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Bar legislation is only the first step

 

July 17, 2007



Councilman Jeff Koch's legislation to limit bars on the South Side is finally coming before City Council in a form that will pass.

The legislation sets a saturation point for liquor licenses in Local Commercial Districts of 2 million square feet or more at one license for every 50,000 square feet in the district. This would cap the liquor licenses in the South Side LNC at 53. Currently there are 57 liquor licenses in the LNC and more than 100 in Zip Code 15203.

The law does not require a reduction in the number of liquor licenses. It is hoped that over time bars will close and other non-alcohol serving businesses will open in their place, a process that may take decades. For zoning purposes, once a liquor license leaves an address and some other business occupies its address, the license can not return without seeking a "Special Exception."

While publicly supporting the new legislation, many South Side residents and city officials admit little will change with the new limitations. On the day the legislation was first proposed in City Council last year there were 57 liquor licenses in the East Carson Street LNC, there will be 57 liquor licenses in the LNC the day the legislation passes and most likely there will be 57 liquor licenses in the LNC next year and the year after.

Another "piece of the puzzle" on the South Side that has been sorely missing according to residents is enforcement. Complaints concerning public drunkenness, excessive noise, underage drinking, public urination and more have largely been unanswered prior to this summer.

It is hard to find fault with the police officers in Zone 3 for the lack of enforcement on the weekends. At times there may be as few as 20 officers on a shift to cover a territory that encompasses nearly one-third of the city. However, several months ago Mayor Luke Ravenstahl authorized the use of overtime pay for "saturation" patrols of as many as 33 additional officers assigned to patrol the neighborhood streets off of East Carson.

These special patrols, generally from midnight to 4 a.m. on the weekends, have hopefully made a dent in raunchy behavior. If the proof in the pudding is the eating, one telling sign the police are being more effective is the more than 600 citations written, 333 for public urination alone.

Neighborhood activists will argue that if 333 people were caught then 3,330 people were not. Hopefully none of the 333 were repeat offenders in the neighborhood.

As the summer season is comes to a close and college students return to school in late August, so will the saturation patrols come to an end in the South Side. Mayor Ravenstahl has only promised to fund the patrols through the end of August, perhaps when they may be needed most.

The mayor should reconsider his decision while the patrols are still making an impact in the neighborhood. In the first ten weeks of the program, if all violators were subjected to the maximum fine, it would have brought $250,000 into the city's General Fund.

While we are not suggesting Mayor Ravenstahl turn the South Side into a giant "speed trap" (pee-trap?), he could direct some of the funds being taken into the General Fund to pay for the extra police protection for the South Side. This idea has been circulating among the residents of the community and deserves more attention.

Eventually the word will get out to South Side's visitors that they are welcome in the community, as long as they follow the rules and respect the rights and property of those who call South Side home.

 

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