidents, mayhem or violence."
But Livingston said, "The problems are around public health and safety regarding violence on the streets, noise on the streets, drunk driving in the wee hours of the morning going right into early morning commute hours for people who have to drive longer distances."
Livingston said the U.S. Community Prevention Services Task Force, an unpaid panel of public health experts, has estimated that a two-hour extension of alcohol sales would nearly double alcohol-related violence, crime, police calls and emergency room visits. He pointed out that many large cities that allow later night drinking have extensive mass transit systems, which California municipalities lack.
The California Police Chiefs Association opposes the bill. In a letter detailing the association's position, spokesman John Lovell wrote, "Cal Chiefs believes that the unintended consequence of SB 635 could be quality of life deterioration for neighborhoods adjacent to such locations."
Lovell added that the chiefs are also concerned that people living in areas where bars have earlier closing times will commute to those sites that remain open, leading to an increase in drunken driving accidents and fatalities.
Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle said, "I don't think that extending the hours in drinking establishments is a positive move for our society."
Livingston said longer hours for bars means that people will have an additional two hours to consume even more alcohol, not a good idea in places such as Marin County where binge drinking is already a serious health problem.
Leno said, "There are some people who believe that one additional drop of alcohol served is one drop too many, and I can't argue with them. It's a point of view. I have to respect it. But I believe there is a thoughtful way to approach this."
Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org ___