Only greater local control can manage an overwhelming proliferation of bars driving up alcohol-related crime and quality of life issues

By Myron Lieberman

The weekend comes alive on a Friday evening at the end of Washington Boulevard
Photo by Maria Martin

The author is a longtime Venice resident and CEO/founder of the local real estate development firm MHE Real Estate.

In our busy lives we may overlook the large toll on public safety and quality of life that unchecked problems from excessive alcohol establishments bring to neighborhoods in Venice and Marina del Rey.

But for many whose homes are near overcrowded and ever-growing de facto entertainment districts, the experience has become overwhelming.

Take Washington Boulevard between Pacific Avenue and the Venice Pier, for example. In this very small block and a half of commercial businesses, 14 of them — the vast majority — are now serving some type of alcohol.

Since moving to Venice in 1984 I’ve seen what was a very sleepy beach community turn into a party destination, which has in turn transformed the lives
of all Venice inhabitants. We are now inundated with drug deals behind our homes and people using our properties as public restrooms.

The current bars and restaurants now draw visitors to Venice who have no regard for the people living here. Boisterous, drunken partiers flowing from bars and restaurants in the middle of the night, loud music, alcohol-fueled fights and intoxicated bar patrons urinating — and worse — in our yards epitomize nighttime nuisances that have become all too familiar.

And our complaints to the city and our council member have been ignored.

With this much alcohol flowing in the area, we’ve definitely seen the amount of crime (reported or not) going up. We hear complaints not just from the Venice side, but the Marina del Rey side as well.

The problem is that we absolutely cannot rely on the state to manage alcohol-related problems for us. The reality is that the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control functions as a licensor and takes actions to rein in only the most consistently egregious violators.

In other words, unless establishment operators are caught dealing illegal drugs or committing felony assault on their premises, it’s up to local municipalities to assert local control in order to manage the alcohol-related problems that commonly vex our neighborhoods. And there’s currently no shortage of problems generated by bars, restaurants and liquor stores.

Neighborhoods throughout the city experience varying degrees of these alcohol-related problems, but Venice is experiencing more than its share — including DUIs, violent crime and noise disturbances. For example, the LAPD’s Pacific Division reported that, between 2014 and 2015, DUIs in Venice jumped by 800%.

There’s no getting around the fact that alcohol is a serious public health concern — and not just for Venice, but across L.A. In fact, each year alcohol-related problems take approximately 2,800 lives in the Los Angeles County, accounting for approximately 80,000 years of potential life lost and costing the county an estimated $10.3 billion a year. That’s $1,000 every year for every child and adult in the county!

So what can we do about it?

In order to reduce and prevent harms stemming from the persistent spread of alcohol, especially given the current high concentration of alcohol establishments in Venice and much of L.A., the city must exert its local authority.

Cities striking more of a balance —allowing alcohol establishments to thrive without unduly burdening their neighborhoods — are actively asserting local control through neighborhood-specific alcohol policies, practices and proactive enforcement.

Alcohol-related problems are only magnified as more and more restaurants and bars come into our communities. To make sure new alcohol businesses integrate well into the fabric of our neighborhoods, we need local communities to deliver input to the L.A. Department of City Planning about how alcohol is sold and served.

As community members, it’s crucial we advocate for local solutions that are locally enforceable and that include our voices in the process.

Employing local control to minimize alcohol’s impacts is the trend for communities around California. It should be in Venice, too.