The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

Bill Johnson for Alaska House

By STEVEN WEBER
Valdez Star 

Last call: Council moves to bump up closing time for all bars in Valdez

Public outcry spurs city officials to address ways to dampen alcohol-related problems

 


Local watering holes will be forced to end the party early under a newly proposed ordinance.

Alcohol is currently allowed to be sold in Valdez as late as 5 a.m. However, the Valdez City Council is in the process of making a substantial change to its current ordinance which allows bars to operate under the maximum hours allowed by state law.

After the tragedy at the Boardroom parking lot last spring, which claimed the life of local resident Chellsie Hoffman, a group of citizens met with Valdez Police Chief Bart Hinkle to discuss ideas to help prevent another alcohol-related tragedy. Hinkle said one item that came up was curtailing the time that bars are allowed to sell alcohol.

The meetings between Hinkle and local residents led to a city council work session a week ago Tuesday that was held to discuss a proposed ordinance to change the hours that bars would be able to sell or serve alcoholic beverages to 3 a.m.

"This is a very simple change and there is some sort of teeth to it if you have a crowd that is staying late and they've been building throughout the night and there is a definitive closing time of 3," Hinkle said during the work session, adding that the change could "...empower the bar staff if the crowd got to be more than staff can handle."

Valdez mayor Jeremy O'Neil said he is not a stranger to the problems dealt with by barkeepers in the early morning hours.

"Having bar tended myself for a number of years, the 2:30-3 timeframe was a lot more attractive than 5," he said during the work session. "There's a lot of burden on the bartender at those hours," and later added "there is value in the council making a statement with regard to the voice and appeal for the community."

Prior to the work session, Hinkle contacted all alcohol licensee holders and informed them of the work session meeting. Many were present, including Mike Williams - co-owner of the Totem Inn and Boardroom Bar - where police allege a drunk driver killed a designated driver.

"I've been a proponent of rolling back the bar hours for a long time and haven't been able to get any traction from this body for that," Williams said. "I would like to see us mirror Anchorage."

Anchorage bars cut off alcohol consumption at 2:30 a.m. on weekdays and 3:30 a.m. on weekends. Bars are allowed to keep their doors open until 4 a.m. but cannot sell or serve alcohol after the designated cutoff time.

Public comment by Williams led to questioning from council member Darren Reese, who asked Williams why his businesses do not voluntarily close early.

"We can change the hours and enforce it or you can voluntarily do it on your own," Reese said. "I myself would like to see you guys voluntarily do it yourself."

Williams said the problem is that for his businesses to remain competitive with other establishments, "I have to stay open later."

The concept of a safety hour was brought up as the work session continued.

This would be a time where patrons could remain in the bar until they found a safe ride home after alcohol consumption-time ends. This would prevent everyone leaving at the same time and overloading Yellow Cab and Lyft.

"I never thought about the grace period during the consumption ban so I do like that," council member Chris Moulton said.

Council member Jim Shirrell said, as the work session was wrapping up, "We are gravitating towards 2:30 with a one-hour grace." He then asked Hinkle if he was comfortable with this change and if it could be enforced.

Hinkle agreed.

However, during the regular council meeting which occurred immediately after the work session, council did not approve the ordinance and its 2:30 or 3 cut-off time.

Shirrell moved to amend the mandated closing time to 2:30 a.m.

Council member Doug Fleming who did not say anything during the work session, said, "I'd like to see that time go to 2 o'clock . . . I'm comfortable with that."

Shirrell seconded Fleming's amendment and the council approved it.

Moulton voted against the amendment.

"I was comfortable with 3, which I stated," he explained. "We just spent 55 minutes talking about it and now we just moved it back an hour . . . like that."

The amended ordinance will require all bars not only stop serving alcoholic beverages after 2 a.m., but will also disallow anyone to continue drinking alcohol on the premises after 2 a.m. according to Sheri Pierce, the city clerk.

"They have to pick up their drinks at 2 a.m.," she said in a telephonic interview Monday. "There's no grace period."

The new ordinance does not require the bars to close down at 2 a.m., only stop serving or allowing the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Via Facebook

Valdez Police Chief Bart Hinkle speaking last week at the city council work session which was broadcast on Facebook Live by the Valdez Star.

The first reading of the amended ordinance to enact 2 a.m. as the cut-off time for alcohol consumption at licensed premises will take place at the next council meeting on August 7, at 7 p.m.

City clerk Sheri Pierce said in an interview Monday that the amended ordinance will become law at the second reading if it is passed by council.

The second reading is slated for the council's second meeting next month, which is scheduled to be held Wednesday, Aug. 22. The meeting will be on Wednesday of that week instead of Tuesday due to the Primary Elections.

A video of the work session can be viewed on the Valdez Star Facebook page.

The public is encouraged to come to the meeting and make a public comment.

 

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