By Jillian Foster and Juliet Sanders,
Peter Gonzales, 23, was stabbed to death at KetMoRee Thai Restaurant and Bar on Sept. 19. The young man was visiting Davis to attend his sister’s wedding, and the tragedy shocked the Davis community. In light of this event, many wonder if it is still safe for students to go downtown.
Davis Downtown Business Association (DDBA) President Michael Bisch believes that it is.
“Downtown Davis is a safe and inviting place for Davis adolescents to shop, dine, recreate and socialize,” Bisch said. “My sense is downtown Davis is generally as safe as any other Davis neighborhood and certainly safer than most American communities of comparable size.”
Many high school students in Davis spend a lot of time downtown, which is where many of the town’s most popular restaurants and businesses are located. But many students have reported strange or unsettling experiences in downtown that made them feel unsafe.
Late one summer night, sophomore Rocket Drew and a few friends were sitting inside of El Burrito, a local Mexican restaurant. There was a long line for people to order, and Drew says two men in line were clearly a little intoxicated and started acting rowdy.
Drew says he and his friends were arm wrestling at their table when one of the men asked them if they wanted to fight, aggressively saying things like, “Come on man, let’s fight, me and you right here.” The boys refused. After the man started to get too excited, his friend dragged him away from the table.
“It made me feel a little worried, but it was also hilarious,” Drew said. “I feel safer in downtown during the day than at night, and even more so when I am inside a business or restaurant.”
During the night, many restaurants turn into night clubs for the local college students, and drunkenness is common in the late hours of the night.
“Like the downtowns of most American communities, I would imagine downtown Davis is safer during daylight hours and when there are more people out and about,” Bisch said.
Davis’ downtown has been changing–and not for the better, according to many Davis residents and businesses.
The recent violence caused the Davis City Council to issue a moratorium on new bars and restaurants in Davis. However, the Council, in a 3-2 vote, allowed Blondies New York Pizza Company to move into the old space of Little Prague within the next year, which many have mixed feelings about.
In exchange, Blondies had to agree to more than 30 restrictions, including the establishment of ID scanners, a dress code, security checks for weapons and a requirement to close at 1 a.m instead of 2.
City Councilman Robb Davis seemed surprised that the bar agreed to the restrictions.
“Quite frankly I didn’t think they were going to accept it, but they did. They’d rather be a restaurant than nothing,” Davis said.
However, there are some doubts that Blondies will comply with all the restrictions.
“I still think that the City Council is going to have to require some changes from them, and I don’t think it’s going to be voluntary,” City Councilman Brett Lee said.
Some Davis citizens worry that the new bar will increase crime rates; others are unhappy that the city council decided to institute a new bar only a month after the death of Gonzales at KetMoRee.
“The emails I got indicated to me that people are not happy about the fact that we’re letting Blondies go forward,” Davis said. “It’s kind of become a symbol of things that are wrong in the downtown.”
Davis thinks that because of the restrictions on Blondies, there won’t be an increase in crime.
“I’m fairly confident that there’s not going to be a huge impact,” he said. “I think that the conditions on Blondies and the things that are happening with the other bars in the town are going to make it so we don’t have that level of violence anymore.”
Other downtown businesses worry about what the introduction of Blondies will lead to.
Terry Whitaker, owner of local hair salon Hair, said that Blondies and bars like it attract “another crowd with a different culture that Blondies offers, which is heavy drinking and the sexualization of women.”
Lee acknowledged that there have been some complaints.
“Many problems these shopkeepers face are people damaging their store fronts or going to the bathroom and throwing up in front of their stores,” he said. “The city used to take care of the cleaning of streets and sidewalks, but due to budget cuts a couple years ago, they stopped doing that and they left it up to individual shopkeepers.”
The City Council has tried to solve the problem by requiring Blondies to clean up any messes within 100 feet of the building.
“Now that they’ve heard about these conditions I think generally people aren’t in favor of it but they understand it,” Davis said.
Some local stores believe that the new bar will be better for business: “The main reason is because the building where Blondies is moving looks decrepit and run down, so a businesses coming in and cleaning it up is potentially better for them,” Davis explained.
One pro-Blondies business is Bubble Belly, a children’s clothing store next to Little Prague.
“We’re hoping it will help traffic flow,” owner Silvie Truong said. “At this point I don’t feel negatively towards it.”
Lee said that the restrictions being placed on Blondies should apply to other bars. “If it’s a good idea for Blondies then it’s probably a good idea for the rest of existing bars,” he said.