The civil action, filed with the Hudson County Division of the New Jersey Superior Court on April 8, states that the amendment to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Ordinance passed earlier this year forcing liquor establishments to stop selling alcoholic beverages at 2 a.m. had no governmental purpose.
Prior to this amendment, which went into effect on March 1, liquor establishments were able to sell alcoholic beverages until 3 a.m.
"I am going to fight this if I have to," said Union City Mayor Brian Stack about the lawsuit. "If they take it to the Supreme Court of New Jersey I will fight this."
Stack also said that he is not backing down in his fight against quality of life, which includes his campaign against the city's problematic bars.
"We will continue to crack down on the quality of life," said Stack. "And we will continue to crack down on the bad bars in Union City."
"How dare they file a lawsuit against the city," said Stack at the reorganization meeting of the Board of Commissioners on May 21. "When they go home to another community, you deserve to go to sleep in peace."
The Bar and Restaurant Owners' Association is asking for damages together with interest, attorneys' fees and costs of suit.
The lawyer representing the Bar and Restaurant Owners Association, Vincent LaPaglia of Hoboken, did not comment on the case.
Making a complaint
This amendment was originally introduced by the Board of Commissioners in December 2001. However, after a two-hour long public hearing, the board decided to table to amendment. The ordinance was then reintroduced and passed in February.
The city's bars and restaurants were previously able to sell alcohol from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. The new amendment to the Alcohol Beverage Control ordinance, which went into effect on March 1, will force bars to stop serving alcohol one hour earlier, at 2 a.m.
According to the complaint filed by LaPaglia, the public hearings for the amendment "revealed there was no justification for the proposed amendment and that it would have a severe and significant negative impact" to the bars and restaurants in the city.
North Bergen Attorney Robert Mayerovic, who was retained by some of the bar owners to represent them at the public hearing, argued that the bar and restaurant owners would be losing more than one hour if the amendment was approved. According to Mayerovic, bars and restaurants only make money during certain hours, the hour from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. being one of those hours.
"I understand that they have a right to earn a living, but they have to cooperate with the city as well," said Stack last week.
During the public hearing on the amendment, Ramiro Franco, the president of the Union City Bar and Restaurant Association, provided the city with an alternative plan to closing the bars one hour earlier.
As part of the Association's plan, Franco said that all bar owners would be at their place of business or have someone else with authority be there at all times. Franco also proposed either hire a police officer or professional security company to be on the premises as needed, and adding an extra hour to security to disperse and control any groups lingering outside the establishment. Franco also proposed strictly enforcing the one-way door policy already in effect. This policy does not allow any bar or restaurant to allow new patrons into the establishment after 2 a.m.
However, Stack criticized these plans, saying that they would not do enough to advance the city's aim. The ordinance was passed with a unanimous vote in February.
"Despite the absence of any evidence connecting the sale of alcoholic beverages between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays to any legitimate governmental purpose, the amendment was adopted," reads the complaint.
Has the ordinance worked?
According to Stack, this amendment was introduced to improve the quality of life in the city. According to Stack and the Board of Commissioners, closing the bars one hour earlier will put an end to public drinking, public urination and large groups from forming on the streets.
Stack has complained about calls for fights, public urination and loud noise, as well as broken beer bottles on the streets.
Mayerovic further argued that one hour is not going to make a difference in the quality of life.
"Every customer that walks into an establishment is a potential nightmare, a potential disaster for the establishment," said Mayerovic.
According to Police Chief Norman Bareis, in the past two months, since March 1, there has already been a decrease in calls for service during the hours of 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. Bareis said that he has compared the number of calls for service this year to last year's numbers.
However, Bareis said that since this has only been two-month time period, he can not say that the decrease is due to the early closing of the liquor establishments.
"We will have to wait and see what the summer brings," said Bareis.
However, Bareis does think that the early closing is a factor.
"Less people are coming to Union City for that last hour to drink," said Bareis explaining that the bars in neighboring towns close at 2 a.m.
Bareis said that if the number of calls for service during that hour continues to decrease, the department will be able to change the officers' patrol assignments.
"[The owners of these establishments] have to do other things to enhance their business," said Stack. "Our police officers cannot baby-sit these establishments."