Nighttime activity along boutique-lined Main Street is at a 15-year high, according to city officials, but the live music, crowds and drunken revelry have incited complaints from neighbors.
New restaurants might face tighter restrictions because of the complaints. The city of Santa Monica is considering changing the definition of "restaurant" in its zoning codes, according to Planning Director David Martin.
"It’s too early to speculate about what the changes might be, but the intention is to tighten up the definitions to ensure that establishments that are defined as restaurants don’t operate as bars and/or nightclubs," Martin said.
The city’s response so far has been to step up police enforcement, deploying undercover officers for six weeks, who racked up 164 hours in overtime, according to a memo released by the City Manager’s office this month.
The memo paints a picture of drunken debauchery: restaurants exceeded their occupancy levels, bartenders over-served intoxicated patrons, some of whom were caught littering, jaywalking and urinating in public. Sometimes, "last-call" extended past the 2 a.m. curfew.
To quell the ruckus, the city reported adding and moving taxi zones to prevent congestion, loitering and jaywalking. Of the 16 businesses inspected by police and code compliance officers, four were cited.
The Victorian—which in 2010 transformed its basement into a bar and entertainment venue and has since become the subject of residents' ire—has ramped up its own private security and installed carpeting and windows to buffer noise.
But the complaints continue to flow into City Hall, with some suggesting extreme measures, such as prohibiting outdoor speech at night.
There are already laws on the books limiting noise levels, but an all-out ban on speaking or loitering on public streets would be unconstitutional, according to the City Attorney's office.
"The city’s use of its police powers to further limit The Victorian’s operations could only be done by a finding of public nuisance," the memo states. But "as of now, enforcement staff has consistently found The Victorian to be in compliance with all applicable local laws, including local zoning laws. It is difficult to designate it as a public nuisance in light of such findings."