California 4am last call for alcohol proposal rejected


After the Democratic majority struggled over which way to vote, a state Senate committee rejected a controversial proposal giving cities and counties the power to extend bar hours like their counterparts in New York, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Miami. California's last call would have been 4 a.m.

Opponents urged lawmakers to think about public safety. When one jurisdiction closes at 2 a.m. while another closes at 4 a.m., law enforcement warned the situation would create what they call "liquor commuters."

"People driving to those other locations, and then after having consumed many times a substantial amount of alcohol, driving back," said John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Police Chiefs Association.

Low-income neighborhood activists pointed out that there's already a big alcohol problem in the state and said the last thing California needs is more opportunities to drink.

"You go down one block to another and you'll have three to four mom and pop stores with liquor licenses. We don't need an extension of the ability to drink - not in the state of California," said Richard Zaldovar of the Las Memorias Project.

But Sen. Mark Leno, who carried the bill, insisted cities that allow longer bar hours do not experience higher rates of alcohol-related crashes than places with normal hours. In this 24/7 society, the San Francisco Democrat says services need to cater to all groups.

"Not everyone is working 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, and for that reason I think it makes sense to consider this extra hour or two of alcoholic services," Leno said.

Dollars are also driving the push for extended bar hours. Leno said strict drinking hours are costing businesses money, and a 4 a.m. last call would allow California bars and restaurants to keep up with the nightlife in other major U.S. cities. Leno said a later last call would provide communities with more jobs, tourism and local tax revenue.

Some city leaders and bar owners say the Golden State is at a disadvantage when trying to lure conventions and tourists.

"We're losing a lot of our people to places like Las Vegas, to New York, to Miami," said Robert Vinokur, who owns six restaurants in L.A. "People don't want to come to California, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego."

The committee's decision doesn't mean the fight is over. Supporters of extended bar hours are considering a ballot measure asking state voters to decide on the issue in 2016.

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