City officials address Walnut Creek bar fights

January 31, 2012 12:48:06 AM PST
After several fights over the weekend, city leaders in Walnut Creek say enough is enough. One of those brawls left one man bleeding on the ground and semi-conscious.

Police and city officials are trying to gain control of a growing problem as a buzzing bar and restaurant scene brings an increase in crime and violence. These aren't you're average drunken fights; police officers have been responding to brawls involving 20 to 30 people at times. Last Saturday they had to use mace to calm down a crowd of 15. It's been an ongoing problem for the past two years and now city officials are feeling the pressure to do something about it.

A fight captured on video in front of a Walnut Creek bar in 2010 is typical of the afterhour's violence that has been plaguing the city's downtown district. This Saturday, nine people were arrested in three separate drunken fights. Two people were hospitalized and three police officers were injured.

"There's just young people around here. Young people with money," said Katie Greig, a Pyramid Bar manager.

"I don't think this is a new problem in Walnut Creek, nor do I think it's a new problem in most towns that have bars and restaurants," said Kevin Weinberg, a bar owner.

However, city officials held a press conference to address the problem. They say late night bars are simply over-serving their customers.

"Any business, just like any individual, that uses an inordinate amount of our resources or breaks the law is going to be held accountable," said Walnut Creek Police Chief Joel Bryden.

Police say they'll be stepping up patrols, especially along a particular stretch of Locust Street. But the city attorney's office is drafting an ordinance to punish problem bars by forcing them to close early.

"The new regulations that we're looking at will allow us to further reduce hours, but only on a case by case basis," said Ken Nordhoff, the city manager.

When asked if he thought regulating hours was fair, Cypress bar manager Dimitri Chaliotis said, "I don't want to say that it's fair, but something has to happen."

The majority of drunken brawls break out after the bars close at 1:30 or 2 a.m. Saturday's fights happened in a garage and two eating establishments on Locust Street. Police had to use pepper spray on a group of 15 who were fighting in front of the Mexican restaurant Cinco de Mayo.

"But if they leave and go down the street and start trouble somewhere else, I don't know if that's particularly your problem," said Weinberg.

The city attorney's office is drafting the new ordinance which will be presented to the council in February and they hope to have it approved by the end of March.

But bar and restaurant owners believe they can regulate themselves and they'll be gathering on Tuesday to discuss it. Some of them want to set up a blacklist of patrons who have a history of causing trouble, so they can simply refuse to serve them.