Naperville considering 8 new rules to limit bar and alcohol problems

Naperville may just be a victim of its own success: the city is looking at 8 possible regulations intended to limit problems related to bars and alcohol.

“I don’t think anybody here could deny this is detracting from the Naperville brand,” council member Robert Fieseler said about “the whole rowdiness thing.” “We can do something about that.”

Drawing from a liquor service best practices manual developed a year ago and recommendations the liquor commission made last week, the council asked for documents to be drawn that would restrict drink sizes, limit discounts on drinks, regulate shot sales, require additional training for security and prohibit entry to bars within one hour of closing time.

The council also asked staff members to research ID scanning technology with a goal of requiring bars to install it by May 1, 2015; to prepare a list of police statistics that should be analyzed as part of a review of night life activity; and to create a plan to train security personnel at bars in conjunction with the training program the police department already mandates for servers…

The eight regulations the council supported Tuesday do not include reductions in bar hours, which drew opposition from bar owners and the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce.

An interesting set of regulations ranging from more education for bar owners and workers to limiting the size of beers from a maximum of 24 ounces to 20 ounces.

This could be viewed from multiple perspectives. One is a concern with safety. There have been some violent acts, public drunkenness, and a recent car crash that killed two young adults. But, I think the more important perspective – which doesn’t preclude the importance of safety – is the image of Naperville. Few communities, particularly well-off suburbs, want to be known for incidents related to bars, alcohol, and related violence. This is the same reason many communities prohibit tattoo parlors in their zoning laws: the image of such places do not lend themselves to a family-friendly atmosphere. Could such incidents in downtown Naperville stop people from moving to the suburb or hinder them from spending their money in the downtown? Even if the answer is no, this is the sort of risk a suburb like Naperville does not want to take.

American bars too loud, cafes too quiet for civil conversation and political dissent

A writer argues that civil conversation, let alone talk that might lead to political action and revolution, is not possible in American bars and cafes:

A noise gap has developed in American public life, and it’s a problem. The bars—at least those frequented by people under 40, who historically drive bottom-up political movements—have gotten louder. How loud? In 2012, the New York Times found that bars in that city regularly reached decibel levels so dangerously high that they violated federal workplace safety standards.

All that noise makes it hard to conduct a meaningful conversation, which is actually the idea. Bars have gotten louder at least in part in response to research showing that louder music encourages patrons to talk less and drink more. By rendering conversation obsolete, the loud atmosphere also nudges people towards imbibing past the point where intelligent conversation is possible. It’s not easy to find a large, crowded bar in an American city where conversation isn’t drowned out by music or a sports telecast. In fact, the Saloon, On U St. in Washington, D.C., has made its name by refusing to play loud music and forcing patrons to stay in their seats, making conversation possible.

The cafés, meanwhile, have gotten quieter. For centuries, coffee was used as a conversation stimulant. But in the present-day U.S., it functions primarily as productivity booster. Coffee long ago penetrated the workplace, and now cafés themselves have become workplaces—not just for eccentric writers and artists, but for knowledge workers of all stripes, who are often plugged into headphones that are plugged into laptops.

In 2011, a Gizmodo writer found it rude that people were talking near him at a café and tweeted, “Etiquette question: Now that coffee shops are basically office spaces, do you have to be quiet when you’re in them?” At the Bean in Manhattan’s East Village, as in several other other New York coffee houses, management has instituted a laptop-free zone. A few tables tucked in a corner of the shop, the Bean’s computer-free zone may as well be a memorial to the late, great café atmosphere.

This sounds like the sociological argument for better third places where average citizens can gather and converse. The primary argument there has been that there are not enough of these spaces. This new argument suggests having these third places isn’t enough; just their existence doesn’t guarantee public conversation but they need to meet certain conditions.

I suppose that could also fit a Marxist perspective: people use these spaces in such a way to follow their own interests (whether the customer wants to be left alone or the proprietor is pushing more product) and are blinded by the lack of civil discourse in which they are participating. In other words, the drinks, alcoholic, caffeinated, or sugary, and their intended uses, whether entertainment or work, are distracting people from the true issues at hand.

Does all this mean that we need a movement for better third places or public spaces (like public squares where some recent global revolutions have started or some argument that business owners who provide such private spaces will get more business) first before agitating against larger structures can begin?

