More bars - Although Royal Oak's population has decreased, Royal Oak continues to add additional liquor licenses to its already over-quota liquor license inventory.
Bigger capacity of bars - Expansions, outdoor patios, and megabars has been added to Royal Oak's landscape.
Larger volume of distribution of liquor, instead of food - Royal Oak leads the County in the number of largest Class C alcohol distributing establishments by sales/volume.
More- Let's begin with defining the scope of the Liquor issue in the city of Royal Oak. The State of Michigan created a liquor license quota formula. The quota assigned to a community is used as a guide for good planning. The City Commission has the authority to exceed the quota by a majority vote. Some communities are well below their assigned liquor license quota, and many communities strictly adhere to the quota number assigned. For example, the city of Birmingham did not have any Liquor licenses at all until the 1970`s. They approved a few, and then for more than 20 years denied every new additional application. Even with a recent approval, Birmingham is still a city with far less liquor licenses than Royal Oak, and under their community's quota. Their goal is to enhance a true mixed use downtown. Few communities exceed the assigned quota number for liquor licenses. Few, if any other community in Michigan is as far over their community's liquor license quota as the city of Royal Oak.
The State of Michigan quota formula is quite simple, the State allows for 1 liquor license per 1500 residents. The 2010 census showed Royal Oak's population at approximately 57,000. That calculates to 38 liquor licenses for Royal Oak. It’s also important to note that Royal Oak also exceeds the average number of licenses based on the total number of Licenses and the population of Oakland County.
Royal Oak currently has 53 Class C type licenses, 2 approved but not open yet, and more new applications pending. This is due to the aggressive transferring of liquor licenses from other communities (importing) into our city. Each of the additional licenses was approved by a vote of the City Commission. None of them were required to be approved, and the result is that Royal Oak is 30% over State quota. Statewide, few, if any have an over-quota ratio like Royal Oak's.
Bigger- Royal Oak's reputation as Michigan's largest bar district becomes more extreme if one looks at its bar seating capacity. New terminology developed just to describe how large some of the bars really are, and the term "megabar" became a common word in Royal Oak. Royal Oak is Oakland County’s home for the large bars with big capacities. A few examples of capacity are:
Royal Oak Music Theater- 1700
Woody`s - 853
Fifth Avenue Billiards - 556
Bastone/Commune - 522
Black Finn - 401
A capacity of 150 is considered typical for a restaurant. For example, Lockhart’s capacity is about 125. For context, Royal Oak's Bistro policy limits the size of a bistro establishment to 75 seats.
Larger- Royal Oak has the dubious distinction of having 10 of the top 20 liquor selling bars in Oakland County when measured by the dollar amount of liquor purchased for resale. Bars are required to buy liquor from a state run commissary and records are available for review by the public. Some of Royal Oak`s bars purchase 10x more liquor for resale than the average bar in Oakland County. With 63 communities in Oakland County, this illustration brings glaring attention to the disproportionate quantity of megabars in our Downtown. And along with the Palace of Auburn Hills, the Casinos in Detroit, and Metro Airport, Royal Oak always has multiple entries on the list of Top Ten liquor-selling bars in the entire State! Most of the State's 83 Counties never have a bar represented on the Top Ten list, while having several Royal Oak establishments represented on the list is common.
The true definition of a restaurant is an operation that serves 80% food (minimum)/20% alcohol (maximum). If it doesn't fit under that description, it's a bar that serves some food. There are very few true restaurants remaining in our Downtown. This distinction is important because the taxpayer funded costs of public safety in the Downtown is mostly attributable to the unruly crowds that are attracted to the bars, not restaurants.
DEATH BY a THOUSAND CUTS- Unfortunately, the majority on the City Commission continues to invent ways for Royal Oak Class C license holders to increase the spigot opening for alcohol. On split votes, they have added to the problem by approvals that have been described as a "death by a thousand cuts". Since the current City Commission was seated, there has never been any request from any liquor license applicant that has been denied by the City Commission.
The following is a list of the type of approvals that have been granted since the end of the so-called golden era when Black Finn was approved.
- Expanded the service hours for alcohol sales to 7AM.
- Allowed Sunday morning liquor sales.
- Granted expansion of service days to include Christmas Day.
