Ordinance could require rowdy bars to close early

A proposed city ordinance spearheaded by Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard may make Portland the first city in Oregon with the power to tell businesses when and how they can sell alcohol.

Intended to help reduce “nuisance” activity, such as fighting, noise disturbances and littering around bars, convenience stores and other businesses that sell alcohol, the “Time, Place and Manner” ordinance would allow the city to place restrictions on businesses with a history of complaints.

Under the ordinance, businesses that receive more than three “nuisance” complaints in a thirty-day period would be required to submit an abatement plan to the city. As part of an abatement plan, the city could limit the hours that a business could be open or sell alcohol, or require the business to hire more security personnel.

Leonard and other proponents of the ordinance will present their proposal at a meeting of the City Council today at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Proponents of the ordinance believe that the ordinance will give the city more tools to regulate problem businesses without having to resort to revoking their liquor licenses altogether, and give businesses more incentive to adhere to agreements with neighborhood associations.

“We had heard time and again in neighborhood association meetings that there was nothing they could do,” Brent Canode, Policy Advisor for Commissioner Leonard. “We thought that it was time that we regain some local control.”

Many business groups, such as the Oregon Restaurant Association (ORA), are concerned that the ordinance would give too much power to the city and neighborhood association, and allow people to shut down businesses simply by complaining.

“It’s going to be a witch hunt,” Bill Perry, a spokesman for the ORA, said. “They’re trying to fix a fictional problem just in case it arises.”

Currently, issues between neighborhood residents and businesses that sell alcohol are resolved through “good neighbor” agreements, which are made voluntarily, but do help businesses avoid problems like having their liquor licenses come under scrutiny by participating.

Commissioner Leonard’s office estimates that about 20 businesses would have violated the proposed regulations in 2003 had the ordinance been in effect, and that about two of those would most likely would have been required to meet with a code hearings officer.

Alcohol sales in Oregon are regulated at the state level by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, but if the City Council approves the ordinance, Portland would become the first city in the state to regulate alcohol sales.

The ORA is concerned about the precedent that would be set by the ordinance’s passage. “Portland’s proposal would have a devastating impact on our industry as other local governments will attempt to follow their lead, causing a complicated patchwork of regulatory authority in Oregon,” an ORA press release said.

The Oregon Grocery Association has been patient in forming an opinion on the ordinance, waiting to see what the final version of the proposal will be and how it will be intended to be used, according to Legislative Advocate Dan Floyd.

“We could end up supporting it or we could end up in a dogfight,” Floyd said.