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Thursday, July 24,2014

The saga continues

Signs of political evolution appearing on Boulder’s flawed alcohol licensing process

By Josh Gross

Jim Sonn, owner of the Pearl Street Pub, had every reason to be apprehensive on July 16. The downtown bar he owns was up for the annual renewal of its liquor license. Normally, it can be handled by mail. But after Boulder’s Beverage Licensing Authority (which oversees liquor licenses) slapped the Pearl Street Pub with an eight-day closure for an incident (which a jury later exonorated Sonn of), he had to to defend the liquor license, the lifeblood of his business, personally, to the same board he and other local bar owners have spent the last six months clashing with.

But the Pearl Street Pub sailed through its renewal process. The only stipulation was next year’s renewal will also require Sonn to appear in person.

Board members that only several months earlier had demanded bar owners be drug before the board to answer for their moral failings, even without any charges against them, appeared to have evolved into a more subdued form.

But the board aren’t the only ones evolving since the spotlight was pointed on the BLA in Boulder Weekly’s March 27 cover story, “The New Moral Crusade.” After “What Could Go Wrong,” a June 12 follow-up, members of the Boulder City Council contacted BW as well.

“I’ve heard from enough restaurants — and ones that are not considered to be problem establishments — that the process isn’t fair,” says City Council member Andrew Shoemaker. “If somebody loses their business for a week or two, the markets are low enough that can kill them.”

A proposal to replace the BLA with a legally trained hearing officer was floated in October of last year with a larger package of alcohol reforms. Boulder adopted most of the reforms, but restructuring the BLA was tabled with council members Macon Cowles, Lisa Morzel, Tim Plass, George Karakehian and then Deputy Mayor Ken Wilson leading the punt.

Shoemaker wasn’t yet on council when that vote was held, but now that he is, he brought the idea up again at a City Council study session in April.

“The public had or was losing con fidence in the BLA and the perception of this is critical,” says Shoemaker. “I was interested in revisiting the idea of whether disciplinary hearings should be turned over to a judge.”

In a total reversal, Councilman Karakehian spoke up as well.

“It sort of came back to one of the questions related to, you know, if someone could take a breathalyzer test,” he said. “If someone says, ‘Oh, you’re drunk,’ and they say, ‘No, I’m not.’ It’s all visual.”

Earlier in the study session, Karakehian asked police representatives if they used breathalyzers to determine whether someone was drunk as part of over-service stings. The answer was no.

Karakehian also said he’d received many concerned calls and emails.

“I believe we need to take a real hard look at this,” he said.

His comments seem to indicate evolution. BW contacted Karakehian several times for further comment, but he did not respond.

The lack of clarity on over-service is one of Shoemaker’s concerns as well.

“The fact that whether somebody’s overserved is much more subjective for the issue than whether the person has a fake ID or not,” he says.

But Shoemaker opposed the other alcohol reforms which forced most bars on the hill to close at 11 p.m. as well.

“If the bars close at 11, then you know people are just getting started,” he says. “You just have to accept that in college. And where are they going to go? Are they going to walk to a house party or walk down to Pearl Street?” Shoemaker, a Hill resident, says house parties, not bars, are the topic of frustration amongst neighbors. It’s an issue he views through a personal lens.

“My daughter is 14,” he says. “When she’s old enough to drink, I’d much rather she be supervised at a bar than doing grain shots at a house party.”

Shoemaker says that if Council wanted to revisit the proposal, the fact that language is already drafted means it could be adopted quickly. But he would need broader support.

“If five people aren’t even willing to talk about it, then it’s not worth making a motion,” he says.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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