West Hollywood, a city whose 47 alcohol outlets per 10,000 residents makes it the most saturated in Los Angeles County, will create the position of alcohol liaison officer and will develop a campaign to encourage people to make smart choices around consumption of alcohol and other drugs.
The City Council agreed to establish the position and the campaign at its meeting last night, although Councilmember John Duran expressed some discomfort with the idea.
The alcohol liaison officer (ALO) would be a member of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station. The officer would be tasked with making regular visits to bars and liquor stores to get to know their staffs and offer guidance on complying with the law. The ALO also would review new alcohol business applications (there currently are 26 in the pipeline) and conduct intial inspections of prospective venues. If the ALO found repeated violations of the law, he or she would advise the city’s Code Compliance Office or the state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control.
The alcohol consumption campaign would be aimed at local residents and businesses and visitors.
“The ultimate goal of the campaign is to encourage individuals to make responsible choices around alcohol and drug use,” said a presentation by the Safe WeHo Leadership Council. “These would include drinking moderate – not excessive – amounts, arranging for a safe ride home and refraining from rowdy behavior.”
The Safe WeHo Leadership Council was founded in 2016 with assistance from the Institute for Public Strategies (IPS), a public health agency focused on reducing alcohol- and drug-related problems. SWHLC is composed of a variety of people representing local businesses and entertainment establishments, residents and public safety officers among others. Genevieve Morrill, CEO and president of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor of the SWLC proposal last night.
City Councilmember Lauren Meister said she would prefer to use an existing deputy from the entertainment policing team. The entertainment policing team is led by a sergeant and primarily focuses on entertainment- and alcohol-related law enforcement issues. Its members patrol over 90 bars, nightclubs and hotels.
Capt. Sergio Aloma, who heads the WeHo Sheriff’s Station, said he is considering just that and has reached out to other cities with similar programs. The proposed budget for the liaison officer is $275,000. Meister said she thought that was “costly, and we also have homelessness issues that we want to be spending out money on.”
Councilmember Duran said he would support the proposal despite his concern that it could “overly mother” those who drink and party in WeHo.
“It always seems to be contradictory that on one hand we create an entire local economy based on nightclubs and night life and bars and tourism, at the same time we try to bridle the activity,” Duran said. “(But) my experience has been that it’s always one horse’s ass that ruins everything. Most of the people that go to the clubs whether they are the gay clubs or the clubs on the strip, have a great time, have a great evening, have a good time with friends, don’t cause a problem, don’t drive home drunk, don’t create any havoc with the security or patrons, most of the people. But it’s that one or two individuals that want to ruin it for everyone else that I think we’re trying to address.” Duran said those people typically are visitors from out of town.
Councilmember John D’Amico., who also supported naming an alcohol liaison officer, warned: “I also think we don’t want to kill the goose that laid the (golden) egg. We have 90 bars and night clubs and we have 26 licenses asking for approval. That’s a 30% increase, not to mention 15 or so cannabis businesses that will be coming in.”
A report from the Safe WeHo Leadership Council notes there has been a major increase in alcohol establishments in recent years. The report notes the state ABC website shows 237 currently active retail alcohol licenses in West Hollywood (which include those for place where alcohol is consumed on-site, such as bars and restaurants) and those where it is consumer off-site (such as grocery stores and convenience stores.)
That number “has been dramatically increasing in recent years,” the report said. “Since 2001, a total of 174 licenses have been issued, averaging almost 11 per year. In 2014 a total of 43 were added, with considerable increases following in 2015 and 2016.