Who do you call, if the bar or tavern down the block isn’t a good neighbor? Folks who attended this meeting found that the answer isn’t clear – but, see what we found out …
Answering questions about problems bars and taverns are Dan McNeal, License Services Manager, OLCC; Donna Vandall, Technical Services Coordinator, OLCC; Rudy Williams, Deputy Director, Public Safety Services Program, OLCC; Theresa Marchetti, Office of Neighborhood Involvement; Sgt. John Scruggs, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct; Erik Vidstrand, Community Health Educator, Multnomah County Health Department; Mike Boyer, Crime Prevention Specialist, Office of Neighborhood Involvement; and Paul van Orden, Bureau of Development Services Noise Control Officer, City of Portland.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
A “public forum” held to answer questions about the unique impacts that beer and liquor licenses have on the surrounding community, both positive and negative, in outer East Portland.
“This is an opportunity to be heard, and ask questions regarding what you and your city and state officials can do to ensure your livability and public safety concerns are addressed,” stated the meeting’s organizer, Theresa Marchetti, liquor licensing specialist with the City’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement. “People who speak out will help state and city officials understand what is most important to the community as we move forward to find solutions.”
Although the event drew 35 participants from across the city, many of the participants came from East Portland to grill representatives at this meeting held at the East Precinct Community Room.
On hand were representatives of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), Portland Police Bureau (PPB), Multnomah County and City of Portland who listened to complaints about problems like noise, smoking, and litter around bars and taverns (referred to as “licensed premises”).
Citizens frustrated by bureaucratic runaround
Most of the complaints stemmed from the fact there isn’t a single regulatory agency that oversees and controls licensed premises in Portland – the licensing, and supervision is split among numerous agencies.
As an example, a Westmoreland neighbor brought up the licensed premises at 5145 SE Mcloughlin Boulevard., now known as the Blush Club. “Does the OLCC know that there have been serious issues at this establishment?”
The OLCC’s Deputy Director, Public Safety Services Program, Rusty Williams, replied, “Yes the OLCC does communicate regularly with the Portland Police Bureau.”
PPB East Precinct Sgt. John Scruggs noted that they work within the legal framework on OLCC issues. “We don’t always have access to confidential files, say it’s a murder, or other serious crime investigation”
Williams added, “I’m frustrated by the process. When bad things happen at an establishment, it pains me. We’re not dragging our feet. Dealing with problem locations is an elongated process. If there is bad actor, we will take action. If we catch them in the act, it makes it easier. Complaints don’t fall into a bottomless vat.”
Donna Vandall, Technical Services Coordinator, OLCC, added, “There is a form you send; it goes directly to me. We can actively work it; the information also goes to neighborhood officers.”
Paul van Orden, Bureau of Development Services Noise Control Officer, City of Portland, volunteered, “Yes, all comments go into the file. When questions arise, we review this information and talk with the Neighborhood Response Team officers.”
Asked about what information from citizens’ complaints goes into a licensee’s file, Vandall said, “Everything goes into the folder. Our inspectors are tracking hundreds of licensees.”
The OLCC’s Deputy Director of Public Safety Services Program, Rudy Williams, says citizens need to band together to get laws changed in the State legislature.
Building a ‘compliance and violation histories’
A participant questioned the panel, “When a liquor license comes up for review or renewal, do the all of the [negative] reports add up?”
Williams responded, from the OLCC’s point of view, “We keep a compliance history and a violation history. We will dispatch reported violations to the district inspector to see if they can find out more on information. They will have a discussion with the licensee. If they find violations, it will go into their file. The same goes with compliance – but only after we’ve established a problem with undercover and general observations. We don’t do stings. We will go out and establish if there are violations. It stays on their record for 5 or 10 years.”
[Note: However, OLCC does do highly-publicized stings in which underage persons enter licensed premises and attempt to buy alcohol, and sanctions are assessed against servers and establishments when they are successful.
Time, Place and Manner ordinance
“When do nuisance problems become violations, in terms of OLCC licensing?” was a question put to the panel.
