P.B. neighbors sound off over noisy bars | Loud music, rowdy patrons shatter the peace, they say

November 24, 2000 No Comments

For years, sleepless neighbors have butted heads with rowdy Pacific Beach bars. It’s a battle that may never have a clear winner, but for the residents who live there, it’s one worth fighting.

Take La Rose Hunt, for example.

She came to Pacific Beach to retire close to the sun and surf, but instead, she finds winter is her best friend.

That’s when Blind Melons, a bar at the end of Garnet Avenue next to the beach and across from her condominium, closes its doors to keep its patrons warm, she said, and keeps its pounding music inside.

These are the only times she manages to sleep through the night. In the summer, when the bar opens its doors for air, the music flows out and bar patrons linger in the street. She says she averages about four hours of sleep a night.

“It’s awful,” the former furniture store owner said. “We get live music all the time whether we want to or not. We can’t hear the TV or phones.”

Hunt’s plight resonates among her fellow residents in the See The Sea complex, some of whom did not want to be named for fear of retribution. They did, however, say they feel they have “no rights.” But the owner of the bar, Scott Slaga, said he has soundproofed his building and has broken no laws.

“They don’t want to correct the problem, they want to eliminate liquor licenses,” he said.

In a community where liquor licenses far exceed quotas allowed by law, protests against alcohol-related problems have grown from grumblings to organized lobbying by residents who want a moratorium on liquor licenses.

According to San Diego Police statistics, Pacific Beach ranks fifth in the county among the many neighborhoods oversaturated with liquor licenses, behind such places as the Gaslamp Quarter and Old Town.

Oversaturation is measured as a ratio between liquor licenses and the population, and is part of a law enacted in the mid-1970s. The law was enacted after many of Pacific Beach’s liquor outlets had sprouted.

Last year Pacific Beach led the county in DUI arrests and was second to Mission Beach in alcohol-related arrests. That worked out to 2,363 arrests and citations — for violations such as public drunkenness and possession of alcohol — accounting for 13.5 percent of the county’s total.

Steve Ernst, district administrator for the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which issues liquor licenses, said Pacific Beach is allotted 48 liquor licenses for bars and restaurants, but the community has 102. The neighborhood also is allotted 33 liquor licenses for grocery and liquor stores. It has 37.

Ernst said the law allows more licenses, if the applicant can prove public convenience and necessity.

“The problem is now like a tsunami,” police vice Sgt. Michael Davis said.

He said the growth in liquor establishments occurred in the past 10 to 12 years when the community was rapidly developing.

Even as late as 1996, the town council, an advisory body, did not oppose additional liquor licenses although police and Alcoholic Beverage Control staff asked community leaders if they wanted to put a stop to new licenses, Davis said.

Patrick Flynn, then town council president, said some members of the council already were crusading against more licenses although the group as a whole did not object.

“Now, people want some magic thing to happen and make it go away,” Sgt. Davis said. “But the justice system moves very slowly . . . there are no overnight cures.”

Hunt knows there are no fast fixes. She just wants a solution that benefits both sides, she said.

In the summer, she said, the bar is noisy until it closes at 2 a.m., when patrons come out, talking or screaming, and motorcyclists rev their engines.

When they are gone, Blind Melons workers roll out trash containers filled with empty bottles and pour them — crashing — into a Dumpster, which is emptied — more clanging — soon afterward by a recycling truck, Hunt said.

“I bought my home because this is such a beautiful area,” Hunt said. “I can’t see why we can’t live together here. Why they can’t try to be good neighbors?”

Bill Allen, president of the adjacent Crystal Pier, said the bar’s patrons and other drunk people not only yell and scream outside, but play with the remote controls to their cars, yank out hotel landscaping and break the hotel gate to climb over the fence to reach the pier.

“I had to hire a security guard because of the hooligans. They try to (have sex) on the pier . . . and God knows what they are doing,” he said. “It’s that way all over Pacific Beach. The whole place is infested with bars. They should not allow any more licenses until they’ve gotten rid of a whole bunch.”

Slaga said he has spent $150,000 to install sound-insulating glass panels and thicker walls around his bar. Besides, Blind Melons is in a commercial zone that allows a certain amount of noise and the city noise abatement staff has found him in compliance, he said.

