OBSERVATORY’S struggle to keep its unruly liquor trade under control received another blow recently when the Woodstock police failed to send residents’ letters of objection to Subcouncil 15 in time for the routine annual consideration of the pool bar Stones’s special permission to trade until 4am.
The objection letters, which were sent to the police station, did not make it to the Subcouncil meeting despite the fact that they were all submitted in time.
At the meeting, local councillors Brett Herron and Paddy Chapple voiced their concerns and said they would lay a formal complaint at the Western Cape police ombudsman.
Mr Herron said he will also formally complain to the Woodstock community police forum (CPF).
The matter was postponed to next month’s subcouncil meeting.
The fiasco exposed the fact that the Woodstock police do not have a specialist liquor officer as required by law. For years, a sergeant Nicholas Prins handled liquor licencing issues even though he did not have the required rank (warrant officer or higher) for the task. But even he has been deployed elsewhere for the past year, leaving the station without anyone to control the heavy liquor trade in the precinct.
The Woodstock Police had apparently sent the community’s objections against Stones’ trading hours to the Liquor Authority, the wrong agency. The City deals with trading hours, not the Liquor Authority.
Stones is the only club allowed to trade until 4am in Observatory. The special permission was granted a few years ago when concerns over the liquor trade in Observatory were less pronounced.
The 4am extension is a major disruptive force in Observatory. It means that the nightly party in the Lower Main Road entertainment strip does not stop at 2am, when all the other establishments close. Instead, a drunken migration ensues when patrons leave the closing bars and head towards Stones to continue the party.
For this year’s annual renewal application by Stones for the continuation of its 4am closing time, the Observatory Civic Association (OCA), the Obs community-police forum, Stones’ immediate neighbours and the Observatory Improvement District (Obsid) submitted formal objections to the Woodstock police in the hope that the objections would be sent to the appropriate authority, in this case Subcouncil 15.
Although the matter has been postponed to next month’s Subcouncil meeting for consideration, and despite the community’s objections against Stones’ extended trading hours, chances are slim that the City will withdraw the permission.
So far, the authorities, including the City and the Liquor Tribunal, have tended to withdraw licences and permissions from bars and clubs only if very serious events occur, such as the collapse of the staircase at a bar in Khayelitsha which led to the death of eight people.
In Observatory, liquor licenses have only ever been withdrawn from Mezani, a drug den in Main Road, after no fewer than five drug busts on the premises. Even then, it took loud complaints from the community to spur the Liquor Authority to even put the case onto the agenda of the Liquor Tribunal.
Also the City, which governs trading hours and noise complaints, tend to favour the right of the liquor trader over the rights of residents. Broad arguments such drunken patrons and noise in the early hours have not been enough in the past. The authorities seem to require officials records of brawls and criminality.
This is where the Stones case has exposed another law-enforcement weakness in Obs. When asked about whether Stones’ trading hours is a problem, both the police and the Obsid agree, but neither agency have been able to produce a record of disturbances.
The owners of Stones did not return requests for comment.