Man foresees alcohol problems in La Jolla

Editor’s note:

This is the second part of our story about a Pacific Beach man’s effort to rein in the number of liquor licenses issued by requiring businesses to also get conditional use permits.

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

Pacific Beach is oversaturated with liquor licenses and La Jolla is next, says Jerry Hall, who contends that alcohol-related problems stemming from an overabundance of liquor licenses are spreading.

He recently said Mike’s, the new restaurant/club venue that set to open on Halloween at 7863 Girard Ave. where Jack’s used to be is a case in point. But the owner calls it an exaggeration.

Hall says his goal is to convince local government to enact new laws to require businesses serving alcohol to get a conditional use permit — setting forth specific operating conditions — from here on out.

Though PB and La Jolla are quite different demographically and culturally, he contends they share one thing: They’re both susceptible to the creeping social and criminal impacts of the growing proliferation of liquor licenses. “

Mike’s has plans for seven bars and a nightclub,” claims Hall. “Jack’s (its predecessor) had lots of problems with sound with local neighbors. “They’re (Mike’s) going to open up their patio windows at nighttime and everybody’s going to scream out. They say they’re not going to be a beach bar, but a bar is a bar is a bar. If it’s in La Jolla, it means it’s going to attract a lot more people that aren’t a good fit.”

Mike Viscuso, a La Jollan and a downtown San Diego nightclub owner who is redeveloping the site, said Hall’s claims are an exaggeration. He said he intends to be a good neighbor, adding that his business model, though along the same lines as Jack’s was, will be different — and better.

In negotiating his new lease, Viscuso said he spent hours with the chief of police discussing operating conditions for his new establishment because “I wanted his blessing” before he invested heavily in a redevelopment project that will bring in lots of jobs. He added he’s also not a neophyte when it comes to owning and operating successful restaurant-bar establishments.

“I’ve lived here in La Jolla 20 years and I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” he said. “My corporate offices are going to be there. The last thing I want to do is put music outside that will create a noise and a police problem. It (music) will all be indoors.”

Viscuso said the claim of the number of bars he’s going to have is a distortion.

“I’m actually going to have one less bar than Bill Berkley (Jack’s owner) had,” he said. “We’re going to enhance this corner which is desperately needed in La Jolla, which is beginning to look like a ghost town.”

Jennifer Hill, the district administrator of the San Diego office of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), the state agency regulating alcohol in California, noted Mike’s pending liquor license application is “under investigation.”

“It’s still open,” she added. “We haven’t made a determination to approve or deny it.”

“Jack’s license being there right before it does lend credence to allowing another license there,” she said, adding, “Every license is judged on its own merits. But the history of the license, the ownership, those are some of the things we look at.”

Ben Tashakorian, an investor in Barfly/Aroma, a sports bar and bakery that recently opened at 909 Prospect St., agreed Pacific Beach has an overabundance of liquor licenses and that it’s a problem. But he said trying to compare a youthful PB beach bar with a high-end La Jolla nightclub is really apples and oranges.

“We have an upscale crowd with a dress code spending $10 to $15 on a drink: It’s a little bit more elite,” he said. “This isn’t the rowdy PB bar crowd coming in in torn jeans and T-shirts to buy drinks for $2 or $3.”

The fact that La Jolla’s bars are pricier and their clientele is more upscale doesn’t immunize the community from the problems liquor license proliferation breeds, argues Hall.

“Money and prestige does not stop the alcohol industry,” he said. “It allows them to slip under the radar even easier. You have a La Jolla resident who is establishing bars downtown now coming to La Jolla to do the same thing. It’s just not appropriate — and I’m not sure the community even knows about it.”