My friends and I have a saying that we stole from the title of a How I Met Your Mother episode: “Nothing Good Ever Happens After 2 a.m.” We’ve tested this theory on a couple occasions and found it to be spot-on. State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and other proponents of the Let Our Communities Adjust Late-night (Local) Act apparently have had better post-2 a.m. experiences than I have. They aim to give California’s largest cities the opportunity to keep bars open until 4 a.m. Their advocacy persists despite qualitative and quantitative evidence that shows allowing bars to stay open until 4 a.m. will harm community well-being, increase crime, move California out of line with national norms, and deleteriously impact the state’s economy.
Although I consider myself a relatively light drinker, apparently I have a habit of living near bars. Throughout college, I lived in an apartment above a dive called Fathoms. And in 2017 I moved to a studio perched above what I’ve learned is referred to by some as “The Triangle” of bars — Sabrosa, Balboa Cafe, and, until recently, Eastside West. From the vantage points offered by my apartment, I’ve yet to see the positive cultural contribution of late-night drinking.
It’s true that bars, like any place where people gather, share stories, and break bread have the potential to be sources of social capital, places where neighbors grow closer and communities grow stronger. However, a bar’s marginal return to a community’s stock of social capital undoubtedly dwindles as the night goes on. Don’t take my word for it. Instead, consider how the co-owner of Eastside West, the vertice of The Triangle, that recently shut its doors, reacted to closing shop. “I think [the closure] will be a good thing for the city.” Rob Lam told Eater San Francisco, “I’ll be honest: Eastside West never contributed anything to the social fabric of San Francisco. In fact, we were a detriment.” Unsurprisingly, Eastside West made The Thrillist’s list of 14 “Bad Decision Bars” in San Francisco, places “where you’re pretty much guaranteed to make a bad (best?) decision or two seven.” Lam does not speak for every owner, and not every bar intends for its patrons to make bad decisions, but surely these pieces of evidence weaken Wiener’s position that the Local Act will improve the culture of California cities.
As anyone who has had too much to drink knows, bad individual decisions can lead to poor public safety outcomes. A study of assault and robbery cases in Chicago found that late-hour bars and liquor stores produce disproportionately high reports of criminal activity, especially between the hours of 2 and 6 a.m. This isn’t just a Windy City phenomenon. Research on crime in Albuquerque likewise revealed U.S. Census “block groups that contain bars, alcohol serving establishments, and restaurants that serve beer and wine are expected to report significantly more violent crime incidents than block groups without those types of places.”
The Northern District of the San Francisco Police Department, which includes the Western Addition, Pacific Heights, Japantown, Polk Gulch, Russian Hill, and the Marina, is no exception to crime trends seen throughout urban areas. Data collected by the SFPD reinforces that from 2010 to 2017 crimes regarding auto theft and sexual assault occurred at a higher rate later at night and on weekend evenings — when most visits to bars occur, according to a review of Google’s “Popular Times” feature. When analyzing crimes reported during the seven-year window, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday accounted for:
- 44.8 percent of all incidents
- 45.9 percent of cases related to auto theft
- 46.1 percent of cases related to sexual assault and rape
What’s more, of the sexual assault cases reported on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, 23.6 percent took place between midnight and 2 a.m. Looking at Fridays alone produces an even more startling stat with 28.5 percent of sexual assault cases taking place in the two-hour timespan.
These findings are not surprising or new. Studies dating back as far as the early 1990s found that up to 50 percent of police service calls originate from bars and the surrounding areas. Amid skyrocketing reports of auto burglaries and the near doubling of annual reports of rape in San Francisco from 2010 to 2016, it’s hard to understand why Senator Wiener, a member of the Public Safety Committee, is continuing to push the legislation forward. The uptick in DUIs reported across California during the 2017 holiday season makes Senator Wiener’s position even harder to justify.
Other leaders have rebuked arguments for extended hours couched in language of local control. Politicians in Colorado also tried to extend the state’s bar closing time. Like officials in California, they lacked sufficient evidence to justify a decision with such negative potential. California officials should follow the course of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who responded to the threat of extension with a letter which, in part, read, “legislation with potential impacts on safety merits the highest scrutiny, and should be backed by clear and supportive data and analysis.” National data confirms now is not the time officials purportedly dedicated to public safety should make drinking more prevalent. The prevalence of drinking and the costs of treating its ails have become increasingly noticeable. Nationwide, emergency room visits due to alcohol are up, reports of excessive drinking among college students are up, and binge drinking among females, older Americans, and minorities is up.
Economic data builds on the case made by public safety statistics to rebuke Wiener’s legislation. A quick Google Maps search of San Francisco bars shows scads of drinking establishments that close down before the 2 a.m. limit. If demand for a drink was as high as is claimed by advocates of the bill, wouldn’t every bar stay open as late as possible? Instead, the invisible hand appears to be guiding people home rather than toward yet another drink.
Even bar owners are far from monolithically in support of the proposal. A representative of Amelie Wine Bar, a small business with one San Francisco location, was unequivocal in opposition to the Local Act. The representative went as far as to call the bill “a joke” and speculated it “will only help huge restaurants, chains [and] nightclubs but [is] never going to help 99 percent of restaurants and bars in the city.”
If passed, the legislation could also dampen property values. Cities that champion crime reduction record increases in property value. In contrast, where crime becomes more prevalent, property values fall and more public resources are dedicated to reactive, rather than proactive, responses to community safety. While I personally am in favor of making California a more affordable place to live, I like to think our legislators can find better ways of lowering the prices of homes than through increasing crime. If the main focus of the Local Act is increased economic activity, then advocates should redirect their attention to the economically stimulating effects of crime reduction.
Senator Wiener, when announcing his renewed effort to pass this legislation, claimed “people wonder why they are in a major metro area but can’t find alcohol after 2 a.m.” The easy answer is that communities have prioritized safety over spirits.
Let’s hope Senator Wiener and others in support of the Local Act will do the same.