by Ed Dugas, Industry Blender
For over 5 years now, Vancouver policy planners have been trying to implement a liquor service policy that will both satisfy the majority of shareholders, and represent an appropriate solution for the city. The draft must appease public safety officials, protect applicable businesses, and reasonably address all citizen concerns. A seemingly impossible task, for sure.
Bet it makes them wanna have a drink.
The process has taken a long time, and it isn’t expected to be resolved until November, 2009, when the city finishes crunching the polling data obtained by Angus Reid Strategies, listening to the wishes of the people, and following provincial procedure.
It’s difficult to find a business or citizen who is not in some way affected by this process.
Here are the players involved, and what’s happened so far:
The businesses involved with this issue are liquor primaries, (establishments where profits come mostly from liquor sales) food primaries, (establishments which primarily sell food and, to a lesser extent, alcohol) and related shareholders. The city is partitioned into seven designated “sub-areas,” the location of which determines how late the business can serve alcohol. Visit this link (http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/LICANDINSP/licences/liquor/policy.htm ) on the city’s website for more details on how the hours of operation and zoning breaks down (and please excuse their usage of words, “draft” and “mixed” as attempts at ironic booze humour).
There has been strong support from industry representatives for eliminating the sub-areas, and adopting 1:00 am for all restaurants across the board. A uniform closing time would discourage late-night driving to later-operating establishments, limit the strain on law enforcement, and make the streets safer for the public. It also eliminates the anomaly that allows one establishment to stay open until 1:00am, while a place across the street would conceivably have to close its doors at midnight.
“We think the sub-areas are complete lunacy, and we support the 1:00 am proposal,” says restaurant advocate Randy Olafson.
“I support the 1:00am proposal for restaurants,” says Leigh Angman, managing partner of Relish Restaurant and Lounge. “I just want this thing to finally push through.”
Restaurants that acquired liquor licenses before December, 2002 and have later closing times than the proposal will be grandfathered, thus not affected by any policy changes. This means that restaurants which before shut down at midnight would benefit from an extended hour of service, and ones that already stay open later can continue to do so.
To throw an additional wrench into these proceedings, the city will also be creating a new business category, called Dining Lounge Class 2. This new license will require a $4.25 per seat fee for restaurants which operate after midnight and have at least 66 seats.
“The generated revenue will be spent on law enforcement and policy regulation,” says city planner Lilly Ford.
The new license has many restaurateurs worried about getting pinched by the city for more money. To combat this, some support applying the taxes on a more fixed schedule. For example, restaurants with 1-49 seats will pay a fixed tax; 50-149 will pay a fixed tax, and so on.
Mr. Olafson explains it best:
“For establishments that have 150-200 seats they may only realise 30-50% of the potential room occupant load from Midnight until 1:00am. That would be about 45 – 100 seats. A popular operator down the street that has 80 seats may possibly be able to fill 80% or 64 seats.
Under the proposed scheme the first operator would have to pay 200 x 4.25 or 850.00 per year and the second operator would pay 340.00 per year but have a significantly higher return for that extended hour. Thus creating some inequity in the per seat fee bases.”
Additionally, there is concern that the line between what is considered a bar and what is a restaurant is unclear, which means that some could potentially try to circumvent the regulations.
Winos and El Furniture Warehouse owner Jeff More says that some restaurants operate like bars, and that he shoulders an unfair burden when intoxicated people “get thrown back out on the street,” and enter his establishment.
“The line between restaurant and bar are so blurred that the public is confused,” he states. “It’s a slippery slope and there are going to be easy ways to get around the rules.”
More, whose establishments are located on Granville St., also brings up the issue of law and policy enforcement, especially in this highly-patrolled area.
“Both of my food primaries are under scrutiny,” he says. “We operate as well as we can, and throw people out all the time. We believe everyone needs to be held to the same standard as us.”
Const. Peter Ryan, the VPD’s liquor coordinator, concurs: “We have a push to enforce any and all establishments from operating outside of their licenses. We want to bring control so food primaries operate like restaurants and not bars.”
He also believes that sound policy will save the VPD from expending a disproportionate amount of resources on maintaining the peace amongst partygoers.
Speaking of the citizens, Angus Reid’s data reports that most people support the later closing times, but want to limit noise on weekdays and in more residential areas. Their surveys suggest that people understand there will be more noise on weekends, and in downtown and commercial areas. Two-thirds of the 400 people they polled live within one block of a licensed restaurant.
And now an editorial note:
I attended both the shareholders meeting at city hall on November 18th, and the public hearing the following week. As evidenced by the heated exchanges between citizens and shareholders at the latter, my conclusion is that this is a very contentious issue which undoubtedly involves more than just the people voicing their opinions at the meetings.
With this said, I wonder if all these surveys and town meetings are revealing to us the entire picture, and if we’re hearing from everyone who deserves to have a voice on this issue. I question if the city is receiving the best information with which to make these important decisions.
Before I continue, I must say that the city makes a sincere effort to disseminate information to the public on their website. They do an effective job communicating this and other issues, and desire to be productive and serve our needs. They want to hear from the people, but are they doing it the best way they can?
The question that’s raised for me is why, if there exist better ways for this communication occur, hasn’t it seen more widespread adoption? Why aren’t there discussion boards on the city’s website to encourage people to have their say? Why isn’t proven technology being used to facilitate the discussion? Why isn’t the city using the internet to ask the people directly how they feel and what they want?
I think there should be online forums where people can share information and communicate with each other. Somebody starts a topic, expresses a concern, and people comment on it. They get to have their say. The city can regulate the boards, kick people out who are abusing the system, and it can be productive and make everyone happy.
The people can speak directly to the city, and the city can do the same. It’s a two-way street. People want their leaders to be transparent. They want them to talk to them like people. They want a real conversation. The internet is a lean-in medium and people will really take to being offered a say.
You can write the city, and email the city, and fill out surveys, and attend public meetings. These are important means to communicate, and won’t go away. But those mediums don’t facilitate public discussion
I really think the city should look into adopting more progressive channels as a way to really be accessible, accountable and inclusive.
I think the public needs an opportunity to have their needs and wishes addressed in a more efficient manner using tools and technology that have proven effective.
If the City started a network which allowed restaurant, lounge, bar owners and their patrons to comment on the liquor regulation issue, which people are very passionate about, you can be assured there would be a mob of support and comments.
After all; the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, is it not?