A policy to freeze the city’s business curfew in place for a two-year period was put-off by the city council on Tuesday evening.
The council held a discussion with the city’s police leadership to determine whether to enact a resolution that would halt the subtraction of hot spot zones for a two-year period in order to allow the police department to measure changes in crime rate at the 15 designated curfew zones.
“We have the two years’ worth of data to go forward, we don’t have the two year worth of data to subtract,” explained police director Jerry Speziale. He said the city has data to expand the business curfew, but it does not have the necessary data to lift the curfew in certain areas.
Speziale said at present, with little more than six-month worth of data, the city does not have reliable crime statistics that reflect seasonal changes. Some council members agreed with the director’s position.
“We’ve gone through the winter, we’re going through spring, we have to get through summer,” said Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman. She said city blocks are already filling up with people due to the mildly warm weather outside.
Bar owners who have challenged a piece of the business curfew that imposes midnight closing on liquor license holders oppose the measure. “We cannot survive another month, and obviously not another year,” said Quilvio Montesino, owner of Quilvio’s Pub.
Montesino and others have been anxiously waiting to hear from the courts, while campaigning to potentially overturn the business curfew which anecdotal data suggests has improved quality of life in designated zones. In fact, the bar and liquor store owners have enlisted council members to their cause that prompted the administration of mayor Jose “Joey” Torres to bring forth the business curfew freeze.
Council members Alex Mendez and Julio Tavarez have been at the forefront of a campaign to weaken the business curfew ordinance by creating exemptions.
William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, said he opposes the two-pronged approach the bar owners have been undertaking. “We can’t go on two tracks at the same time,” said McKoy. “Your venue are the courts.”
McKoy said the city cannot negotiate with the bar owners when there’s a pending lawsuit in the court system. Ben David-Seligman said the lawyers representing the bar and liquor store owners could talk to the city’s lawyer if a negotiation must happen.
Last week, McKoy said he did not believe the bleak financial picture the liquor store owners were painting. He sought financial records from the businesses to prove to the council that just three hours of business is costing them considerable amount of revenue.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, also said he would like to see financial records from the businesses that are claiming they are losing a large portion of their revenue. Morris was not present during Tuesday’s discussion.
Montesino brought folders of financial records for the council, but there were no takers. “I don’t think it’s appropriate,” said McKoy when Montesino offered to allow council members to see the losses businesses have been sustaining.
The financial records were tax reports to the state, said Montesino, to assert the reliability of the numbers. The data revealed staggering losses for bar owners: J+B Bar and Liquor’s revenue went from $104,000 in the last quarter of 2013 to $60,000 in the beginning quarter of 2014. Montesino’s bar’s revenue went from $146,000 to $105,000 during the same period.
About half-dozen businesses have so far closed under the business curfew, according to bar and liquor store owners. Some place the number of shuttered businesses at more than a dozen, but Montesino was only able to point out five businesses that have closed so far and he said several others are on the shuttering road.
Chairman of the public safety committee Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman, said the resolution will likely be revisited. An ardent supporter of the curfew Akhtaruzzaman was not present during the meeting. He said council members are likely seeking more information before acting on the measure.
“We just don’t want to rush into something,” said Akhtaruzzaman. “This is something very serious.”