- Sale of alcohol at the Farmers Market for non-family oriented events (VODKA, VODKA, VODKA)
- Sale of alcohol in City parking lots (Cinco/Drinko Di Mayo)
- Sale of alcohol in City parks
- Have allowed walk-up window sales at a Downtown party store
- For the first time ever the City (ROOTS Foundation) is promoting a private drinking event on City property
- Allowed restaurants to slowly turn into clubs, by approving additional permits
- Allowed existing bars to expand size and capacity
In summary, the City Commission has added more bars, increased the occupancy of bars by several thousand seats, and allowed more drinking in each bar at the loss of food service during the era since the approval of Black Finn. Problems that were diminished during the golden era are now reappearing with alarming frequency. Keep in mind, these expansions have been granted while our Police Department has shrunk by 40%, the Attorney's Office by 50%, and the City is projected to be flat broke by 2013. Royal Oak's population also decreased by over 10% between the 2000 and 2010.
The history of Royal Oak ('90's) showed that when the City Commission allowed the drinking district to expand past the saturation point, that a dramatic increase in criminal behavior occurred along with the increase in public safety costs to control the district. It appears that we now have several warning signs that the same is happening again.
Walk thru`s- Police are now required to conduct an absurdly high number of “walk thru`s” of the bars late at night. The obvious presence and appearance of police in or near a large establishment creates a momentary deterrent effect on criminal behavior. This is good police work, but it raises the questions about the City Commission policy decisions that consequently require such an intensive and expensive policing effort.
Arrests- the City publishes a weekly crime update on its website that lists arrests made each week. Arrests are significant because they typically represent more serious crimes, and because they consume a lot of police time that takes the officers off the street. The expenditure of police time (money) occurs after an arrest with writing reports, follow up investigations, court appearances, and attention given to victims. During the week of June7-14 - There were 27 arrests in the City.18 of the arrests were either alcohol or drug related (66%). When conducting any analysis on crime, a reader may want to look at the new website employed by the City to map and chart crimes and their locations. See crimemapping.com
Experts- The city employed an expert consulting firm (ICMA) to examine the public safety departments and the service they provide. The report discusses the downtown on pages 56-59. See http://www.ci.royal-oak.mi.us/portal/sites/default/files/meetings/City%20Commission/2012/RO%20Fire%20Final%20Report.pdf
In part, the report states that “the Central business district demands a substantial amount of ROPD resources”. For example, in 2010, The ROPD responded to 1,650 calls for service in class C licensed premises. In addition, the ROPD performed 1080 extra checks and walk-throughs at these establishments”
The report recommends a separate CBD (downtown) enforcement unit to be funded in large part by CBD businesses. So far the City Commission has ignored this recommendation and has not had any meaningful discussion to have the downtown fund the extra positions.
Instead they have conducted discussions about a large millage that all of us would pay, with extra police for the Downtown hidden in the total millage request.
Everyone- needs to look at the consequences of bad policy decisions that lead all of us to underwriting more and more of the costs to police the downtown. The City Commission members who have lead us to this inequity should be the ones to solve the problem. They need to stop the pattern of mistakes that will potentially cause a public safety crisis without a citywide bailout paid by all of us.
See Footnote 1 -A brief comment on the intertwining relationship of alcohol and drugs
Michael Andrzejak email@example.com
Charles Semchena, Jr. firstname.lastname@example.org
Footnote 1 - A whole separate chapter could be written on the interaction between alcohol and drugs in our supposedly family friendly community. There are irrefutable facts connecting the two. How does an elected official reconcile the recent heroin epidemic in our city with increasing alcohol opportunities? Remember the blue ribbon Save Our Youth Task Force the Mayor served on? What did that committee do for meaningful discussion on how one affects the other in Royal Oak? Nothing! The City of Warren recently acknowledged a heroin epidemic in their town. The City of Warren's reacted swiftly by allocating additional police to fight the problem. 29 people were arrested for heroin charges within weeks in Warren. Warren had the resources to attack the problem.
Royal Oak’s weekly arrest reports commonly show that 50% of the arrests are alcohol or drug related, and often both are involved. What has Royal Oak done to address its own heroin epidemic?
They added more bars! It is sad, but true.
Next Week: The Big Lie – More bars create taxes, jobs, and growth when a city is already oversaturated with bars.