We attended a meeting of the City of Campbell Planning Commission last night at City Hall in the council chambers as they were to vote on the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for a downtown in the See video here.
Ever been to one of these meetings? It's a great example of civic government in action. The planning commissioners are Campbell residents just like us and they are very serious and thorough in reviewing CUPs that come before them, to ensure that the rules are followed and the best interests of Campbell are met. Like City Council meetings, the public (that's us) is invited to comment on each application before they vote.
Planning Commission decisions hold a lot of weight but are not necessarily final. Their decisions can be appealed to the City Council for our local version of "checks and balances."
Campbell's Alcohol Problem
As you may know, Downtown Campbell has a problem with the behavior of some people drinking late at night and implemented the , which "strongly recommend" that new alcohol-serving establishments in the Downtown area close by midnight. The police and downtown residents are understandably very concerned about the consequences of more people drinking in such a small and popular area.
This proposed new restaurant originally requested an exception to these policies to close at 1:00am, and then submitted a modified request for 12:30am, just 30 minutes later than the policies "strongly recommended" closing time.
While the Planning Commission approved the CUP application, they were reluctant to make an exception and denied the applicant's request to stay open later than midnight.
Another issue that arose during this hearing was the need to manage the crowd lining up outside crowded establishments. These lines can get loud, behave badly (litter, fights, etc), and impede traffic. Apparently, past CUP applications didn't address this issue and the Planning Commission wants to be sure it is addressed in the future.
Are Bars and Restaurants the Same?
What stood out for us is that this application was treated as if-
- It would attract more of the same kind of people that create problems downtown
- It would be so wildly popular it would have a queue of people waiting to get in late at night
It seemed to us that they were being treated as another bar (emphasis on drinking, music, dancing), not an upscale restaurant (no music, no dancing, emphasis on good food). It would serve less food and more alcohol late at night (becoming more of a bar)
It also seemed to us that they were being treated as if they catered to the same kind of people that create problems (younger, rowdy, bar-hopping party animals) rather than their target demographic, which are mature professionals (like us).
However, most everyone that spoke, both residents and planning commissioners expressed positive regard for the restaurant concept and plans as well as the applicants themselves, who are Campbell residents and business owners well known in our community and have a long track record of operating successful eating and drinking establishments that are an asset to our community.
It seemed clear that no-one intended to treat them as if they couldn't be trusted and would just bring more of the same problems, but in rejecting their request for an exception because of existing problems created by bars, logically, in effect, they are being treated as another bar.
Does it make sense to treat them as something or somebody they aren't? Does this seem fair?
We worry that this pattern will turn away future upscale restaurants who won't want to spend the time and expense to navigate our CUP process knowing they will be treated this way, making it even harder to find a good tenant for the and other present and future vacancies.
The CUP Problem
One resident who had been a vocal opponent of a previous project expressed support for this CUP and acknowledged the necessity to place conditions upon making an exception to the alcohol policies which couldn't be enforced if the business moved or was sold because the CUP is for the building not the business. This resident expressed a desire for a "conditional" Conditional Use Permit.
Ah, there's the rub. If the City of Campbell had the ability to review and revise CUP's as necessary, such as if the CUP doesn't address queues, or when a business changes hands, making an exception to the midnight rule would be more workable, and this applicant's request for a 30 minute exception most likely would have been approved.
The Downtown Campbell Alcohol Policies use the wording "strongly recommended" which implies that exceptions can be made on a case by case basis. However, the stated reasons over and over for not making an exception include:
- The CUP belongs to the building and we don't know and can't control what a future tenant might do
- Approving an exception will "open floodgates" to future applicants wanting exceptions
Let's look at #1: Obviously, the City needs to change the rules to allow for reviewing CUP's, especially when a business changes ownership, and to be able to address problems by amending current CUP's. We're sure there are challenges to doing this, and we're also (pretty sure) that's it's possible. We agree that we need the ability to issue more of a "conditional" Conditional Use Permit.
As Tim Gunn would say "Let's make it work, People!"
Regarding #2 above, well, isn't that what a Planning Commission is all about?
CUP applicants will make their requests for exceptions anyway, which need to be discussed and considered anyway. All CUP's appear to be carefully examined on a case by case basis anyway, so the "floodgates" fear or argument doesn't seem to make much sense. The Planning Commission simply needs to consider each case based upon its merits and be willing to say "No" to applications that don't merit an exception by their vote. That more applicants might want an exception is not a reason to rule out making exceptions, especially if those applicants are probably going to request exceptions anyway!
The Alcohol Policy wording is "strongly recommended," yet because of the above the reality is "No exceptions will be made, ever, because we can't take the risk."
While we strongly agree with the need for our alcohol policies, and we also agree with their provisions, not making any exceptions, ever, isn't fair and isn't what was intended. So let's fix this.
PS- We fully expect some of our neighbors to strongly disagree with us. These folks, understandably, are concerned about the late night problems and don't want ANY exceptions ever. We sympathize, but don't believe that taking an extreme, rigid stand is ever the answer and we're exercising our right to free speech to say so. If you disagree and care to comment, please do so respectfully.