Marchetti replied that the City of Portland has some jurisdiction through its “Time, Place and Manner” ordinance. “This covers noise from music, offensive littering, urination, vomiting; also public drinking in parks, and disorderly conduct.”
When it comes to revoking or denying a license, Vandall, stated, “We can deal with fights and disorder – if we can prove the licensee could have prevented the activity. There is a threshold; we look at the number of problems over a period of time. We also consider if the activities are a serious and consistent problem. Serving minors, and certain kinds of disorder and drug activities, do not require a lengthy series of complaints.”
“If we do what we’ve done, we get what we got,” Williams commented. “Some licensees act indifferent to rules and laws, and will cause problems. Most owners that have occasional problems want to do the right thing, but need more education. And, some owners will always follow the letter of the law.”
Suggests approaching offending owner
In addition to officially reporting violations such as late night loud music, rowdy patrons in the neighborhood, trash, and human waste left behind, Marchetti suggested, “First, talk to the bar owner; I’ve seen it work 80% of the time. The owner doesn’t want police officers, OLCC inspectors, or city inspectors to visit.”
But, Marchetti admitted that some establishments are “real problem locations – ones that are contacted again and again. We try to address the situation as best we can; we need your help. We work first on locations with chronic problems”.
‘Good Neighbor Agreements’ are of limited help
John Richlein, from the Brentwood Darlington neighborhood, said that Good Neighbor Agreements (GNA) were a good idea, but have no “teeth” for enforcement.
Williams replied, “True, they are not legally binding. But most operators don’t want negative visibility.
McNeal picked it, saying, “a GNA sets a tone for how the establishment will work with the neighborhood. If they don’t comply with the GNA and it is part of their application, that can act against them for ‘good cause’ – if they don’t do what they said they would do. If they don’t want to enter into a GNA, we can’t force them; there are no negative consequences for refusing a GNA.”
“Sounds like you don’t have enforcement tools,” a participant commented. “We need statutory change.”
Vandall replied, “We regulate the liquor, not the operational aspects of the establishment. We regulate to whom and when it can be sold.”
Williams added, “We are going to issue the license if the premises and person meets the requirements. Where it is sited is a city zoning issue.”
the panel didn’t have many answers for citizens – other than to faithfully document the onerous behavior, and lodge complaints with all of the regulatory organizations.
OLCC governed by state legislature
“If the problem is in the community, the solution should be in the community,” a neighbor asserted. “It seems odd that the State licenses establishments in our neighborhoods.”
Marchetti replied, “Many of the issues we face are city-wide. The more people we can connect in the community who will come to testify in Salem, for changing the regulations and laws, the better.”
“You do have strength in numbers,” Williams said. “The Oregon Restaurant Association is powerful and well-organized, and get what they want. When you raise an issue of paramount concern, it becomes a clarion call to legislators; they have to respond.”
Seen here talking with neighbors at a National Night Out celebration this year, East Portland Crime Prevention Specialist Havilah Ferschweiler provides avenues for citizens to contact regulatory officials.
How to complain
East Portland Crime Prevention Specialist Havilah Ferschweiler noted that neighbors can file complaints against liquor licenses to multiple sources.
- Complaints can be filled out on the Internet at: http//www.portlandonline.com, under ‘Service Request’.
- Calls can be made to ONI Crime Prevention Coordinators at your district neighborhood coalition (EPNO in outer East Portland; 503-823-4550).
- Calls can be made to ONI Liquor License Specialist (LLS) Theresa Marchetti at (503) 823-3092
- Contact can be made with The Portland Police Bureau District Officers or Senior Neighborhood Officers, or calls can be made to the Drugs and Vice Division License Investigators.
- Calls can be made to the OLCC Licensing Unit at (503) 872-5000, or reported via the Internet at http://www.olcc.state.or.us
The bottom line to Portland citizens from officials at this forum: It’s up to you to take action to solve your problem with your neighborhood establishment.
© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News