When the state assembly votes this week on a bill that would allow nine cities in California, including Long Beach, to extend alcohol sales until 4 a.m., Long Beach Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell plans to vote no. While proponents of the bill argue it would allow the city to further boost its downtown “entertainment district,” O’Donnell believes it would make the city an “alcohol island,” attracting trouble from surrounding cities that aren’t a part of the legislation.
O’Donnell expects Senate Bill (SB) 905 to come to a vote in the assembly sometime before the state legislature’s session ends this Friday, August 31. It has already been approved by the state senate. The legislation would allow the nine cities to extend commercial alcohol service hours until 4 a.m. beginning January 1, 2021. The pilot program’s expiration would be January 2, 2026.
“I am voting no for a variety of reasons – mainly an interest in public safety. SB 905 to me is like chasing fool’s gold. I just don’t see much good coming out of it,” O’Donnell told the Business Journal. “Remember, this is an Irish guy talking to you, too,” he quipped. “This is a threat to public safety and to the quality of life.”
No cities in the direct vicinity of Long Beach are included in the bill. As a result, O’Donnell believes people forced to stop their reveling in nearby cities at 2 a.m. would then come to Long Beach.
“What we would see after the 2 a.m. hour is a flood of people coming into our community desiring to drink till 4 a.m. That poses a lot of problems from the public safety perspective, [and] also a neighborhood perspective,” O’Donnell said. “Remember, we can control the bar hours, but we can’t control how a patron gets home after sitting in a bar till four in the morning. I drove a tow truck for many years in my college days. And in the post-2 a.m. hours, most of the calls were alcohol related in one way or another.”
O’Donnell said most feedback he has received from constituents related to SB 905 has been to cast a “no” vote. “I have personal relationships with many restaurant and bar owners, and none of them have called me and said this is a good idea,” he said.
Other Long Beach elected officials support the bill. State Sen. Ricardo Lara, for example, is a co-author of the legislation. Mayor Robert Garcia supports the concept of allowing alcohol sales until 4 a.m., but with certain restrictions.
“I don’t support 4 a.m. hours citywide,” Garcia said in a statement e-mailed to the Business Journal. “I don’t think that would work for us because we have many neighborhoods that are adjacent to bars across the city. However, I think giving the city local control to permit special events in the downtown entertainment district, for example on New Year’s Eve, could work as long as we worked with local law enforcement.”
Jim Foster, president of the Long Beach Police Officers Association, did not take a hard line for or against SB 905. “We are supportive of business opportunities in the city and the mayor’s vision,” he said. “We do know that opening bars later into the night will bring new police problems that will require more police officer staffing. We look forward to balancing the needs between the business community and public safety to make sure everybody has a safe experience in Long Beach.”
The police department currently sees a spike in incidents when bars close at 2 a.m., according to Foster. “That’s why there is extra staffing in those places when that happens, to make sure we can keep the peace and have good public safety. So if we are extending it deeper into the night, we just want to make sure we have the resources and staffing available to handle anything that may happen.”
Foster noted, “We just caution that consumption of a lot of alcohol in the wee hours of the night is a public safety concern.”
Jeremy Harris, senior vice president of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber was an early supporter of SB 905. “Let’s just put aside the actual content of the bill applying to 4 a.m. bars. We took it as a policy decision – as in any time local control can be gained from Sacramento, i.e. the state, we think it’s typically a good piece of legislation,” Harris said. “As we understand it, even if this bill passes, it still needs to come back at the local level and have a discussion there to see where this would make sense, if at all, in the City of Long Beach. . . . Our support position is really rooted in the local control component of the bill.”
Ron Hodges, owner of Shannon’s On Pine and Shannon’s At The Top in downtown, and Shannon’s in Belmont Shore, supports 4 a.m. alcohol sales in downtown. “I think it would be good for this area, frankly,” he said. “We have a lot of people who come here because of the convention center and the hotels, and I think they would like that. Overall, it’s a good plan for the downtown entertainment district.”
Eric Johnson, co-owner of several restaurants and bars in the Greater Long Beach area – including downtown’s Auld Dubliner, Legends Sports Bar in Belmont Shore, Boathouse on the Bay at Alamitos Bay Landing and others – said that, if SB 905 passes, he would support 4 a.m. alcohol service in downtown. In addition to operating the Auld Dubliner in downtown across from the convention center on Pine Avenue, Johnson and his business partners are preparing to open a new bar, restaurant and venue called The Ordinarie on The Promenade.
“I support it, but I think it has to be in the appropriate districts and corridors,” Johnson said. “For example, I think downtown is definitely worth looking into. I think that’s a great candidate. It’s an entertainment zone, number one.” With hotels and “thriving and robust convention center,” downtown is a hub for visitors, he added.
Although Johnson is a part of the business community in Belmont Shore as co-owner of long-time sports bar Legends, he doesn’t feel that area is the right fit for 4 a.m. bar service. “Second Street I don’t think is a good corridor for it,” he said, noting that the street is surrounded by residential on both sides.
If SB 905 passes the assembly without amendments this week, it will go to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for a signature or veto. Individual cities named in the bill may then move forward with crafting their own pilot programs.
The other cities are: Los Angeles, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, West Hollywood, Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Coachella.