Becky O’Malley’s Jan. 22 editorial criticizes the Berkeley City Council for considering a new ordinance to replace out-dated ordinances that do a poor job of managing problems with the city’s alcohol outlets. Berkeley Daily Planet readers should know how this ordinance came about.
The Berkeley Alcohol Policy Advocacy Coalition (BAPAC) Comprehensive Proposal for Alcohol Regulations was developed in a community-driven process, which began in 2004. The major impetus was the problems associated with alcohol outlets in South and West Berkeley (violence, crime, drug sales, injury, noise, trash). Over the course of eight citywide BAPAC meetings, it became apparent that “liquor stores” were not the only alcohol problem in Berkeley. The out-of-control party scene south of UC campus and the large degree of underage drinking were also serious concerns. The health and safety problems associated with alcohol outlets are more pervasive than they appear on the surface and are especially severe for young people.
Berkeley has 85 off-sale outlets (stores) and 224 on-sales outlets (restaurants, bars). Both types have major issues related to underage drinking. Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) “decoy buy” operations show that stores and restaurants sell to minors at about the same rate. Alcohol outlets contribute to disruption and crime in surrounding neighborhoods. Even in non-residential areas, restaurants (especially “restaurants” that behave like bars) contribute to police events (DUIs, violence, disturbances, drunkenness).
BAPAC members sought a solution that would address the alcohol environment as a whole. This solution took the form of a comprehensive, prevention-based proposal intended to address alcohol problems in three settings: retail (businesses selling to minors and overly intoxicated patrons), public (nuisances associated with liquor stores and the party scene south of campus) and private (home parties furnishing alcohol by adults to minors). The intent is to impact health and safety around alcohol by changing the norms. The Comprehensive Proposal for Alcohol Regulations has these basic elements: 1) Land Use Permit Ordinance (for future businesses), 2) Deemed-Approved Ordinance (for current businesses operating without Land Use Permits), 3) Social Host Ordinance (for home parties), 4) Mandatory Responsible Beverage Service Training Ordinance, 5) Implementation Ordinance (a Fee-based Outreach, Education, Monitoring and Enforcement program). BAPAC formally presented this proposal to City Council on April 25, 2006.
The city and BAPAC have spent the last three years analyzing its alcohol problems and the last several months working cooperatively with Berkeley restaurants, drafting an ordinance to address the problems more effectively. By direction of the City Council, city staff held meetings with the alcohol outlet community and with BAPAC during fall 2007 to develop appropriate ordinances to accomplish all these aims. The last step in completing the package—establishing the basis for payment of city services to implement the ordinances—was to have been completed at the Jan. 15 meeting of the City Council.
The remaining question for the ordinance under consideration was to determine a fair basis for all Berkeley alcohol retailers to participate in the costs of oversight to prevent problems. The city thought (and BAPAC agreed) that all outlets should be assessed the same amount for the same kind of inspection. A few smaller outlets objected at the City Council meeting on Jan. 15, arguing that larger establishments should pay more, or that the smaller outlets did not want to pay anything. Some complained about the new legislation’s requirements to make sure their serving staff were trained in safe alcohol serving practices. Some of these complaining outlets also had police records of sales to minors. These latecomers triggered a City Council decision to postpone action on the ordinance and form a subcommittee to investigate alternative fee structures. They also triggered O’Malley’s editorial blast on Jan. 22.
BAPAC believes that alcohol retailers have a duty to assure that their staff is appropriately trained and to pay reasonable inspection costs for assuring their operations are safe for the sale of a substance as potent and as harmful as alcohol. The state ABC will help, though it is currently underfunded. Actual costs of inspection and for staff training can be built into the costs of doing business, and several training mechanisms are available to keep costs to a minimum.
Other California cities have enacted preventive regulations and enforcement programs, including annual fees to pay for them (e.g. San Diego, Oakland, Santa Rosa,Vallejo, and Ventura). These cities are reporting positive results—the ordinances are relatively easy to administer and they are having the desired effects. This self-sustaining prevention approach emphasizes high standards of operation and oversight for routine operations. It shares tasks and costs fairly among outlets operators, the city, and concerned groups. This is far preferable to the Berkeley’s current complaint-driven nuisance abatement approach, which lets problems accumulate to unbearable levels before taking action, puts enormous burdens on complainants to drive the process, and creates adversarial situations instead of cooperative approaches.
The bottom line is that these costs are an effective, appropriate investment in reducing the harm and destruction to quality of life that will otherwise occur. Alcohol is the drug of choice among adolescents (used by more youth than tobacco or other drugs). Alcohol is the leading contributor to the leading cause of death (injuries) of young people. There are 700,000 alcohol-related violent assaults every year and 100,000 alcohol-related sexual assaults. It puts a tremendous burden on people AND on police (and taxpayer) resources.
BAPAC’s goals are to 1) reduce alcohol-related violence, injury and death by controlling the easy access to and availability of alcohol, 2) enact public policies that will change the norm that alcohol is a rite of passage for young people, and 3) provide the City of Berkeley with the tools that will allow it to systematically and quickly address alcohol-related public nuisance problems before they get out of hand.
These goals are about prevention NOT prohibition.
For more information on the BAPAC proposal, please contact us at BAPAC2006@earthlink.net.
Lori Lott is a a member of the Berkeley Alcohol Policy Advocacy Coalition.