If history repeats itself, why make the same mistakes?

A historical perspective of Downtown Royal Oak regarding budgetary and resource straining issues in the '90’s

In order to look forward, we need to review and learn from the past.  A good starting point is to compare and contrast Royal Oak’s downtown in the '90`s with today. This exercise is important because the City was faced with identical challenges in the '90`s when the City Commission lost control of some of the liquor license establishments in the Downtown and were forced to waste money and resources to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on police enforcement in an attempt to protect the public. We need to look at the City`s limited resources, and available tools used to react to the drunk and disorderly issues, the exponential increase in criminal activities and fighting in the Downtown, then and now. One of the objectives of the City Commission back then, was to create a vibrant City that included a balanced mixture of retail/office/residential and restaurants (with Class C liquor licenses), but to make sure that new and additional problems did not escalate due to the drinking component within the mixed use downtown.

At first, the City Commission reacted to the symptom, not the disease. They spent money dealing with the drunks, not the establishments over serving the drinks. The costs incurred included, but are not limited to, the hiring of more police, police overtime, ambulance runs, and lawsuits filed by those arrested after drunken assaultive behavior. The money spent did not solve the problem. It was only after intelligent and well thought out policy changes by the City Commission that the Downtown was calmed and the wasted expenditure of tax money being used to pay police to babysit and deal with obnoxious, out-of-hand drunken patrons of the Downtown diminished.

THEN NOW The population was about 67,000 The population is about 57,000 (14% decrease) Over 110 Sworn Police Officers Only 67 Sworn Police Officers (40% increase) Direct Patrol Unit (DPU) 5-6 man undercover unit on special assignments such as underage stings,  over serving, drug distribution,  and other crimes and violations in the bars DPU Disbanded Deputy Police Chief who oversaw Downtown Deputy Police Chief position eliminated 36 Class C type Liquor Licenses 52 Class C type Liquor Licenses  (40% Increase) Fully Staffed City Attorney Office, with 4 full time Attorneys + 1 part time , and legal secretaries, to address legal issues from downtown liquor community  
Skeleton City Attorney Office Staff and limited budget for fighting legal issues arising from abundance of  liquor and bar related problems and Class C holders (over 50% decrease) Spent over $300K in one budgeted year on police OT spent to calm the then hotspot at 4th & Lafayette
Still paying OT for Police service but does not have the funds without deficit spending to calm the new hotspots on 5th Avenue, and at Main and 6th, and Main and 11 Mile Commission did not allow "all you can drink" party busses to drop off 100's of additional drunks off  downtown City Commission now encourages this activity by refusing toregulate and failing to enforce laws Liquor License transfer Moratorium Adopted Liquor License transfer Moratorium rejected by Commission (on premise they would control the licenses) Later, a Liquor Ordinance was adopted intended to  Limit liquor licenses. The ordinance was followed by the City  Commission for years The Liquor Ordinance intended to limit licenses is now ignored by the City Commission Recommendations by the last 4 Police Chiefs to deny applications for additional liquor licenses was followed by the City Commission
The current Police Chief's recommendations are regularly ignored by the City Commission Downtown experience phenomenal growth in new non-liquor related businesses, residential units, and increased tax base during the period of moratorium and adherence to the ordinance that limits liquor licenses

Non Liquor related businesses are finding it harder stay in business downtown due to bar traffic, crime and higher premium bar-rate rents imposed by landlords forcing them to flee the downtown or the city entirely.
Commission balanced its budget during liquor moratorium and when the City limited liquor licenses

Commission relies on unsustainable deficit spending to pay for policing of the bars

The City Commission adopted the changes and recommendations from the THEN column, the most important being a moratorium on additional liquor licenses, and amendments to local laws that were designed to limit the number of licenses and to compel the license holders to control their establishments. The Commission stopped approving more bars, and required the existing ones to be accountable. True restaurants (80% food/20% alcohol ratio) were encouraged instead of the bars whose primary objective was to sell as much liquor as possible to the barely over 21 year olds crowd late at night. Restaurants competed with each other based on the quality of food and service, not based on the Happy Hours, shot specials, sponsoring all-u-can drink bus tours, or 3 day parking lot drinking festivals.

A golden era -The changes worked and the Downtown entered a so-called "golden era" of growth along with dramatically reduced policing costs. Residents, businesses, and other property owners were no longer funding the policing costs created by the bars. Voluntary compliance of laws and rules by liquor license establishments was at an all-time high. Efforts to calm the Downtown were successful and reduced the need for expensive targeted police patrols. Special overtime patrols assigned to the downtown were eliminated. New real estate development flourished and the net increase in tax base was phenomenal. Of course, there are many economic factors that contributed to this progress. The successful effort to create a balanced Mixed Use downtown was one of them. The golden era lasted until about the mid-2000`s.

