Commissioner’s proposal of earlier ‘last call’ on alcohol fails

A bid to again review the hours in which hundreds of Palm Beach County businesses are allowed to sell alcohol was shot down last week.

County Commissioner Paulette Burdick sought to curtail post-midnight alcohol sales citing two tragedies.

If Palm Beach County had barred businesses from selling alcohol in the hours before the sun rises, maybe Kassandra Morales, a mother of two who was gunned down in April at the La Isla del Encanto nightclub, would still be alive, Burdick suggested while holding up a newspaper article.

Maybe even Scott Wilson, the 23-year-old who was killed by a drunk driver in Wellington eight years ago, Burdick added.

Related: Alcohol sales spur Wellington to pull Palm Beach Polo soccer permit

Couple that with a chance to lower the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s budget, and that’s reason enough, the commissioner said, to have “last call” yelled out a couple hours earlier — maybe 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. — in unincorporated Palm Beach County.

Rules say businesses can not sell alcohol between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. in unincorporated Palm Beach County.

Joseph Ianno Jr., speaking for the Palm Beach Kennel Club, told the commissioners making that change would have a “disastrous” impact on business.

Related: Boca considers new alcohol-sale hours ban… would it hurt businesses?

Luke Lirot, representing the Cheetah Club and Spearmint Rhino Gentlemen’s Club, said a domino effect of economic losses would hit the entire industry.

Other smaller business owners, from a neighborhood bar to a gas station, said they’d have to lay off employees.

Their statements were sobering enough that the six other county commissioners told Burdick, that while they appreciate her passion and research, they don’t want to make the rules more strict.

“I’m very reluctant to put people out of business and take away livelihoods that people have become used to,” said Commissioner Hal Valeche.

Alcohol sales first came up at a July 2017 commission meeting where Burdick expressed her concerns. Staff has been researching the topic since.

Of the 718 businesses in the suburban areas of the county with a license from the Department of Business Professional Regulation Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, 428 are required to close by 11 p.m. and 198 are not restricted and can be open 24 hours a day.

Burdick, pointing to statistics from the sheriff’s office, said if the hours were limited, calls for service would decline, resulting in a decrease in the office’s budget.

A county staff analysis of calls for service made to places within 250 feet of businesses licensed to sell alcohol found a 72 percent decrease in calls beginning at 5 a.m. compared to the hour before. Also, 38 percent of the calls in a 24-hour day are made between midnight and 5 a.m.

Several municipalities in the county, including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach and Lake Worth ban alcohol sales from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. West Palm Beach allows establishments to serve alcohol until 3 a.m.

Lirot and Ianno questioned the data. Lirot said there is no clear correlation between the calls for service and the sale of alcohol. Ianno said the decrease in calls in that area could be because customers already left the businesses and are elsewhere.

Commissioner Mary Lou Berger described Burdick’s proposed changes as “drastic” and “overreaching.” She said stricter hours might not even have an effect on safety.

“People are people and people are going to do what they want to do,” she said.

Staff writer Lulu Ramadan contributed to this story.

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