WALNUT CREEK -- Having already discontinued a dedicated downtown/nightspots patrol, police will not approve permits for any new mixed-drink-service bars until at least next year, as long as police staffing remains low.
Police Lt. Steve Gorski said Wednesday that the moratorium on new permits isn't a big change from recent trends. "I don't approve a lot of them anyway," he said, mentioning the denial last week of a new permit for a North Main Street business.
Still, Gorski said the new policy is the right way to go.
"I want to be transparent about it ... It does not apply to beer and wine," he said. "In 2014, we will look at this again."
In the mid-1990s, the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control determined that Walnut Creek was "saturated" with businesses that serve alcohol and assigned the responsibility of allowing more of them to the Police Department.
Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce CEO Jay Hoyer said a moratorium on new alcohol permits could have commercial ramifications.
"This issue, as it relates to downtown businesses, conjures up a negative," he said. "We have had some alcohol-related businesses downtown for years without a problem."
But there are fewer sworn officers now, police said, and more visitors to downtown. There were 80 sworn positions a few years ago, and 77 now. But the current number includes 12 officers on disability or military leave or in police academy, months away from active
However, that situation didn't dictate the alcohol permit moratorium decision, Gorski said. "It's not just staffing. It is response times, number of calls and the population increase."
Regardless, Councilwoman Kristina Lawson said she believes Walnut Creek has "a severe police staff deficiency."
"I can assure you that it is the council's No. 1 priority to see that the Police Department is fully staffed," she said.
At Tuesday night's City Council meeting, Bryden revealed his five-year strategic plan and described efforts to fill four immediate sworn-officer vacancies. A fully staffed department, he said, is integral to his plan's goals.
The council voted to consider Lawson's proposal for a public safety subcommittee at its next meeting. "It could serve as a sounding board for the chief's strategic plan and give policy guidance to a whole host of public safety issues," Lawson said Wednesday.
Said Bryden, "We have a very attractive city. A safe city and a good package, but finding qualified applicants and the competition for their services is very stiff."
Detective Mike Watson, president of the Walnut Creek Police Association, affirmed that.
"Top-quality candidates are people who have a lot of options," Watson said. "Compensation is a consideration in their decision to come here or not. Our goal is to have the best candidates."
Bryden explained that "lateral hires" from other cities are the most difficult to attract. Two recent top candidate interviewees chose Sunnyvale and Concord over Walnut Creek, reportedly for a better compensation package, he said.