Talkin' Alcohol Policy
State officials open up to questions from local service industry professionalsLocal NewsTuesday, December 1, 2015
Local restaurant and hotel owners and employees were able to put faces to the names behind the state’s Alcohol and Gaming Division, regulatory and police enforcement at a paneled Q&A discussion at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center this afternoon.
A joint operation between the Greater Santa Fe Restaurant Association and government officials, the event aimed to allow service industry workers the opportunity to voice concerns over state law and enforcement tactics used by the Special Investigations Unit, formerly known as the State Investigation Division, as well as ask any questions about state policy or law.
Those special investigators are infamous among service industry vets as the organization behind sting operations that involve the underaged attempting to obtain booze, but this coming together of key officials seems to herald a new focus on community cooperation.
“For many years we were seen as the enemy,” New Mexico State Police Captain Suzanne Skasik told the room of approximately 30. “We’re trying to find the balance between enforcement and education.”
“I believe that these people’s intentions are genuine and they’ve been very helpful to us,” Sam Gerberding, association president and general manager of Del Charro and Inn of the Governors, tells SFR. “Just to bring all these people together and start this conversation…that was very successful.”
And though all exchanges between officials and service professionals were respectful, the overall subtext was one of frustration and muted fear.
“Say someone has been out at another bar and just starting to get their party on or drinking in a parking lot before they come in to my establishment,” Skylight co-owner Joe Ray Sandoval queried. “Can we be cited for intoxicated people in our bar who drank beforehand?”
Skasik admitted that she did not have an appropriate answer for this particular question, but did state that SIU is beholden to stringent operations policies.
“We have to be able to show presumptive evidence in our reports,” she said. “We have to be able to show that the server knew the person was already intoxicated.”
Other questions with unfortunately vague answers included the difference between wine and beer sales, police response times in regards to intoxicated patrons attempting to drive, a painfully slow picnic license application process, outdated server’s license classes and the potential for owner and server education.
In the end, however, it was obvious that the wheels of government turn slowly and the vast majority of complications fall squarely on the shoulders of the businesses themselves. Cab use has dropped drastically, according to county DWI official Peter Olson, but he hopes that $5 rides during the holidays will spark greater numbers. Olson also pointed to Uber as a viable non-driving option.
But that’s not quite enough for Sandoval to rest easy.
“Yeah, it’s important to know who these entities are and we all have a lot of questions, but the laws are still heavily flawed,” Sandoval adds at the day's end. “After a certain point it becomes way more about public safety than anything else and we just can’t take the risk on principal, as a business, but also just as people.”
Sandoval suggested possible overnight parking in the city’s Sandoval Street parking garage but was ultimately told it was unviable. He’s also attempted to remain open until 3 am and offer a limited food menu, but due to the attached liquor license of his space, he cannot legally do so.
“We stop serving alcohol at 1:30 am, so that would be 90 minutes for people to keep dancing and exercise that alcohol out of their system or maybe eat a burger or something,” he says. “I don’t see a downside for anyone but us.”
Spirits were high following the meeting, and the general consensus from both sides was that an unprecedented coming together of these groups is a great first step. Outdated policy and confusing rhetoric aside, it does at least seem as if good things are in the works. Of course, before then it would probably be wise for all you bar folk to keep checking those IDs and not selling to obviously drunk people.