Just how much sizzle and how late should alcoholic beverages be served is what's being debated by the Downtown Hospitality Guidelines Task Force. No one wants to return to the honky-tonk days of the 1960s and '70s when bars filled the downtown along with numerous Saturday night street fights. But no one wants to see the sidewalks rolled up at 10 p.m., which downtown critics say is happening now.
The task force was created by the Pleasanton City Council last October at the request of the Pleasanton Downtown Association, which long has been grappling with concerns that there's too little nightlife here and that rules allowing music, dancing and late night alcoholic beverages are too strict.
Its goal is to develop more lenient, uniform rules for downtown businesses that serve food, alcohol or simply want to feature live entertainment and music during business hours in their retail locations.
At a committee meeting of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce last week, Laura Olson, the mother of two toddlers and the executive director of the Pleasanton Downtown Association, said she'd like to see more piano bars downtown where she and her husband could spend a quiet night out without the kids. At the same meeting, former Councilwoman Sharrell Michelotti recalled the more lively days of dancing on the tables, although she never said she was one of the dancers. Both agreed that what the entertainment committee is proposing are nighttime activities that will be less exotic than table dancing but more lively than a piano bar.
All at the Chamber meeting agreed that Pleasanton's downtown needs to be livelier, especially after 10 p.m. when most bars and restaurants quit serving alcohol unless they have conditional use permits issued by the city government. Those can be costly and require considerable time in gaining approval, including public hearings before the city Planning Commission and even the City Council if they're controversial. It took Mari Kennard six months before she was able to open Redcoats on St. John Street and she was still restricted to fewer late night hours than Barone's a block away.
In fact, Barone's, Redcoats, Main Street Brewery and Hap's are among the few that have permits to have live music and serve alcohol into the late night hours on Fridays and Saturdays. For those that don't, most close at 10 p.m., including many restaurants.
PDA President Mike Hosterman said he picked up his wife Jennifer (the mayor) from the airport a few nights ago and they passed through downtown looking for a late-night sandwich. They had to continue on to the TGIF restaurant farther north on Santa Rita Road to find a meal.
That's what the Downtown Entertainment task force wants to change. By allowing any business in the downtown corridor to serve alcohol and have live music or a DJ at least until 11 p.m. with no special conditional use permit required, Olson believes more restaurants would stay open later and attract more late night customers to downtown Pleasanton.
Live or electric amplified music is a concern of some whose homes are on downtown side streets or along the east side of First Street. Although they've learned to handle the crowds, neighborhood parking and the loud noise during the summertime's Friday night Concerts in the Park, they don't want more. A restaurant in the old railroad station building at Neal and First streets closed several years ago when it was ordered to move its patio DJ and dances inside, even on hot summer nights.
The same neighbors successfully blocked the city's consideration of an outdoor skating rink during the winter months at First and Angela streets because of concerns over noise and parking in their neighborhood.
Noise levels at 60 dBA (decibels) have been allowed in the downtown area without special use permits. But to accommodate louder late night live and amplified dance music, the task force is suggesting raising those levels to 78 dBAs between 8 a.m. and 10 or 11 p.m. in the Main Street Core zone, and to 70 dBAs from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Transition zone. Non-amplified music would be permitted at all hours until 11 p.m. anywhere in the core downtown area.
Nor are all the objections to changes in the downtown district entertainment policies limited to residents. Joe Barone was surprised when he found the committee's "Core Zone" for permit-free late night entertainment excluded his restaurant although Handle's and the Rose Hotel next door were in that zone.
"If someone had told us that our restaurant would be in a transitional zone, we wouldn't be here," Joe Barone told a meeting of the Downtown Hospitality Guidelines task force earlier this month, with his wife Maricela at his side. "Are we being punished because we didn't buy Main Street properties?"
Later, the task force redrew the lines to include the Barone's restaurant and home in Core zone.
As it is now, properties along Peters Avenue and those fronting on Ray, Spring and First streets in the downtown district will be in the Transition zone, where businesses of all types will still be required to seek conditional use permits for any entertainment activities after 10 p.m.
"We're not trying to be like Livermore or Walnut Creek," Olson told the Chamber meeting. "We want to build downtown Pleasanton as an entertainment destination by enhancing the hospitality within our commercial district."
The Downtown Hospitality Guidelines task force plan, which is still a work in progress with at least three more discussion sessions yet to come, will eventually go to the city Planning Commission and then the City Council for approval as a Downtown Specific Plan amendment. Both Olson of the PDA and Pamela Ott, the city's economic development director who also directs the task force meetings, see the multi-faceted guidelines as a plan to be implemented over the next five years.
"Our vision concepts include increasing vitality in a manner compatible with downtown residents and with safety," Ott said.
She said that the preliminary drafts that are updated after each meeting with a host of blue lines and yellow highlighted lines marking the suggested changes could be in final form by June.
"This plan calls for more opportunities for nightlife that's reflective of the composition of the community, a place where authenticity and historic character are retained, with core service establishments for residents and an inviting business mix with more to do, and more choices of where to go at night," Ott said.
"Let me add, however, these concepts are still just concepts and have not been formally recommended by the task force," Ott explained. "I expect more discussion at the (next) meeting on all the key elements of the guidelines and so some of the standards could change."
The most recent version of the task force document will be considered at the group's next meeting, starting at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, May 3, in the city's Operations Service Center, 3333 Busch Road. The meetings are open to the public and comments are welcome.