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Gun violence ‘not the norm’ in Midtown, businesses say

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The fatal shooting of a man walking near 28th and J streets in Midtown early Saturday morning has nearby residents concerned about a perceived connection between violence and the local bar scene, but Sutter District business owners say there is no cause for alarm.

“Midtown is a safe district,” Midtown Business Association Executive Director Elizabeth Studebaker said Monday. “It’s not the kind of place where we’re accustomed to this kind of violence. It’s definitely not the norm for us.”

The Sutter District is a popular destination and draws thousands of people each week, according to Studebaker. That concentration of people can create occasional problems, she said, but not unlike any other place with a similar concentration of people.

“The businesses operating in the district are doing so in the right place: a commercially zoned area,” she said. “They are all compliant with city and state regulations, and in many cases we see the business going above and beyond what’s required to invest in safety measures for the well-being of neighbors.”

Some neighbors, however, say they don’t feel safe and point the blame at the number of bars and restaurants near their homes and are taking steps to change the area by blocking liquor licenses and pushing for more parking restrictions on residential streets.

Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub, 2708 J St., is one business targeted for a protest of the club’s alcohol license transfer by Midtown residents in the wake of Friday’s shooting.

The alcohol license, which was originally held as Harlow’s, is in the process of being transferred to Harlow’s Momo Lounge to include the newer upstairs portion of the nightclub.

The resident filing the protest listed “increased crime, recently murder, and the over concentration of alcohol licenses … at this location, 28th and 27th and J Streets,” as reasons for blocking the alcohol license transfer.

According to online records at the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Harlow’s has had at least one license infraction: In January 2010, the nightclub owners were cited for serving alcohol to a minor. After an ABC investigation and hearing, they received a 15-day suspension of the license and a $3,000 fine.

Harlow’s owners Danny and Peter Torza did not return calls for comment.

Studebaker said she is aware of the challenge to Harlow’s, but Friday’s shooting has no correlation to the protest of the license transfer – and the incident is not a “true reflection” of Midtown or the Sutter District overall.

“Something like this – a random shooting – is something beyond our control,” she said. “It was sudden, there was no forewarning and there were at least seven security people within one block of the incident when it occurred.”

Comments on the Sacramento Press Facebook page about the shooting also indicate a general sense that the problem is not as simple as it looks.

“It’s sad that an innocent bystander was killed but this incident should not be the catalyst for putting Midtown on lockdown," wrote Scott Bellisario in one story comment.

Bellisario questioned the situation behind the shooting: Were any of the involved parties inside any of the nearby bars/restaurants before the shooting? Which one? Did the bar security not wand them for weapons before entering? Could these groups have just been cruising around looking for trouble and not been in any of the bars?

“Before jumping to paranoia, we should get all the facts,” Bellisario wrote.

A commenter on a related Sac Press article who identified himself only as “Mark,” suggested problems in Midtown and downtown could be due to the number of empty lots in the area.

“It may sound strange, but could our built environment encourage violence as much as the concentration of late-night drinking establishments and lack of police presence?” he said. “It’s been known to behaviorists that empty spaces and ill-kept property in an urban environment encourage bad behavior.”

The mayor’s office reacted to news of the shooting with concern for the family of the victim and a reassurance that the incident is not reflective of the area as a whole.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victim and his family – anytime you have loss of young, innocent life it’s tragic,” Joaquin McPeek, spokesman for Mayor Kevin Johnson, said Monday. “We must do everything we can to ensure that our downtown is a safe place and a place people want to be to enjoy the quality of life Sacramento has to offer.”

For Studebaker and the Midtown businesses that her association represents, Friday’s shooting is unnerving, she said, and the business community will continue to be supportive and responsive to residents’ concerns.

“At the same time,” she said, “there’s no fair way to blame the shooting on the business activity in the Sutter District.”

According to police, an investigation is ongoing and there have been no arrests in the case yet. Police are asking anyone with any information about the crime to come forward by calling the tip line at 443-HELP. Callers can remain anonymous.

Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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