So I know that in yesterday’s post, I promised some positive suggestions for today, but alas, I’m faced with an unexpected and pressing deadline for work that I’m actually getting paid for, so you guys will just have to wait until tomorrow for that. In the meantime, you’ll have to put up with just a little more whining. Sorry.
So, the Oakland Police Department has this thing called the Alcoholic Beverage Action Team, or ABAT. Basically, they’re the fun police.
Okay, that’s a little unfair. The idea behind ABAT is basically that they help prevent businesses in possession of a liquor license from being a nuisance. ABAT is funded partly by a $1500 annual fee paid by all alcohol-selling businesses, but mostly by grants – some from the State Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, some from the County Health Department. They use the money to pay for the overtime costs associated (for both sworn officers and civilian support staff) with their tasks, and also to pay underage decoys to assist with their sting operations. The idea is that we can reduce the number of problem liquor stores if we hunt down and fine the ones selling liquor and cigarettes to minors.
So in their most recent report (PDF) to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, here’s what ABAT listed as their activities for the previous year:
- Conducted over 405 Annual Inspections and 125 re-inspections.
- Conducted 75 bar check operations.
- 32 re-inspection fees were charged to operators for failure to comply with State and Local laws. These fees generated $6,400.00
- Conducted 166 decoy operations, resulting in 39 sales to a minor (24% sale rate).
- Made 2 felony arrests.
- Issued 55 citations for public intoxication/open container in front of liquor stores.
Okay…fine. I mean, honestly, I’m still a little too close to my own high school days to get all that worked up personally about underage drinking and smoking, but I’m certainly not going to complain about OPD trying to make sure that businesses comply with age laws either.
But ABAT’s activities are not limited to stopping underage alcohol and tobacco sales. They’re also the ones who gave my friend a ticket for smoking outside while not violating any law. For those who missed the story, this happened on a Friday evening adjacent to an actual crime scene. (BTW, my friend did not end up having to pay…so far.)
Anyway, regardless of who pays for it, I have long resented the fact that we use our extremely limited police resources to run around town hunting for outdoor smokers to ticket and similar bullshit that, I’m sorry, is just not the problem in Oakland.
But when I returned to Oakland yesterday after a blissful weekend away, I heard something about ABAT that makes the outdoor smoking manhunt seem downright reasonable. Apparently, they spent Saturday night going around to local bars and issuing fines to a bunch of spots that had DJs and no cabaret license.
The Municipal Code’s definition of a cabaret is as follows (Sec. 5.12.010):
A “cabaret” shall be construed to include any place where the general public is admitted, where entertainment is furnished by or for any patron or guest present upon the premises, including, but not limited to singing, vaudeville and dancing, and where liquid refreshments or foods are sold; provided, however, that any place where entertainment is furnished by the mechanical or electronic reproduction of pre-recorded music or radio broadcasts or by motion pictures, shall not be construed to be a cabaret within the meaning of this section unless dancing privileges are afforded in connection therewith.
Now, the idea behind this is that you need to get a special license to have live music. I think this is annoying, but wev, I understanding the reasoning behind it. And I wouldn’t have any problem with it at all if the City didn’t make it so damn difficult to get the stupid license in the first place. So, it’s the City’s position that you need a cabaret license not just for live music, but also for DJs. I understand the reasoning behind this as well. If you want to open a big dance club, you’re going to have all the same associated issues as you would if you were having bands play every night. So for dance clubs with DJs, it makes sense.
What does not make sense is that the City considers all bars with DJs to be cabarets, including those that do not have dance floors. It’s still considered live entertainment, even though what you’re talking about is basically some guy sitting in a corner pressing buttons on a laptop while people ignore him all night. I’m sorry, this just a stupid requirement that places a totally unnecessary burden and cost on local businesses. But beyond that, just…OMFG. This is what we have police officers doing on a Saturday night? How is this a good use of resources?