Is downtown Naperville really unsafe at 10 PM?

Is downtown Naperville an unsafe place? According to the Naperville chief of police, recent efforts by the department and other interested parties have helped make the downtown safer late at night:

Naperville police Chief Robert Marshall is just five months into his revamped downtown enforcement plan and he and city leaders already are calling it a success…

Beginning in September and running through mid-January, four additional officers were moved downtown between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays to focus on disorderly conduct issues, public intoxication and urination, and underage drinking. According to Marshall’s memo, the officers contributed 591 hours of additional police coverage and cost the city nearly $35,000 in overtime costs.

“Last year we had a tragic murder, an armed robbery and two very violent beatings that sent all participants to the hospital,” Marshall said. “As far as violent crimes go, that is a very low number, but our goal is zero. And in the five months since we’ve enacted our plan (in September), that’s exactly what we have.”…

“There is a perception that it’s not safe to come downtown after 10 p.m.,” Pradel said. “Our police are doing their part and we’ve told the business community they are also responsible to make that perception go away.”

I am particularly interested in this quote from Naperville’s mayor who discusses the perception about Naperville’s downtown late at night. This violence could be quite jarring in a community like Naperville that is both quite wealthy and quite safe for a community its size. Who exactly is worried about the downtown at night? Perhaps it is Naperville residents who like the residential nature of the suburb and buy into the small town charm leaders claim Naperville possesses. Perhaps it is possible visitors who will take their money elsewhere. In these sorts of discussions, I haven’t seen any numbers about a downturn in business in Naperville – is this about perceptions or an actual loss of business?

Overall, this seems to come back to an issue I’ve raised before: how can a community like Naperville (and other upscale suburbs face similar issues – see here) both encourage business and cultural activity while also protecting the residential charms of their community? Bars and restaurants can bring in large amounts of money into city coffers. Many communities would love to have the number of restaurants and visitors that Naperville attracts. Yet, this can also bring trouble, particularly when bars are involved.

For now, Naperville leaders seem happy with their new approach that minimizes violence but keeps the money flowing in. Perceptions and reputations are important as suburbanites can spend their money in plenty of places other than Naperville.

Naperville downtown like “Rush street west”?

In response to the stabbing death that happened in downtown Naperville this past weekend, one city councilman suggests the city needs to enforce liquor regulations more closely:

Councilman Doug Krause pointed out that the city has only shut down one bar for one day in the past five years due to a liquor license infraction, and that an ordinance passed last month will allow bars to stop serving food at 9 p.m.

“It’s becoming more of a Rush Street after 10 o’clock at night — it’s like Rush Street west,” Krause said Sunday night. “It’s been increasing over the last eight to 10 years. There are mobs out there.”…

“We had over 6,000 calls for police service in downtown Naperville last year. The problem is an enforcement problem,” Krause said referring to liquor law enforcement.

Councilman Grant Wehrli disagreed with Krause, calling his response a “knee jerk reaction to an event that is still under investigation.”

This sort of reaction is something I was expecting even though Naperville is a relatively safe place.

At the same time, this does lead to a larger issue that I hinted at on Sunday: how Naperville wants to balance being a cultural and entertainment center while also remaining family-friendly. On one side, having a lot of bars in a suburban downtown is not usually considered family-friendly. Particularly on warm summer nights, there are a lot of people who congregate in downtown Naperville late into the evening, including many teenagers and families, to partake of music, shopping, the Riverwalk, and family restaurants and eateries. This sort of violence is not clearly not helpful to maintaining this environment but even public drunkenness is not terribly conducive to this.

On the other hand, having a thriving restaurant and bar district can bring in a lot of tax revenue. Instead of residents going elsewhere (perhaps downtown Chicago even?), they spend their money out in downtown Naperville. Lots of suburban communities would love to have the problem that Naperville has had of not having enough parking spaces for all of the downtown visitors or having the kind of restaurants that exist in most suburbs only in shopping centers. The restaurants and bars help attract other businesses.

So how does a well-respected suburb balance these two interests? One of the worst things that could happen to the downtown is that it is branded “unsafe” and people turn away. At the same time, when there are plenty of people around and there is alcohol involved, it is really hard to stop everything bad from happening.