As boisterous crowds become frequent, Folsom considers crackdown

Published: Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 - 11:23 pm
Last Modified: Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 - 9:48 am

Ever since Folsom poured millions into revitalizing its historic district in 2011, the city has grown as an entertainment hotspot drawing patrons to its bars and restaurants.

But the district sits one block away from residential streets, where neighbors have complained of noise, trash and disorderly conduct by visitors.

“Patrons from near and afar often refer to the types of entertainment as ‘Ladies Night,’ ‘College Night,’ ‘Live Music Lineup’ and others, which generally involve dancing, loud music and alcohol consumption,” city officials wrote in an analysis for the Folsom City Council.

To reduce the negative impacts caused by unruly visitors, the city of Folsom is considering whether to impose new restrictions on businesses in “entertainment districts.” Under the proposal, the city could set the operating hours for restaurants and bars and impose stricter rules on crowd control, noise and security. Businesses that fail to comply would be at risk of losing an entertainment permit that allows them to operate.

The council could approve the plan as soon as its next meeting Tuesday.

“What we want to do is to create an environment in which entertainment venues are responsible for the behavior of their patrons both inside and outside their establishments,” said Evert Palmer, Folsom city manager.

Owners of Folsom bars and hotels say the city is trying to impose draconian measures that could put them out of business.

“We think it’s very dangerous to those businesses who provide entertainment, and we believe we can solve any problems without implementing the ordinance,” said Murray Weaver, owner of Powerhouse Pub and Scarlet’s Saloon, a popular establishment that offers everything from “College Tuesday” to performances by blues acts and cover bands.

“The problem with it is that it becomes very punitive, and it is very open-ended,” Weaver said. “This ordinance is open to having more and more restrictive things put into it should they desire.”

If the city establishes the special district, all entertainment venues located there would have 30 days to apply for a new permit to offer entertainment on an ongoing basis. The permit requirements include having a “responsible” person on the premises, as well as plans to deal with security, underage drinking and crowd control. The businesses would also have to comply with noise restrictions and minimize disturbances.

The proposed ordinance would define what constitutes “entertainment” and exempt certain types of activities, such as those organized by the city or nonprofit groups from the permit process. Businesses in a designated entertainment district could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined if they offer entertainment but do not have a permit. Once a permit is granted, it is good until the business changes ownership. However, a permit can be modified, suspended or revoked if the venue fails to comply with all the conditions.

Weaver said he and other entertainment venue owners are particularly concerned about the City Council being able to set their hours of operation.

“Any nightclub has a very small window to stay viable – between 10 p.m. and 1:30 a.m.,” he said. “It is impossible to get people into an entertainment venue earlier than that. If you’re prevented from doing business during that narrow window of time, you can’t stay in business. That’s like saying to McDonald’s, ‘You can stay open, but you can’t sell hamburgers.’”

Weaver said he also was concerned that the city would have sweeping powers in shutting down an entertainment venue.

“It gives the police immense power in that they can close the business down on the spot if the noise is too high, or they can suspend or revoke the (permit) for nuisance,” he said.

But city officials said the intent of the ordinance is not to shut businesses down.

“What an entertainment district permit does is to create a level set of rules for all the entertainment venues to follow in the district,” Palmer said.

Sgt. Eric Heichlinger, with the criminal investigations division of the Folsom Police Department, said that from January 2011 to May 2013, the departrment received well over 1,000 calls for service in the historic district that were specifically attributable to the entertainment activity being offered by various establishments.

“When you have so many bars in a small area, intoxication can lead to violence,” Heichlinger said.

During that period of time, the police have taken hundreds of crime reports in the area. They included 49 reports of assault and battery, 16 felony assaults with great bodily injury, six felony assaults with a deadly weapon and 74 driving under the influence arrests. Officers have also written 115 citations for open containers of alcohol and 39 citations for public urination – both violations of the Folsom Municipal Code.

“It’s happening enough that it appears that it won’t go away,” Heichlinger said. “It’s not a one- or two-time thing.”

He said Folsom police would welcome the passage of the entertainment district ordinance.

“It gives us the flexibility – should (the) City Council approve it – that will give us another tool to combat issues as they arise,” Heichlinger said.

But Weaver said that he and other bar owners have already made a number of changes to address concerns, and they are willing to meet with city officials, police and residents to deal with ongoing complaints.

He said one of the main complaints is noise from people who are walking back to their cars, which are often parked on nearby residential streets.

“We have a 311-space parking garage that nobody uses because it’s a little too far for everyone,” he said. “We can provide valet service to the garage. Most of the residents and I and the other venues want a permitted parking district, where people can’t park in residential areas from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. There’s no mention of permit parking in any part of the ordinance. I think we can cure these problems better without it.”

Call The Bee’s Tillie Fong, (916)321-1006.

Read more articles by Tillie Fong

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