Proposed regulations on new alcohol licenses fuel booze battle
The already messy situation of how to cope with community alcohol woes grew stickier this week as Chico Police Chief Kirk Trostle’s proposed conditions on new alcohol licenses—dubbed “The Chico Conditions”—were released to the public.
Three sets of conditions addressing six separate types of alcohol licenses included such items as prohibiting “happy hours” and other cheap-drink promotions, requiring security for entertainment at some establishments, and banning entertainment outright at others. There are 32 conditions altogether for bars and tasting rooms (Type 42 and Type 48 licenses), 31 for off-sale markets (Types 20 and 21), and 17 for restaurants (Types 41 and 47).
These proposed regulations were one topic addressed at a pair of Internal Affairs Committee (IAC) meetings on July 24 and 30 focused on alcohol-licensing issues. Trostle introduced them at the July 24 IAC meeting, but discussion was tabled until the latter meeting so that the public had an opportunity to view the conditions.
“The reason for these recommendations is we must have a discussion about what we’re going to do to resolve the challenges we have in our community,” Trostle said of the rules at Tuesday’s meeting. “We have kids dying. We had six kids die in eight months last year, and back in the ’90s we had four kids die in five years, and no one seems to care.
“We have fights, destruction of property, sexual assaults; the list goes on and on, and we need to have a public discussion about what we’re going to do about it.”
Trostle said the CPD spends upward of $1.5 million annually policing the small downtown and south-of-campus area (“an area where a lot of alcohol is sold,” he emphasized), compared to $260,000 for the rest of Chico.
Trostle recently submitted a 500-plus-page report to the IAC about the effects of alcohol abuse and public drunkenness on the community. As The Chico Conditions were continuously questioned at Tuesday’s meeting, he referred to the report, a copy of which sat in a large three-ring binder on the table before him. “The proposals come from the research,” he said.
If Trostle’s reasoning for such a strict set of rules were, as he said, to promote discussion, then he succeeded at Tuesday’s meeting. One particular rule regarding restaurants states: “There shall be no live entertainment of any type, including but not limited to live music, disc jockey, karaoke, topless entertainment, male or female performers or fashion shows.”
This stipulation invoked the ire of the local music scene, heretofore largely unheard from in ongoing alcohol debates. Several people showed up for Tuesday’s meeting to address that particular condition.
“I keep having to ask the question, ‘Why is live music under attack in Chico?’” asked local musician and record-label owner Josh Indar, citing past city controversies like 2008’s disorderly-events-ordinance debacle and more recent arguments over a city noise ordinance passed last year.
“What does live music and entertainment have to do with kids dying?” Indar continued. “What does it even have to do with alcohol? You’re banning dance floors in restaurants? This is nuts.”
To some degree, City Councilwoman and IAC member Ann Schwab had empathy for the public’s concerns about rules regarding live entertainment at restaurants: “I’ve been to many dinners at nice establishments where there’s been music,” she said, mentioning her own fondness for the piano at Turandot North China Gourmet Cuisine.
Schwab explained that Trostle’s report includes a section on restaurants that “morph” into nightclubs after 10 p.m., something the police department hopes to avoid in future establishments. She also reiterated that the conditions were merely proposals, and the basis for an ongoing discussion.
“Our goal is to find which items are acceptable, which will help, which need to be modified, and which we can reject,” Schwab said. “We have to understand this is a lot of ideas, and we need to figure out which ones work for us as a community.”
Much of the meeting was focused on how to continue the discussion. Councilman Sean Morgan, though he admitted his dislike of continuing discussions, agreed that the conversation needs to go on, and entertained suggestions from the audience about how to make sure everyone’s voice was heard. Several audience members mentioned groups that are stakeholders in any decisions regarding alcohol licensing.
Morgan summarized the list of people the public had suggested: “Musicians, bar owners, other merchants, people from the [Chico State] alcohol Task Force, downtown people, Respect Chico, the university, restaurant owners, hospitals and Butte College.”
He handed the responsibility of gathering together such a group to Katie Simmons of Respect Chico, because the organization—a coalition of local bar and restaurant owners and business advocates formed as a proactive answer to Chico’s alcohol issues—has already been serving as a liaison between some of the parties mentioned. Simmons, president and CEO of the Chico Chamber of Commerce, was charged with reporting on her progress at the next scheduled IAC meeting at 8 p.m. on Aug. 14.
Meanwhile, a trio of business owners caught in the alcohol-licensing crossfire continue to await the City Council’s approval. B Street Oyster Co., The Winchester Goose, and Mangrove Mini Mart all began their applications for alcohol licenses before the current alcohol turmoil, and the council will vote on whether to approve their licenses next Tuesday (Aug. 6).
In addition to that hurdle, the owner of The Winchester Goose, a would-be craft-beer bar, just learned that the Chico Municipal Code may include an item—related to past efforts to curb an overabundance of downtown drinking establishments—prohibiting the sale of alcohol at that property.
Mark Wolfe, director of Chico’s Planning Services Department, announced his office recently discovered the Title 19 (the part of the municipal code dealing with land use and development) issue. He said sales of alcohol there are contingent on whether the business that occupied the address at 800 Broadway Street held a liquor license on Jan. 1, 1996. If not, the city would have to try to change the code to accommodate the bar, a process Wolfe said could begin in mid-August.
“I’m already two months out and broke as it all gets,” said Robert Rasner, the business’ owner, in response to the latest development. “I can’t stress enough that I’m almost at the point where I’m not going to have the option to open this business in Chico, and I will never sink another dime in this town.
“People sitting in this room now are trying to revitalize this town, and if I can’t get some kind of compromise or help or expediency in dealing with these issues, this is a lost cause for me and so many other people involved.”