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State Senator Mark Leno: 'California Law Is Not Keeping Up With' SF's Drunk Tech Workers

Scott Lucas | March 14, 2013 | Story Politics

Bar-crawlers from the rest of the country—and the world—have to plan their nights a little differently when in San Francisco. That's because the state of California, in contrast to many other states, requires bars to stop serving alcohol at 2 AM. New York City's last call is 4 AM, and Chicago lets the good times roll until 5 on the weekends. San Francisco's state senator Mark Leno recently revived a decade-old idea to allow alcohol service until 4 in the morning.

The idea isn't to simply push back every bar's last call two hours. Rather, if passed, the bill would allow cities to issue permits for the later time in consultation with local community boards. Leno has a long history of trying to ease San Francisco's nightlife restrictions: As a member of the Board of Supervisors back in 2004, he tried to pass a very similar version of the bill. He didn't make it to the finish line that time, but he's trying again now.

But the proposal has already taken some flak.

"Our editorial board took a good look at the idea in 2004, and it made no more sense then than now," sniffed Chronicle editor John Diaz on SFGate. Today, Mayor Ed Lee told that "some would suggest that alcohol at certain hours is not the best thing combined with traffic," although he wouldn't rule out the idea entirely.

We caught up with the bill's author to see how he would respond to his critics. "You can either take John Diaz's opinion," said Leno, "or you can talk to the California Restaurant Association, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, and the SF Chamber of Commerce, all of whom support the bill and whose job it is to know what is best for their members."

Leno says that the bill is needed for several reasons. One is the increased revenue. Leno argues that tourism and entertainment bring in much needed jobs and revenue to San Francisco. "Why do we not have one late-night establishment that is in the top ten grossing venues across the country? There is not one in California."

Opponents have argued that a 4 AM last call could harm public safety, with the potential for more drunken driving incidents, to say nothing of the additional public intoxication such a law could allow. Leno claims that "no data substiantes" that argument. "If [that] concern were accurate, then one could check the statistics regarding alcohol-related traffic accidents in Chicago, New York, and Los Vegas" among other cities. "Their sky has not fallen. Their alcohol related traffic accidents are no higher [than ours.]"

Leno also says that the issue is about local control. "Why should Sacramento dictate to the leaders of our large cities what they can or cannot do with regard to late night entertainment?" The City's nightlife should take a page from the tech industry's preferred hours. "Our growing population of young tech workers don’t work 9 to 5 Monday to Friday. They work at all hours and they play at all hours. California law is not keeping up with them."

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