Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and his pilot-program bill to extend drinking hours at bars in select California cities is set to be voted on again in Sacramento prior to the end of this legislative session.
Senate Bill 58 would provide an extra hour each day to bars to legally serve alcohol. Under current California law, no alcohol can be served between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Under SB 58, it would be extended to 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. The original, more controversial 4 a.m. time was amended to 3 a.m. during the last week due in response to opposition from some members of the Assembly.
The bill also makes it clear that this is a pilot-program which will allow: Between 2022 and 2027, drinking hours will be extended in ten California cities — are Cathedral City, Coachella, Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Palm Springs, Sacramento, San Francisco, and West Hollywood. For the most part they cover large cities and/or tourist hot spots. But in the cases of Cathedral City and Coachella, they are included for their role hosting the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
The California Highway Patrol will also take part, reporting on how each city is doing with DUI rates and alcohol-related accidents. Every city involved will also have to give yearly reports on crime and alcohol related accidents rates as well. According to a representative for Senator Wiener, this will give an adequate amount of time to assess what, if any, changes there are related to the new law.
Supporters have come out saying that extended hours can help economically, and will boost tourism.
“One of the things that makes a city great is a vibrant nightlife,” Sen. Wiener said earlier this year. “It’s an important driver of the economy and culture, and we are at a disadvantage for tourism and conventions.”
Many business owners and groups have also given their support to the bill. Rebecca Murphy, who has run bars in both San Francisco and Modesto, explained to the Globe why so many support it: “It’s money, pure and simple,” said Murphy. “During the summer with tourists, or after games at night, or especially around colleges, closing at 2 in the morning can be painful. When the Giants won the [World] Series a few years back, we were packed, but at 2 A.M. we had to shuffle everyone out. I guarantee you we lost thousands alone from that one night.
Additionally, for bartenders and servers, that extra hour of pay and tips can be huge. An extra hour each week can go to groceries purchases and utility bills. In a month it can mean making a loan payment, or a car payment. It helps us bring in more, it helps our employees earn more, and it helps the city by having an open place for people to go.”
“And I guess for taxes too,” Murphy chuckled.
Driver groups for ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft have also quietly given support, as they have much to gain in having extended driving hours. Or as one driver told the Globe “It’s more money for us, but we add to the safety for everyone. A lot of drivers need money, and we can handle that extra workload.”
While it could be an economic boon and source of entertainment for some cities, those opposed to the bill have addresses issues surrounding more alcohol consumption. The Globe reached out to several city and alcohol watchdog organizations who oppose the bill for comment, and everyone responded with the same reasons: public safety and drunk driving.
The concerns aren’t new. When SB 905, a similar bill that would have extended drinking hours to 4 a.m., needed the Governor’s signature last year, then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it. When asked why, he said that it would have caused more drunk driving incidents.
Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) has come out as the foremost opponent in the Capitol to SB 58.
Speaking out against the bill before the change of hours was amended, Lackey said “The clear outcome of this particular bill will be putting countless lives in danger. Drunk driving increases as the night goes on.”
“Having spent 18 years as a CHP officer working these hours I have direct knowledge of the tragedy that’s associated when alcohol-impaired driving is coupled with the extreme fatigue that we also see in drivers between 2 and 4 a.m.,” Lackey said. “If this bill becomes law, we are going to see countless tragedies for the benefit of financial gain.”
Some local governments have even come out against the bill, with the Los Angeles City Council voting “no” on it due to safety concerns.
Many involved with the bill also appear to have personal stakes in SB 58:
- Assemblyman Lackey is the Vice Chairman of the Assembly Public Safety Committee and a former CHP officer, where he dealt with drunk-driving-issues;
- Gov. Gavin Newsom, who will decide on the bill, has been involved in the alcohol industry having founded the PlumpJack Winery in Napa Valley, and owning a wine store in San Francisco. While he is Governor, all stakes in those businesses have been put in a blind trust.
California has had a 2 a.m. bar closing law since the end of prohibition. But in the next few days a small pilot program may potentially bring a big change.