Quality of Nightlife Strategic Plan
On September 25th, the St. Augustine City Commission will meet to discuss the “Quality of Nightlife Strategic Plan”. Before I let you know exactly how I feel about this, we need a little history and context.
In 2010 the City Commission approved a bill to allow bars and restaurants to serve alcohol for an additional two hours. Simply put, last call was midnight, now it is 2am. Since this change, there have been increased calls for police assistance between the hours of 11:30pm and 4am.. In fact, the number of calls for police assistance in 2018 is according to the city double the entire number of calls in the years 2007 to 2010 combined. What caused this spike in calls for police assistance, the City believes that it is because of the two extra hours of serving alcohol that there . But is it? Lets take a closer look...
Before we do dive deep into this report, I need to point one thing out, there are a bunch of names on the first few slides of the presentation. However, there is only one name of an elected official on the presentation. Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline.
According to the City's own report, for the hours of 11:30pm to 4am, in the three years before the hours of alcohol sales was increased there were 107 calls for police. In 2018, once again according to the City, during those same hours, there were 233 call for the police. That is a big increase. But what about the 8 years between 2010 and 2018?
In 2010 to 2013 the three years right after the extra hours went into effect we get a big jump in police calls, 30 in total. Thats right, in the three years after the extra hours went into effect, there were 30 more calls. That is 10 more a year! Really? That's it.
What about 2014 to2017? We are not given those numbers, I wonder why? Did the amount of calls for police assistance go down? Honestly, I don't know, but it seems very suspicious. They are giving us stats in three year increments, and suddenly there is a three year gap?
I am not going to go all conspiracy theory here and say they purposefully withholding this data but.... Lets take a look at the data the City gave us and see if there really is a huge problem.
The City points out that with the calls for Police, there was an increase in five different crime categories. They don't give us an exact number of calls for the different crimes, I personally would like to see the area with the biggest increase. But once again they want to make decisions without giving us all the information.
The first crime category is DUIs. This is bad, but I am glad the St. Augustine Police are catching these people. You want to go out, have a good time, have some drinks... Great! Take a freaking cab.
Second, is battery. Once again, not something I want to see in my city. I hope that anyone who assaults another person gets arrested. But I would like to see the number of assaults in 2018 vs 2007. Or vs 2014 -2017... those years they won't tell us about.
Third, Disorderly Conduct. This is very vague and subjective. I know based off the first two categories, that if I was charged with Disorderly Conduct, I wasn't driving and I wasn't assaulting anyone. Was I just really annoying?
Fourth, Intoxicated Persons. What does this one even mean? Based off the previous categories, if this was me, I wasn't driving drunk, I didn't commit battery on someone, and I wasn't being disorderly. Basically, I was intoxicated, which was my goal when I entered the bar. Having lived in this town for so long, I could have had this accusation put against me at 2am or 2pm. Stand outside any bar in this town on a payday Friday, and by 7pm see how may “Intoxicated Persons” you see.
Fifth and final is my favorite. The Noise crime. How the hell is this factored in with DUIs and Battery? Yes, it annoys the hell out of me when my neighbors or some Air B&B jackasses have a party that runs late. And yes, I will call SAPD on them. But that is not because of the bars being open two hours later...That is them just being rude. How is this even factored into the “Crime” statistics?
The City, believes that the increase in all of these crimes are due to the bars being open two hours later. This sounds like a great argument and it may be true, but are there some other explanations? For example, if our country was in a recession between 2007 – 2010 and tourism was low and people had less money to spend. Oh wait it was. Could the fact that we were in a recession and now we are not, thus way more tourists in this town account for more calls to the police.
Could the fact that Flagler College, has expanded and increased the number of students living in St. Augustine added to this? I am not in anyway disparaging Flagler, but just like with more tourists, they add people to this town. The point being, more people equals more problems. I would like to see the number of police calls 2007 – 2010 vs 2018 during the hours of 3pm to 10pm. Would the 2018 numbers be higher just because there are more people?
With all that said, how will our City protect us from this two hour scourge? Well they have a five point plan. Now, before I rip this plan to shreds, I must give the City some credit. They designed this plan perfectly. They start with a no brainer option, then dangle a bunch of things that we want and need in front of us so we agree, and then end with their real goal. Lets break this down.
Point one, more police. Yes, we need more police downtown. We need more police everywhere within the city limits. This is not a criticism of the SAPD, they are doing the best with what they have. How many more officers does the city think will fix this problem and how many more will they fund.... the answer is one.
Yes you read that right, one officer. To combat double the number of calls, the city is willing to not pay for twice the police, they will fix it with one. Oh, and they aren't paying for a new officer, they want the SAPD to transfer an administrative position to patrol.
Point Two, cleaner streets. Why is a trash removal project in the conversation about alcohol laws and public safety? I know personally, when I walk down the street and I see a full trash can and or garbage on the street, I want to drive drunk or start a fight. Having trash pile up in our dumpsters and trash cans is a problem and should be fixed. Regardless of how late we serve alcohol.
Point Three, Urban Design Improvements, aka fix the sidewalks and stop flooding. How does cracked sidewalks, uneven bricks, poorly lit streets, and flooding impact the alcohol ordinance? Once again, this is something that should be done regardless of what time bars close.
Point Four, A ride sharing hub. At this point I don't even want to waste your time on why this is useless to this debate.
Point Five, Update the Alcohol Ordinance. By this point, the City hopes you are on board with more Police, better trash service and fixing sidewalks. Now they will change the ordnance. Because closing bars earlier, is what she wants.... I mean the commission wants.
Honestly, I am getting old; I will probably never again be at a bar at 2am or midnight for that matter. (Or 10pm, who knows what they want to change the hours to) That being said, even though the time of bars closing will not effect my personal drinking habits, I am extremely upset with a commissioner's, I meant the city's commissions solution.
The majority of the proposals, the solutions, should be done. We should absolutely have better lighting on our streets, trash should not pile up, not to mention I would like to see a bigger police presence. These things should be done regardless of what time bars close!
Why must our City lie to us like this? She, they want something... They want to change the drinking ordinance. To get their way, they dangle a whole bunch of stuff in front of us. “We will fix the streets, we will add lighting, the streets will be cleaner and more police, even if it is only one officer. You get all of this and we get to change the times when you can drink.”
No, commissioners! We should have cleaner streets, we should have better lighting and sidewalks that aren't cracked and uneven. Do not hold us hostage for things we need, that we deserve because YOU want to change an ordinance. That is not how this works.
How about this: fix our streets, empty the trash, add more police, add more lights. If these issues are such a problem, why hasn't it been done yet?
You don't need studies and trips to West Palm, Orlando, and wherever the hell the “Responsible Hospitality Institute conference” was held to tell us that we need to pick the trash up more often and add lights to our dark streets. Trips that were paid for by us the taxpayers. If you need to waste our tax dollars on a trip to tell you that we need lighting on Spanish Street between Cuna and Orange, that overflowing trash bins are not appealing, you don't deserve to represent us. I have a better idea... Take a walk downtown sometime.
My fellow Residents, I do not know if changing the operating hours of bars and restaurants will improve our city. What I do know is most of these proposals will improve our city. We should not cave to the extortion techniques being used by the city. We should have cleaner streets, better lighting, and more police without having to be lied to by OUR representatives. By those WE elected.
Wake Up St. Augustine!
-A Concerned Resident