On Friday and Saturday nights, crowds of liquored-up 20somethings—many St. Mary’s and Diablo Valley College students—roam downtown Walnut Creek, moving from restaurant to bar.
"Largely as a result of over-consumption of alcohol, police must deal with drunken driving, fights, and intoxication of bar patrons,” says a city report. “Numerous arrests occur between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.” Police have to stay busy dealing with these drunks, who often taken their revelry into nearby neighborhoods and parks. With police busy downtown, there are not enough officers to keep watch on the rest of the city.
What’s the city to do?
Well, the city has studied current city and state laws regarding bars, restaurants, and shops that sell beer, wine, and spirits, either to on-site patrons or to customers to drink at home—but hopefully not in public or while driving.
And it seems that the best solution will be for the city, the Downtown Business Association, and restaurant and bar owners to work together to come up with regulations for hours of operation. Specifically, the city would like to figure out a way for restaurant and bar owners to stagger their closing times, in order to reduce “the number of intoxicated persons leaving the downtown area at any one time,” the report says. “This reduces the number of police officers needed to manage the downtown and increases the number of officers available to patrol outlying areas of the city.”
City staff will present this report to the Planning Commission at its Thursday night meeting, and says the city will be the subject of a City Council study session on May 5.
Some of the background and facts surrounding this issue are interesting in a, Gee- I-didn’t-realize-that way:
--By state alcohol regulatory standards, Walnut Creek is way oversaturated with bars, restaurants, and shops in the business of selling alcohol. According to state law, described by the department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC), you can only have one “on-site alcohol consumption license” per 10,000 residents in an area. Oops! In 2004, Walnut Creek, which has roughly 63,000 residents, had 93 bars and restaurants where people can drink on-site and 17 stores or gas stations that sell alcohol for off-site use. The city reached state “saturation” levels with nine on-site establishments and six off-site businesses.
--But can you imagine downtown without its restaurant and bar scene? The city was able to bypass these state limits by showing that they are a “matter of public necessity and convenience” and by working with its Planning Department on coming up with specific conditions for granting bars, restaurants, and stores liquor licenses. Those conditions fall under a 2004 ordinance that grants these businesses a conditional use permit.
--Most of the Walnut Creek’s newer bars and restaurants cater to the upscale, over 30, professional crowd. These people make up the majority of 200 to 300 people out and about in the downtown core area on a weekend night. Most of this older professional crowd head home by midnight, leaving the younger group to take over. And in this younger crowd—young ladies (and cougars) listen up!—the ratio of men to women is 2 to 1.
--Because of certain legal loopholes, many bars and restaurants don’t have to abide by the city ordinance on closing by 12:30 p.m. Some bars and restaurants that stay open until 2 a.m.—per ABC rules—include Spin, Dan’s, and Tiki Tom’s.
--The police say that most restaurants and bars are willing to come up with solutions to deal with downtown overcrowding and over-drinking. And most restaurants close between 10 and 12:30 p.m.
--However, there are a few unnamed establishments whose patrons cause the most trouble and require the most police response. These are also the establishments that don’t have to abide by city ordinance on closing time and may stay open until 2 a.m.—per ABC rules.