Gas-station parties?

When the good times go bad in Midtown, Sacramento officials usually shut down the party. This time, they’re building a fence.

Nick Miller’s column on central-city news and happenings will appear every-other week in SN&R.

Rowdy, unmanageable crowds at the popular Thursday Night Markets on K Street? Shut down the party. Mobs of revelers drinking too much—and a murder—on Second Saturday? Send in the cavalry, over-regulate with permits and curfews. And, in essence, shut down the party.

When good times go bad, city officials have a track record of pulling the plug.

So when 32-year-old Joseph A. Long lost his life just after midnight last month near the popular clubs and bars on J Street’s 2700 block, my initial reaction was apropos of how city officials always deal with tragedy: They’d shut down the party.

But this time, for some reason, police and Midtown leaders aren’t ending the good times—even though they’ve gone horribly bad. They’re not going after BarWest and its brew-soaked patrons, who’ve stirred fights, and some nearby resident’s ire, this past summer.

This time, the city is doing something different. This time, they want to build a fence.

Here’s the deal: City police say that Long was a victim of a bizarre new party scene in Sacramento, one where kids loiter near local gas stations as the bars let out, drink cheap swill, show off their whips, fistfight and, sometimes, pop off guns.

Long was an innocent, killed in an alleged gun battle early Saturday morning, August 18. He was murdered near the popular Midtown entertainment district, but police Capt. Ken Bernard told SN&R that his investigators “cannot attribute the homicide to the bars.”

What Bernard does see as an issue, however, are the parties at gas stations such as the AM-PM Minimart near the Interstate 80 off-ramp on J Street, and the adjacent parking lot. Too much good stuff in the form of crime and troublemakers at the AM-PM this summer, he and neighbors argue—and its a problem at service stations and mini-marts citywide.

“That’s kind of a problem all over the city, on Friday and Saturday nights,” Bernard said. “Gas stations out on Arden [Way] and in south Sacramento. Anywhere there’s a club scene.”

One Midtown business owner, who preferred to remain anonymous, called the phenomena “gas-station pimping.” Such events are disconcerting, according to police and residents.

So, law enforcement and neighbors have asked AM-PM—which they say is cooperating and has already closed its business between the hours of 1 and 2:30 a.m. on the heels of the shooting—to construct a fence around its perimeter to separate it from the rest of Midtown.

They hope this fence and the new hours will prevent crime, such as what went down, according to police logs, on an early morning this past May just after 2 a.m.: a man fired a gun into the passenger side of a dark-blue Nissan Maxima in the Midtown station’s parking lot, then fled the scene.

There also have been repeated complaints about loud tire screeching, brawls and partying. And then, on August 18, Long was shot down. Investigators found empty shells in the middle of J Street. And residents say the police are looking for a black Chevy Corvette, which allegedly sped off from the AM-PM just after the shootout and into the night.

“I think the fence is a good idea,” said Julie Murphy, co-chairperson of the Marshall School/New Era Park Neighborhood Association. She also told SN&R last week that, ever since the Carrows Restaurant was torn down at J and 28th streets a few years back, there’ve been problems.

City police now get this. It has ratcheted up its presence in the area on busy nights, Thursday through Saturday. City code enforcement have also updated all the lighting on the block—plus allowed for a self-powered police light for added after-hour visibility.

That costs money and resources, however, so Capt. Bernard hopes the fence will be a more affordable fix.

But residents say there’s a tussle over who should pay for the fence—owners of the parking lot, St. Anton Partners, or AM-PM—even though both city police and the neighborhood association have requested that AM-PM erect the perimeter barrier. (SN&R called AM-PM’s owner last Friday, but he said its his policy not to speak with media.)

In the meantime, the bars and clubs and neighbors are working together to ratchet down the partying.

“It’s an ongoing process,” said Murphy.