In 1993 the condominium complex’s home owners asked a mediator to step in. As a result, Slaga agreed to close the bar’s doors in the early evening. He abides by the agreement and has chased away motorcycle-riding patrons, he said.

“What more can I do?” he asked.

The problem is most acute in the area of Garnet Avenue closest to the ocean, residents said.

Margaret Whitman, 85, who lives just a quarter of a mile away from Garnet, said she feels like a prisoner in her house on weekends when parking spots in her neighborhood are jammed solid by bar patrons who don’t want to use pay lots. They come back inebriated and litter, urinate and, occasionally, have sex around her house.

But she has lived in Pacific Beach for 56 years and has no intention of moving.

“You can’t find a better place to live. I’ll take the bitter with the sweet,” the West Virginia native said.

Older folks, however, are not the only ones complaining.

Jen Smith, 25, who works and lives on Garnet Avenue, said she is moving back to her hometown of St. Louis in the spring.

“I’m tired of this,” she said. “It’s just a lot of noise, yelling. Every morning, there’s always trash out in the yard.”

Franc Carpentier is a 70-year-old landlord who owns an apartment building on Hornblend Street near Garnet bars, restaurants and a store that sells liquor. He said his tenants move out constantly because of the noise and traffic.

“Everybody is locking their gates,” he said. “I’ve had three gates in two years. They were broken — people wanted to get into our courtyard to use the tables to drink. We have to use bleach on our parking lot walls because they use it as a latrine.”

Michael Zucchet, vice president of the current town council, said the majority of liquor license holders are responsible business owners, a view that Stephen Zolezzi, executive vice president of the San Diego County Food and Beverage Association, echoed.

Some in the town blame the problem on a few rogue bars and young people who come into Pacific Beach to party. Officials of Discover Pacific Beach, a business improvement organization that opposes a moratorium on liquor licenses, were quick to point out that the median age of the community’s roughly 41,700 residents is 36.9 years and the median household income is $39,510.

“They are not college kids,” said Shelley Miller, Discover Pacific Beach’s executive director.

Many young bar-goers on Garnet, however, said they live in Pacific Beach because they like the “party atmosphere.”

Meanwhile, authorities are trying to find a solution.

Davis said police have recommended rejection of the 2,000 to 3,000 requests for liquor licenses in Pacific Beach over the past 2 1/2 years.

Just recently, police conducted a six-week Friday night operation in the drinking hub — which includes Moondoggies and Pacific Beach Bar & Grill — and made DUI arrests and handed out citations for pedestrian and vehicle violations.

The police presence has brought some calm, reducing the number of calls — which usually average 15 to 20 per night — regarding public drunkenness and excessive noise on weekends, said Lt. Michael Cash of the Northern Division of the San Diego Police Department.

Some bar owners also have abandoned promotions such as two-for- one drink nights that attract overflow crowds, Davis said. And police will attach stringent conditions to liquor license holders who want to expand their businesses, such as adding a patio for dining and drinking. Davis also advocates training for bartenders and bar owners and urges residents to ask state legislators to strengthen laws that govern liquor licenses.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Department is not granting new licenses on Garnet, Ernst said. The six new licenses given out in the past five years were away from the cluster. And a bar that was selling alcohol to minors has had its license revoked.

Ernst also promises diligent policing by his nine investigators, who oversee 4,600 licenses in the county.

The City Council also recently gave sign-off authority for liquor license applications to the Police Department. It used to reside with the city planning and review committee.

“We’re not trying to harm existing businesses,” said Donna Frye, founder of Surfers Tired of Pollution that led the fight against liquor licenses in Pacific Beach. “We just want them to use common sense and think about the community.”

[Illustration]
2 PICS; Caption: 1. A group of young people gathered on a street in Pacific Beach recently after a night of drinking in the community’s bars. 2. A bouncer outside a Pacific Beach bar checked the ages of the patrons recently before allowing them inside to drink. (B-8); Credit: 1,2. Crissy Pascual / Union-Tribune

Source: Angela Lau. The San Diego Union – Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Nov 24, 2000.  pg. B.1

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