City OKs liquor penalties

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Alcohol vendors who sell to underage or obviously intoxicated people face harsher penalties after the City Council's unanimous approval of new enforcement guidelines.

The City Council, which also is the city's liquor licensing authority, voted to amend the municipal code and allow the council to suspend or revoke liquor licenses.

The City Council:

Decided to pass the first reading of the ordinance adopting the Mountain Base Area Design Standards after 90 minutes of discussion among council members, community members and planners. The council finally decided that making changes to the wording or format of the ordinance without having a work session to discuss issues would be unfair to the 10 hours city planning commissioners put into the final project. Council members raised issues of the affordable housing requirements, building height requirements and the addition of planned unit development criteria. Community members and other organization involved with the base development planning expressed similar concerns. The council will look to meet with planning commissioners, other staff and interested parties to discuss specific concerns with the plan before the council revisits the issue Nov. 16.

Decided to table discussion about a schedule of fines for people caught riding skateboards and other vehicles on city sidewalks, especially repeat offenders. Council members said they did not think first-time offenders should be fined $25; they are now fined $10. Police Capt. Joel Rae outlined safety concerns about the safety of skateboards and others vehicles riding on city streets. Several people spoke against the ordinance, saying that skateboarding is a viable form of transportation and recreation. Others stressed the need to complete a concrete skatepark. The council decided to give area organizations such as the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, the Steamboat Springs Skate Park Alliance and parents a month to convene and discuss the issue before voting on the ordinance. The council will revisit the issue Dec. 6.

Voted 4-3 to adopt the city's 2006 budget.

-- Pilot & Today staff

In September, nine of 11 liquor stores sold alcohol to a minor during a regulated police compliance check. Since then, the council has looked at what can be done to enforce the city's policies more strictly.

The council has since added an amended guideline for suspending or revoking liquor licenses from businesses that fail compliance checks or are caught selling alcohol to minors.

The new codes state that any business that commits a first offense will automatically have its liquor license suspended for as many as 15 days, with penalties getting more severe for second and third offenses. The ordinance originally stated that licenses would be suspended from two to 15 days for a first offense. After deliberation, however, the council decided it needed more discretion in deciding what penalties businesses should face.

City Council member Loui Antonucci said he thought it was important the ordinance give the council the right to determine how many days of suspension, if any, a business receive for a first offense.

"I really believe that because we are the liquor licensing authority, that we should be the ones with the most discretion," he said.

During the first reading of the proposed ordinance Oct. 18, police Capt. Joel Rae asked the council to consider changing the language of the ordinance eliminating the punishment scale for a third offense and instead applying a harsher fourth offense penalty to any establishment cited for selling alcohol to a minor three times or more.

The City Council adopted the proposal during its first reading.

The council also decided that if a business didn't receive a second citation within 10 years of its first citation, its slate would be wiped clean.

The council also decided that businesses could avoid a suspension by paying a fine in cases meriting a license suspension of 14 days or fewer.

Several of the retail liquor store owners and restaurant owners addressed the City Council, stating that although they think the guidelines are fair, they think the community needs to acknowledge that the owners are not the only ones responsible for underage drinking.

The Bottleneck owner John Marshall told the City Council, on behalf of several owners, that stores are implementing new programs to curb the sale of alcohol to minors and that they have never purposefully sold alcohol to anyone younger than 21.

"We believe this policy of no exceptions and no excuses will set the standards. We would like to be participants and cooperate with administration to deal with the problems we face," he said. "We deal with these problems daily. We want to be part of the solution, not the problem."

Mahogany Ridge owner Charlie Noble warned the City Council that strengthening penalties might not be punishing the right people.

"We try to run a good clean business, but all it takes to fail (the compliance checks) is one person who doesn't care. There is definitely a human-error component we deal with," he said.

Resident and past Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association executive vice president Sandy Evans Hall said although she worries about her 17 year-old daughter coming home safe every night, enforcing harsher penalties on businesses won't deter underage people from obtaining and consuming alcohol.

"This extreme measure being imposed on the businesses won't change a thing. It's not fair to them," she said.

The new laws are not retroactive, meaning that businesses that failed the last round of compliance checks will not be subjected to the new punishments.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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