The Courthouse Square in downtown San Marcos on July 16. Photo by Sean Batura
A City of San Marcos task force recently concluded the extension of bar hours has had little effect city-wide besides a decrease in noise complaints and an increase in arrests for the offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI).
Taverns in San Marcos closed at midnight most days before the city, two years ago, authorized bars and restaurants to sell alcohol until 2 a.m.
According to the 13-member, city-organized Extended Bar Hours Task Force (EBHTF), DWI arrests increased 48 percent in the 12 months just after the 2 a.m. extension. In the next 12-month period (June 2010 to May 2011), DWI arrests increased 13 percent. However, the EBHTF found there is no evidence extended bar hours resulted in more intoxicated drivers.
“We have more of a police presence during the hours that are more likely to produce DWI (arrests),” said San Marcos Police Chief Howard Williams. “We’ve got guys really working on trying to get those DWIs off the street. So that’s part of it. We can’t blame the two o’clock bar closing.”
The EBHTF urged councilmembers, the police department, and residents to explore means of decreasing the amount of intoxicated drivers. Williams, an EBHTF member, said the yearly increase in DWI arrests is atypical because it does not follow a cyclical pattern.
“The numbers are clearly going up — at least in our arrests, and it is a cause of minor concern, and I think we do need to spend some time working with…interested parties to see if we can find a way to reduce some of these DWIs,” Williams said.
Councilmembers expressed their intent to find ways to offer downtown revelers easier access to transportation to reduce drunken driving.
Williams said city-wide decreases of misdemeanor assaults, aggravated assaults, physical disturbances, and sexual assaults cannot be attributed to the extension of bar hours, because the decreases were too slight or occurred in a cyclical pattern.
However, Williams attributed the steady decrease in noise complaints to the extension of bar hours and to the success of a joint city-university program called Achieving Community Together (ACT). One purpose of ACT is to get some students to be less noisy. ACT’s overall goal is to improve the quality of life in the city by fostering understanding between Texas State students and long-term San Marcos residents.
The EBHTF, in its last mandated report to councilmembers, commended tavern owners and downtown police for “making the implementation of extended bar service hours a success.”
Following the adoption of extended bar hours, 38.7 percent of the 75 businesses with alcohol-related conditional use permits in San Marcos applied for and received licenses or permits for on-premises consumption during the extended hours, according to the EBHTF.
Williams said last year the EBHTF analyzed 13 San Marcos bars and concluded they made about $1.5 million more in revenues in the 12-month period immediately following the approval of extended bar hours, compared to 12-month period just before the 2 a.m. extension. Williams said the 13 bars made more than $13 million in the 12-month period immediately after the 2 a.m. extension.
“I don’t know what their bottom line looks like, but they’re making about a million and a half more a year,” said Williams to councilmembers at a June 21 meeting.
The EBHTF found an increase in alcohol-related problems downtown, though Williams said the problems are “manageable” and “not out of hand.” Williams said there are not many alcohol-related problems inside bars because tavern managers and security personnel have “worked really well” with police.
Williams hypothesized people may be coming out of taverns in a more intoxicated state because the 2 a.m. extension allows more time to drink.
Williams said the amount of calls for police service downtown has not changed significantly since the extension of bar hours, though he said more people are congregating outside bars, and drinking alcohol on the sidewalks and on the Courthouse Square.
“These people are causing us a problem because there’s no one in control of them,” Williams said.
The city council has asked the Texas Alcoholic Beverages Commission (TABC) to issue an order prohibiting the possession of an open container of alcohol and the consumption of alcohol downtown at night during specified hours. The TABC is set to vote on the order in July.
“We have every reason to believe they will issue that order,” Willliams said.
The EBHTF is expected to present an ordinance to the city council for the enforcement of the anticipated TABC order.
The EBHTF analyzed the amount of calls for police service, citations, and arrests in three reporting periods. The first reporting period constituted 12 months immediately preceding the extension of bar hours. The second reporting period comprised the 12 months just after councilmembers approved the change. The third reporting period constituted the 12 months immediately following the second reporting period.
“When we first started this, we went and looked at other cities that had gone from 12 to two, and we tried to get data and information (from them),” said San Marcos Councilmember Chris Jones, an EBHTF member. “Bottom line is, that information was not there. No one did this type of research, no one had this type of task force.”
In November 2008, 33.6 percent of registered San Marcos voters approved a non-binding ballot proposition to adopt “extended hours” in lieu of “standard hours” for on-premise consumption of alcohol, as defined by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. Those who voted against extended hours comprised 13.6 percent of registered voters. In May 2009, councilmembers adopted extended hours with their unanimous approval of Ordinance 2009-026.
In a standard hours area, bars and restaurants may serve alcohol from 7 a.m. to midnight every day except Sunday, when they cannot serve it between 1 a.m. and 10 a.m. In an extended hours area, bars and restaurants can serve alcohol from 7 a.m. until 2 a.m. every day except Sunday, when they cannot serve it between 2 a.m. and 10 a.m.
According to the EBHTF:
• The amount of DWI arrests increased by 48 percent in the 12 months after Ordinance 2009-026. DWI arrests increased by 13 percent in the following 12 months.
• The amount of citations issued for minor in possession of alcohol decreased by four percent in the 12 months after the ordinance and increased by 38 percent in the following 12 months.
• The amount of calls for verbal disturbances decreased by less than one percent in the 12 months after the ordinance and increased by four percent in the following 12 months.
• The amount of arrests for public intoxication increased by 18 percent in the 12 months after the bar hours extension ordinance, and then decreased by 24 percent in the next 12 months.
• Reports of aggravated assaults increased by 21 percent in the 12 months after the ordinance, and decreased by 32 percent in the following 12 months.
• Reports of sexual assaults increased by 34 percent in the 12 months after the ordinance and decreased by 37 percent in the next 12 months.
• Reports of misdemeanor assaults increased by 15 percent in the 12 months after the ordinance and decreased by 33 percent in the following 12 months.
• The amount of noise complaints to police decreased by 17 percent in the 12 months after the ordinance and decreased by eight percent in the next 12 months.
• The amount of calls for physical disturbances decreased by five percent in the 12 months after the ordinance and increased by one percent in the next 12 months.