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California regulators rarely visit Dodger Stadium to enforce alcohol rules

Despite complaints about drunkenness at the ballpark, regulators have issued no citations for liquor-law violations since 1999.

May 14, 2011|By Paul Pringle, Los Angeles Times
  • One of the 200 billboards asking for help in identifying two assailants who severely beat a San Francisco Giants fan in the Dodger Stadium parking lot.
One of the 200 billboards asking for help in identifying two assailants… (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles…)

Despite complaints about drunken hooliganism at Dodger Stadium, state regulators rarely visit the ballpark and have issued no citations for liquor-law violations there since 1999.

Fans and some police officials say that over-imbibing at Chavez Ravine has become a stubborn problem. But not to the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the licensing authority that enforces responsible booze retailing, according to records and interviews.

Davey Johnson was still managing the team when ABC last alleged a single instance of a Dodgers vendor running afoul of the rules, such as by selling to minors or inebriated adults or failing to do enough to prevent disruptive behavior due to drinking.

That's not because investigators haven't had ready access to the stadium, where beer stands and margarita bars now line the concourses. ABC requires the company holding the Dodgers' two master alcohol licenses, Levy Premium Foodservice, to grant the agency four passes and free parking for each game.

Joseph Cruz, assistant director for ABC's southern division, defended its Dodgers record. "I don't see a lot of issues that are arising inside the stadium," he said. "At any venue you're going to see some boisterous fans. I don't know if it's all driven by alcohol."

The Dodger-ABC experience is not unusual. No citations for violations at Angel Stadium have been filed since at least 1992, and the most recent allegation against a Staples Center vendor came in 2002.

Cruz and ABC spokesman John Carr said the Dodgers' clean slate could simply reflect sharp-eyed vigilance by concessionaires and security staffs. And it is difficult to prove "disorderly house" cases, they said: The task requires the ABC to determine that a vendor's actions or inaction helped create a public nuisance.

In addition, Cruz and Carr said, ABC inspections are infrequent because the agency is spread thin, keeping tabs on more than 80,000 licenses statewide.

Cruz said investigators drop in on Dodger Stadium only once or twice a season. The passes to the remaining games — the agency receives a similar number for Angels Stadium and Staples — go unused, said Carr.

Spokespersons for Levy and the Dodgers said they spare no effort to comply with ABC rules and clamp a lid on excessive drinking. They added that stadium alcohol sales have actually been flat for the last several years. They declined to release figures.

"At Dodger Stadium and all of our locations, we work closely with our partners to ensure we follow the guidelines outlined in our licenses issued by the state of California," Levy spokeswoman Eva Yusa said in a statement. "We abide by the alcohol service regulations."

But many Dodgers fans blame the flow of suds and harder stuff for incivility at the stadium.

"It's unbelievable," said David Reyes, 32, a Pasadena resident who was taking in a weeknight game. "It's not the Dodger Stadium I grew up in."

Another longtime fan, Richard Medina, was sipping a frozen margarita he bought at the Loge Terrace, a bar that greets the Dodger faithful just as they walk through the turnstiles. Medina, 39, of Camarillo, said he has witnessed alcohol-fueled fights in the pavilions and parking lot on multiple occasions.

"I'm very surprised," he said when told about the lack of ABC citations. "People are acting stupid and drunk. There has to be a point where the bars cut people off."

Last month, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig appointed former Texas Rangers president Tom Schieffer to oversee the day-to-day functions of the Dodgers, citing concern about the franchise's finances and operations under owners Frank and Jamie McCourt. He moved against the team three weeks after a San Francisco Giants fan was severely beaten in the Dodger Stadium parking lot.

After the attack on Bryan Stow, Frank McCourt downplayed any link between the Dodgers' alcohol policies and thuggish conduct. "I don't think it's the sale of beer that's a problem, per se," he said. "I think it's the abuse of that privilege."

At the same time, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said drinking has been a factor in hostilities at the stadium, and that department officials had suggested the Dodgers raise alcohol prices and stop sales earlier than the end of the seventh inning, the cutoff point required by ABC.

The Dodgers subsequently canceled plans to offer half-price alcohol at six games. Team spokesman Josh Rawitch said the team has deployed more security workers to keep intoxicated fans out of the stadium and continued a crackdown on tailgating in the parking lot. He said the organization is considering the changes the LAPD proposed. It also is conducting a fan survey to measure support for a possible no-alcohol zone that would cater to families. For many years, until 2005, no alcohol was sold in the left-field pavilion.

In the 1990s, when the O'Malley family and then News Corp.'s Fox Entertainment Group owned the Dodgers, ABC cited the stadium's former vendor, Aramark, three times for selling alcohol to underage fans and allowing a customer to buy more than the two-drink maximum for one purchase.

Two violations resulted in fines of $3,000 and $6,000. The third, which occurred in 1999, prompted a 20-day suspension on alcohol sales. But ABC did not impose the punishment until January 2001 — in the middle of the off-season.

Cruz said the penalty was appropriate because the stadium might have hosted something like a rock concert during the winter.

"I don't know what events might have been at Dodger Stadium at that time," he said.

paul.pringle@latimes.com

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