Liquor businesses seek safe harbor
Steamboat Springs — Business owners are seeking changes to the city’s liquor license ordinance that would afford the businesses safe harbor if they failed a liquor compliance check.
The safe harbor issue came up at a Steamboat Springs Liquor Licensing Authority meeting Thursday. The Steamboat Springs City Council is the city’s liquor licensing authority.
City Councilman Towny Anderson has in the past asked the council to consider a safe harbor, which would give a business that acts responsibly with alcohol policies a reprieve from criminal prosecution or liquor license suspension after a violation.
Several business owners who have failed police department compliance checks in recent months have argued that it is unfair for them to be held responsible for an employee’s actions if the business owners had taken proper steps to educate the employee.
Because Anderson and Councilman Loui Antonucci were absent from Thursday’s meeting, the City Council decided to table further discussion of the safe harbor until its Sept. 7 meeting.
Council did take public comment Thursday.
Gondola Liquors owner Kay Stuart said she thought a safe harbor was appropriate for businesses that were responsible in their training of employees and consistency in checking for IDs.
“I think it’s possible to create very strict policies for all of our businesses to comply with so we’re all consistent in our training and selling of alcohol,” she said. “If these businesses were successful in having employees complete these (training) programs, then they should be eligible for safe harbor.”
Representatives from the Ore House Restaurant and Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant echoed Stuart’s sentiment.
But Sandy Visnack, executive director of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, said adding a safe harbor clause to the ordinance was counterproductive.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the last year to raise the awareness of how much underage drinking goes on in this community,” she said. “Now is not the time to go backwards. We need to stay steadfast in the movement and with the progress we’ve had.”
Community member John Long agreed.
“I raised my kids in this community,” Long said. “I saw the excessive drinking at the high school. As the liquor license authority, it is your responsibility to decide who distributes alcohol in this community.
“The buck stops with you guys. The businesses are asking you for special consideration, I would ask you to hold them to a higher standard.”
Steamboat Springs Public Safety Director J.D. Hays told the council that creating a safe harbor would take away the incentive for business owners to ID because they wouldn’t face punishment if they took proactive measures to prevent the sale of alcohol to a minor.
“I don’t know where the incentive is if you don’t hold their finger to the fire,” he said.
Council President Ken Brenner said he was reluctant to change the city’s current policy based on the increasing rates in compliance, but would be open for discussion.
“I’m not committed one way or another,” he said. “Right now I’d side with (city staff) because clearly what we’re doing has helped the situation.”
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Steamboat Springs has produced nearly 100 winter Olympians, more than any other town in North America. That fact is everywhere, plastered on websites and informational boards across town.