A different era - It is significant to note the City Commissions approval of the Black Finn license (now one of the highest volume liquor distributors in the county) in the mid-2000`s was the beginning of a “different era” where the Liquor Ordinance, Master Plan, and Police Chief's recommendations were ignored. This was the catalyst for the beginning of a new era. Since then there has been significant growth in liquor related problems that continue to plague Downtown especially late at night. More liquor licenses were approved, expansions of existing bars were allowed, restaurants were allowed to turn into bars. Even all-u-can drink party buses are now allowed. The golden era came to an abrupt end.

These are but a few of the glaring comparisons that put this issue in proper context. It should be noted some in City Hall and on the City Commission either DO NOT have, or ignore, the historic perspective of what the City has already been through in dealing with an unruly Downtown. Obviously, we can learn from the past, if we are aware of the past.

In the '90’s -  The City spent a tremendous amount of time, energy, money, legal work, staff time, community involvement and input to help calm the Downtown when things were getting uncontrollable and crime was escalating. (Note the drive-by shooting at 4th and Lafayette) There were constant complaints from the surrounding ring neighborhood residents that were being affected by the public drunkenness, urination, fights, littering, loitering and noise all as a result of the downtown bar district. But then, unlike now, the city had the tools and resources and MONEY to combat these problems. Today the City is NOT in a position to effectively calm a similar situation and has no affective plan on how they will address the brewing situation downtown.

So to summarize, the City has lost nearly 40% of its Police force, has lost more than half of its Legal Department, has an insufficient fund balance, little historic perspective, and nearly 40% more bars! A recipe for major problems that could destroy our vibrant downtown, without solutions!

The moratorium was successful in the 90's and helped calm/quiet the problems. Opponents argued that a moratorium would shut down development and business in Royal Oak but just the opposite happened, Royal Oak flourished!

Since then, as an inventive and manageable alternative to Mega-Bars, the Bistro License option (small restaurants that emphasize food, not booze) was initiated by those who saw the problems created by liquor license imports and Mega-Bars. But instead of encouraging only the trouble free bistros, the City Commission continues to approve more bars.

Now, when anyone objects to the Commission’s bad decision making, they are attacked and portrayed as "anti-growth/progress or jobs” or they are “Puritans” which is completely inaccurate. This attack assumes that more bars than we already have can actually provide benefits in an amount that is quantifiable, identifiable, and greater than the increased expenses for public safety and other negative consequences created by a drinking district. They argue that the only way to keep the City vibrant is to approve more capacity for drinking. After a long and careful business like analysis, it is more accurate to say that we are pro-community and “anti-bad-planning"!  The universe of all businesses includes thousands of different types in Royal Oak. The planning and decision making that occurs should benefit all, not just a few new liquor license applicants. The decision making  process should not hide or ignore all the consequences or all the costs the rest of us will be asked to pay due to drinking related problems.    

In the late '90's, the City Commission recognized and acknowledged the problems. They decided to address the problem by prevention instead of wasting huge amounts of money on police enforcement and then paying for these costs on by increasing property taxes on others. They were unwilling to pull police out of the neighborhoods to service the bar crowds. They acted in the best interest of the City, and were pro-active in taking measures to control the problems instead of being oblivious to them.

Michael Andrzejak               roprotem@aol.com
Charles Semchena, Jr.         csemchena@wowway.com

Next week:  Ignoring The Master Plan

Exhibits: Liquor Ordinance - Statement of Purpose  http://ecode360.com/8261080#8261083

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Bill July 16, 2012 at 04:27 PM
I have more trust in these guys observations than most of the people who comment on here, who don't have the benefit of the same background that these guys have.
Ronald Wolf July 22, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Rick the problem is not where the license comes from. If a restaurant can find one cheaper on the Michigan open market which is likely these days the professional gamblers who purchased licenses in hope of flipping them at a higher price at the expense of a family trying to obtain one for a small bistro should bite the bullet, I bet you a dozen donuts that the majority of the owners of "escrowed" Royal Oak liquor licenses do not even live in the city.
Rick Karlowski July 22, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Ron - That was my point. The problem I had with the moratorium language was that it ALLOWED new establishment to open with an escrow license. It just precluded any transfers. If the issue was limited resources to police new establishments, why only ban transfers?
Ronald Wolf July 23, 2012 at 01:59 AM
Rick I misunderstood, my apology. We both basically agree on the inequity of the present changes favoring costly and money making for those that hold those escrowed licenses. I have no doubt the holders of older licenses that have lost their value have influenced the council in an attempt to both maintain the value of their licenses, and make it difficult for competition. As a result we almost lost Gemmayze, a restaurant bar with a perfect balance of great food (try their leg of lamb osso busco style), and fine wines besides cocktails.
Ronald Wolf July 23, 2012 at 02:15 AM
From what I hear you can learn a lot about being a better criminal in a prison Bill, politics is also an ongoing process of education by experience on how to make the best of the system for: -a) yourself b) your constituents. If you picked (b) you are an optomist.


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