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Many San Diego bar and restaurant owners enjoy a year-round happy hour. Trouble is, the tab’s on you, the San Diego taxpayer. The core problem lies in that there are many problematic establishments chronically over-serving patrons — and those patrons often require significant levels of police and fire-rescue services. And you’re paying for it, like it or not.

The public safety costs start adding up when too-drunk patrons walk out of a local bar or restaurant and end up in fights, drive drunk, sexually assault women, break into occupied homes, pass out in the middle of a sidewalk, street or a nearby resident’s front lawns. I have witnessed and blogged about an alarmingly steady increase in incidences over the last 10-plus years in the community of Pacific Beach, and from media accounts learned these are regular occurrences throughout many San Diego communities.

My primary concern is that known problematic establishments be held accountable for their actions, and for the city to help good businesses and taxpayers stop subsidizing these bad business operators.

These poor business operators seem to blame anyone but themselves. They claim innocence and blame their individual patrons, they claim they have no idea how intoxicated their patrons really are, or that drunk people are just too good at deceiving them.

That’s precisely why the State Alcoholic Beverage Control requires all bar and restaurant staff to remain 100 percent sober during their entire shifts. Most all staff also take voluntary “responsible beverage service” training — to learn and clearly understand the laws. They also learn how to size people up, not over-serve them and to stop serving those that appear too intoxicated.

Yet, even with these laws and voluntary training programs, a recent San Diego State University study reports bar staff over‐served pseudo‐patrons — when only one shot was appropriate for their body size — the equivalent of eight shots of alcohol in under 50 minutes — and did so more than 90 percent of the time.

It appears many in the industry believe they can act with impunity, perhaps because they believe the state and city are chronically understaffed and have difficulties staying on top of the issue or, that naïve residents can’t do the math.

Industry representatives argue that they bring significant economic benefit to the city through sales tax revenues generated by their businesses and by employing so many staff. This may be true for most of the good establishments; however, the poorer ones actually cause significant financial drains on San Diego’s budget.

The Orange County city of Fullerton suspected they too were getting swamped with public safety costs from their bar and restaurant industry and decided to take a look by conducting an exhaustive study.

In part, city staff discovered significant financial losses as a result of police and fire‐rescue calls for services they directly tied to their bar and restaurant industry. They found on average, each of their establishments in their downtown study area was costing city taxpayers about $15,000 annually for public safety costs — even after accounting for the income received from sales tax revenues.

By using Fullerton’s methodology it can be reasonably argued that the community of Pacific Beach is potentially causing a nearly $2 million-dollar drain in public safety service costs — even after counting all the income the city earns from sales tax revenues. This isn’t hard to imagine as we are literally saturated, especially in the late evening and early mornings, with police and emergency medical service calls for service.

For budget year 2012-13 the city of San Diego will spend more than 50 percent of its annual general operating budget on public safety costs (police, fire‐rescue and lifeguard) and the balance for everything else — including running City Hall, parks, bus and trolley, libraries, trash, streetlights and potholes.

Given that significant levels of public safety costs may be reasonably attributed to a limited number of businesses in our city, that improving those business’ practices could generate savings and those savings could be put in our streets, parks and libraries, shouldn’t the city at least make an effort to explore opportunities for improvements and savings?

It seems the best entity to do such an audit is the office of the Independent Budget Analyst — whose staff is not politically motivated, or whose careers aren’t negatively-affected politically when addressing the issue of alcohol.

Do you believe the current mayor or the Independent Budget Analyst’s office should initiate a study to determine if there is reasonable cause for the city to address this issue more directly? Or, are you happy with what representatives of these poor business operators are telling us — that everything is fine and there’s no need for alarm?

Voice your concern to the Mayor’s Office, your councilmember and the office of the Independent Budget Analyst and let them know what you think.

Let’s make 2012 the last call for poor bar and restaurant business operators.

Jerry Hall is a Pacific Beach resident and community leader, alcohol-outlet public safety advocate and blogger. You can contact him at enjoypb@gmail.com.


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