SOUTH SALT LAKE When City Council member Rea Goddard ran for public office two years ago, she pledged to help clean up her small but busy city.
But she faced tremendous odds: South Salt Lake has the valley's highest number of bars per resident, two-thirds of its residents are apartment dwellers, and about 20 personnel were recently cut from the public safety department due to changes in sales tax law.
Goddard also had to fight history. Between 2002 and 2006, South Salt Lake had the highest number of violent crimes per resident of any city in the state. It also saw the second-highest occurrence of property crime among Utah cities. And eight years ago, an annexation to the city almost doubled its number of alehouses.
But South Salt Lake may be gaining ground. Just last week, the city changed its alcohol ordinances in the hopes that sometime within the next several years the number of bars and taverns in town will be reduced by about a third.
The city has also in recent months implemented a strict good-landlord program to help alleviate risks inherent with its apartment dwellers and has approved several new construction projects in blighted areas. Those projects are expected to bring in new jobs, new markets and least 900 owner-occupied residences.
"That was why I ran my campaign," Goddard said of her cleanup task. "That was what I stood up for. I'm pleased." The vast majority of alcohol-serving establishments in the city are in Goddard's district.
The recent liquor ordinance is just a small piece in the very big puzzle of sanitizing South Salt Lake, said council member Shane Siwick. It ties the number of available licenses for beer bars and private clubs to population, allowing only one such permit for every 3,000 people. At current population levels, that allows for eight bars or clubs.
No existing establishments will be shut down due to the new ordinance, but their licenses can only be transferred to new owners until the law changes July 1. That means selling bar property or leasing bar buildings to new tenants will be tough, as any new owners even family members will have to wait out the attrition. It also means bars and clubs won't be able to move within the city and retain their licenses.
South Salt Lake currently has 22 establishments licensed to serve beer or liquor without serving food. They include the valley's only two lesbian bars, The Paper Moon and Mo Diggity's; popular watering holes such as Gino's, Trails II and The Busy Bee; two bowling alley beer joints; and an American Legion clubhouse.
If bars shut down in the future at the same rate they have for the past five years, it would take more than 17 years for the city to get down to eight. It would take even longer for new would-be owners to get licenses.
But South Salt Lake isn't trying to say alcohol drinkers are unwelcome, Siwick said. In fact, the new ordinance left the number of liquor licenses available for restaurants unchanged. Five of the 19 allowed restaurant liquor licenses are currently available.
Council members also discussed allowing bar licenses to become restaurant licenses when property ownership shifts but decided to discuss that possibility at a later date.
Only the bars and clubs are causing public safety problems, Rutter said.
South Salt Lake is likely to grow, and wants to welcome "the breadths of people who could live here," Council Member Casey Fitts said.
"We're not just addressing the bars," Siwick said. "We're trying to lighten the load of the police."
Crime statistics collected by the South Salt Lake Police Department show one bar had as many as 60 police calls in 2006. A total of 400 police calls concerning bars were made in the city in 2007 and the yearly DUI rate hovers around 300.
Surprisingly, only one bar was represented in the Feb. 13 council meeting where the unanimous decision was made to change the ordinance. Council members said they provided ample time for bar owners to respond but heard nothing.1 comment on this story
"They knew what our intentions were," said council member Mike Rutter. "They knew we were open to something else."
No public hearings were held on the issue and bar owners were officially notified of the ordinance change only through the posting of meeting agendas at City Hall and online.
Busy Bee owner Paul Zissi volunteered to organize a group of bar owners to make suggestions in early January, but those plans didn't materialize. Zissi was surprised to hear the ordinance had passed, he said."I would really have liked to have known about it; we all would have been there," he said of the many bar owners he knows in the city. "Everybody that I've talked to had no idea about it."