PATERSON, NJ – Confronted by complaints from crime-weary residents, the City Council Tuesday night said it would review other cities’ laws regulating the operating hours of liquor stores and bars.
People from four of the cities’ six wards spoke during the public portion of the council meeting to urge municipal officials to stem the violence that plagues Paterson. Many of them suggested the council adopt an ordinance that would set earlier closing hours for bars and liquor stores, which residents say have become magnets for late-night trouble.
“How many of our children need to die in the City of Paterson before we do something?’’ asked 1st Ward resident Michele Tobias. She said she goes to a neighborhood liquor store to buy lottery tickets, but only does so early in the day. “I can’t go in the evening because I’m too afraid to walk our streets.’’
“Drug and alcohol abuse plague this city,’’ asserted another resident, Jamie Bland. “We have nothing but reckless behavior. By the time 12 o’clock comes, they’re transformed.’’
Tuesday was the first city council meeting since a 30-year-old man was shot in the head and killed at Arcoiris Sport Bar on Market Street, the second homicide at that business in less than two years. Several of the residents cited that incident and said they couldn’t understand why the city allows the bar to remain open for business. (The city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has a hearing scheduled on Arcoiris on September 12.)
City officials repeatedly have said they have limited authority over the operating hours for Paterson’s liquor stores and bars. That power rests with the state Alcohol Beverage Control board, according to Councilman Kenneth Morris.
“By God, I wish we had the power people think we have,’’ said Council President Anthony Davis. “If I were a genie, I would change the whole climate of individuals in this city.’’
Officials said Paterson would have more control over alcohol businesses if the city had an official population of more than 150,000. That would make it a “first-class” city under state law, a designation that provides addition municipal authority, officials said. Paterson’s attempt to regulate operating hours for alcohol businesses lost in a court challenge several years ago, officials said.
But two city activists, Quincy Battis of the 4th Ward and Teddy Martinez of the 1st Ward, challenged that assertion, insisting the information provided by council members was not accurate. They pointed out that many municipalities shut down their liquor stores by 10 pm, hours earlier than does Paterson. They also said that cities smaller than Paterson, including Passaic and East Orange, have ordinances setting their own operating hours for bars and liquor stores.
In response to those assertions, the council asked its legal staff to research the ordinances in Passaic and East Orange to see whether Paterson could follow the example of those cities.