Encinitas to rein in downtown bars

Encinitas will enact tough new rules for downtown bars and restaurants to combat late-night noise, public drunkenness and a host of other alcohol-related problems along its coastal corridor, the City Council decided this week.

Jubilant residents who’ve complained for years about the increasing number of bars and brew pubs downtown gave the Encinitas City Council a standing ovation Wednesday after it unanimously directed city staff to draft the regulations, which will include a new permit system for places that serve alcohol.

Several bar and restaurant owners, however, called the permit system poorly thought-out and said the move would punish all downtown businesses in an effort to solve an over-hyped, non-existent problem that’s not backed up by crime statistics.

Eric Leitstein, who owns the Union Kitchen + Tap on South Coast Highway 101, said he felt his business was being “demonized” by residents simply because it sells alcohol and has a state license that allows it to remain open until 2 a.m. each night.

“Yes, we serve alcohol, but we serve it responsibly,” he said, noting that most nights the Union closes well before 2 a.m. “We work with regulatory agencies. We honestly don’t see the problems that a lot of the residents are bringing up.”

His comments were hotly disputed by Leucadia resident Dennis Holz, who said Leitstein ought to be very aware of the late-night issues that can occur when the area’s restaurants transform at some point during the evening from sit-down eateries into rowdy bars where patrons stand and down their drinks.

City code enforcement found the Union in violation of its permits three times within one month because it’s morphing into a bar environment late at night, Holz said, mentioning that this information was included in the agenda packets the council received from city staff.

The first time the investigators came, they reported finding, “tables pushed out of the way. Next week … playing smart, the tables are there, but the chairs are pushed out of the way. Next week, they’re at 150 to 200 percent of occupancy …,” Holz said.

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