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Despite Protests, Council Moves Forward with Downtown Campbell Alcohol Policy Review

Campbell's Downtown Alcohol Beverage Policy was approved just two years ago.

After impassioned public comment from the likes of the , business owners and residents, the Campbell City Council voted on Tuesday to take a second look at the city’s .

While the policy has existed for only two years, city officials said that a less restrictive policy might be appropriate as more businesses apply to serve alcohol downtown.

The current policy:

  • Discourages stand-alone bars, nightclubs and lounges
  • Discourages live entertainment
  • Limits bar seating to 25 percent of total seating
  • Sets midnight as the latest a new restaurant can stay open late if serving alcohol
  • Policy applies to new establishments or older establishments looking to intensify or expand their late night service.

Law enforcement told the council that greater controls would be needed with the new growth, and members of the business community expressed concern that relaxing the policy would make downtown less appealing.

"We have to recognize, we are at a point of saturation," said Campbell Chief of Police Greg Finch. "I'm not a prohibitionist. We are dealing with a small percent of the city, but that small percent has a huge impact on my department."

While no action was taken during the meeting, council members had requested the study session while considering whether relaxing the controls on alcohol consumption should be put on a future agenda.

According to the council memo on the study session, in 2010 there were:

  • 5,814 calls between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. made to Campbell police for service.
  • More than 9 percent of these were in the downtown.
  • Only 19 percent of those arrested in the downtown are Campbell residents.

Subsequent to the police chief speaking, nine other members of the community—residents, business owners, past and present commissioners—all took their three minutes to talk about their fears, support and advice to the council.

"The vision behind the downtown is having a mixed use for both residents and businesses," said Joe Hernandez, former Campbell city councilman. "There's a difference from having a vibrant downtown to having a bar crawl."

Another resident said that although the total count of people in the downtown late at night is , the number jumps because of the constant lines out the doors.

Sam Ramirez, owner of the and , says he's not totally opposed to the policy but would like to see other businesses that would be impacted by any changes to the policy at the table.

"Some operators don't do things to the best of their abilities," Ramirez says. "We try to do everything to not have to call them (Campbell PD). We just want to be part of the decision making."

Quality of life for residents in and around the downtown is not something the council takes lightly. In fact, all of the council members spoke in support of ensuring that quality of life. The issue at hand is just how it will be done.

Questions being asked include the following:

  • Should new bars no longer be discouraged?
  • If so, should there be a limitation on the number of nightclubs allowed?
  • Should there be no restrictions on restaurants that want late-night hours?
  • Should the boundaries of the policy be adjusted (from including the downtown to the and portions of Winchester Boulevard to Budd Avenue)?
  • Should there be an exemption to the policy for expansions of existing establishments?

"We take this very seriously," said Councilman Evan Low. "We asked for this study session and we want public input to make sure this is done right."

So Why Now?

The issue of the policy came up, in part, because of a pending application for late-night operations at the former Gaslighter Theater with a proposed 500-person total occupancy, which, if approved will double the number of people in the downtown late at night.

Similar applications for expansions from and are expected, the council said at Tuesday's meeting.

"These issues need to be flushed out," Low said.

Campbell Mayor said one of the reasons to take a second look at the policy is to "make sure it reflects this council."

The current policy, approved just two years ago in 2009, was in response to concerns about the increasing amount of police enforcement needed downtown late at night to deal with issues related to alcohol, such as arrests for public drunkenness, driving under the influence, fighting, illicit behavior and vandalism.

The policy was approved with a 3-2 vote. Baker voted against it.

"Maybe if Katie Blooms had some more room, it might make things better, less rowdy," he said. "We can do it (take a second look at the policy) with a real-world situation, and this time, hopefully, it will last more than two years."

Councilman Jeff Cristina agreed.

"We should be allowed to allow businesses to conduct business," Cristina said. "There are options for maintaining quality of life. That's definitely the most important aspect."

The council unanimously agreed to move forward with a second look at the policy.

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