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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 5:20 am | Fair 53º


Tamara Erickson: While You Were Sleeping ...

If you think downtown Santa Barbara's nightclub scene doesn't affect you, you'd better think again.

I see the glazed looks when I talk about the nightlife problems in my neighborhood. If you’re like most people, you probably don’t think the 400 and 500 blocks of State Street have anything to do with you. You don’t go downtown after 10 p.m., or if you do it’s to dinner and a movie and not "down there." Fortunately, what goes on down here doesn’t usually make the news and, if you’re as old as I am, most of it happens way past your bedtime.


It’s time to wake up. While you were sleeping 152 liquor licenses crept into Santa Barbara’s Census Tract 9, what is known as the Entertainment District (State, Anacapa and Chapala streets, from Sola Street to the beach). That’s the highest concentration in California. Some are spread along mid-State Street in popular restaurants serving tourists and locals and requiring few if any police resources. The majority are concentrated in the 400 and 500 blocks of State Street. The state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control is partly to blame, but the city of Santa Barbara has been inconsistent at best — protesting some, supporting some and ignoring ABC’s requests for input about placing strong conditions on the rest.

The city must take full responsibility for the 27 nightclub dance permits it has granted in this already saturated area. The good news is that the city budget designates more than $400,000 a year to the Police Department’s Nightlife Enforcement Team, or NET, for a much-needed police presence on weekend nights — that’s $3,846.15 per weekend night, or about $14,000 per nightclub per year.

Unfortunately, the good news is also the bad news. And that’s where you come in. Because the city has committed an inordinately large percentage of its police budget to one problem area, there’s not enough to go around for other equally important areas.

• If your Downtown business has a problem with vagrancy or shoplifting or vandalism during daylight hours, you won’t be able to flag down a beat officer on State Street ... because there isn’t one. Downtown shares the Tactical Patrol Force budget ($948,375, barely twice the NET budget) with the waterfront, the labor line, the shelter, City Council meetings, the restorative policing program and transient camp cleanup and enforcement.

• If you have an intruder some weekend night at your home in San Roque or on the Mesa or wherever you live, you’ll need to be a little patient. It may take the police a while to get there. Police staff reports tell us: “On most Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., the majority of the Police Department’s on-duty personnel are policing the Entertainment District due to call volume and crowd management.”

Your next thought is probably that the city is making a lot of money on the nightclubs. Wrong. City finance reports show that even when you add the 1 percent sales tax collected from 40 restaurants and bars downtown — including the ones that don’t require nightlife policing — the city is losing about $175,000 a year on the nightclubs and bars in the Entertainment District.

On Tuesday you can make a difference. The Santa Barbara City Council will hear an appeal of the Fire and Police Commission’s decision to add another full nightclub dance permit in the 500 block of State Street. No. 27, the James Joyce is a popular spot for low-key music that appeals to a broad spectrum of people and provides a bit of relief in a block full of dance spots and nightclubs. We hope it doesn’t become just another nightclub.

When the owner applied for a nightclub dance permit the first time, the Police Department said no, for good reason. When he asked again, they designed a special conditional permit for him that allowed his patrons to dance but had some limitations. The owner refused it and has appealed SBPD’s decision as he seeks a full nightclub dance permit.  Our appeal says enough is enough. If the neighborhood’s history is any indication, he’ll get what he wants. And if he does, you and I and the neighborhood will pay the price.

If you think the city’s commitment to creating and subsidizing Entertainment District bars and nightclubs has gone too far and something needs to change, show up Tuesday for the 2 p.m. council meeting, or e-mail members of the City Council.

Enough is enough.

— Tamara Erickson is general manager of Hotel Santa Barbara, 533 State St. She has lived in Santa Barbara for 35 years and worked at the family-owned business for many years.

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