Social district legislation was passed into law last year in Michigan and has been adopted in several cities and considered in others-- with a resolution coming before the Ludington City Council on Monday, February 8th.  In this article, we will look at the specifics behind "social districts", see what happens with it, see who benefits from it, and eventually come to the conclusion that this is not anything that will help businesses or their customers in Ludington or any other Michigan city.  

Back in May 2020, Democratic State Sens. Jeff Irvin and Mallory McMorrow introduced a bill that would allow restaurants and bars that serve food to also serve alcohol in an adjacent commons area shared by other establishments, and also offer curbside pickup of alcohol.  A bipartisan group of legislators fine-tuned the bill in the state house, Governor Whitmer expressed her approval of the idea, and in the end, only two lawmakers voted against it prior to Whitmer's signing the bill into law on July 1st. 

Over two dozen villages and cities have adopted resolutions to create social districts as of January 29th.  The reason why SD litigation is so attractive to legislators at the state and local level seems to be due to the appearance that it looks as if they're actually doing something to help local businesses during a time when (due to Covid-19) they have had to shut down so many due to 'public safety' concerns.  This perception is what buoys politicians into thinking social districts are a great idea, when in reality, they harm the very businesses and consumers that they mistakenly think they are helping.  

The reason why this is the case is that Michigan is a state where there is no ban at the state level for drinking in public by those who are of legal drinking age.  Counties and cities can make laws regarding drinking at the local level, but the state is one that has not decided to regulate drinking in public.  Few cities in Michigan have not developed any rules, but most seem to permit more than what the social district law allows.  This new  law permits the local government to:

-designate a social district with a 'common area'

-establish management and maintenance plans for that 'common area'

So if you are already in a city and county with minimal regulations on drinking, the 'common area' would already be most everywhere.  Let's take Ludington as an example of a place where there is already a massive 'common area'.  The county has no regulations regarding drinking in public, Ludington itself has one section regarding city restrictions on possessing and drinking alcoholic beverages, section 38.74

Subsection 'a' says wine and beer in containers less than 2 liters are fine to have and drink at city parks.  Subsection 'c' prohibits alcohol at Oriole Field and other sports facilities in the city.  Subsection 'f' disallows having and drinking alcohol between 9 PM and 7 AM at the beach, other recreational areas, and parking lots adjacent to them.  Subsection 'g' disallows possession or imbibing alcohol at Cartier Park on ten summer days. 

Without a social district in place, everyone over 21 years old is already able to walk around Ludington with their favorite alcohol-laced beverage without having to worry whether they are in arrears of the law.  Few people actually exercise this right in practice, perhaps out of fear that they're breaking a law, or could be arrested if they engage in disorderly conduct.

So what does the proposed social district resolution offer for Ludington?  In this packet beginning on page 57, it explains that the proposed district would be open all year, would start at the opening of the adjacent businesses and continue until midnight.  They plan to formally start the district (shown below, based on their description which conflicts itself in areas) on March 1st:

For this restriction on area that people can 'legally' drink, which will require multiple signs designating the borders (using Safety Decals, naturally), here's what you get to look forward to as a business enrolled in this program:

1) a $250 licensing fee from the state's licensing bureau (LARA)

2) a surcharge of up to $1 for each beverage sold for required stickers or cups 

So who wins with a social district resolution in Ludington?  It's not the participating businesses that need to fork over $250 to the state to start and $1 to the city for each portable beverage sold.  It's not the customer of these businesses, who see their favorite beverage go up in price by a dollar or more to offset the added costs to the business.  It's not the community at large, some who could now be accosted by police for enjoying a beer where it's been perfectly legal to imbibe it before.  

The only winners in this insipid social district policy is the State of Michigan and the Ludington DDA, who take even more money from the businesses that are most in need of real help as they struggle to earn a living as government unwarrantedly strives to keep them shut down.  This appears to be true for most other communities where their councilors have decided to take this path.

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Just another example of what I described earlier as a DDA that just surfs the web looking for ideas to try out here in Ludington to justify their jobs. This is just plain DUMB. Why would someone pay inflated prices for a drink so they can walk around streets with no stores or nice places to sit? Just what everyone wants... a bunch of drunk people walking around the town in the summer.  One can bring a cooler to the beach filled with booze they bought at the local big box stores. I suspect the  "social club" status has more meaning than is described here. Be careful what you wish for folks. This status led to "social clubs" in Ann Arbor that are gay clubs and bathhouses.  I am not joking. Just do a search and you will see that they put them in downtown in Ann Arbor. I also suspect the next thing we will see in addition to the booze cruise by the park is those group bike bars that beach and tourist towns love. Have you all been to Nashville lately or shore towns that lure in weddings and bridesmaid groups ? Ruined by their own hubris.

Just another reason to cash out by selling your downtown house and  make the move to the country...

A sad prophecy, Lake Lady, but likely,  as "allowing" drinks on the streets of Ludington, and then what stops cruising in vehicles around outlying areas?  I see it as a spiderweb to police and a way to justify a bloated city police department with huge pensions debt and relatively little to do if COL didn't put these temptations on the street.  Plus another way to make money for the DDA.  Or maybe a way to tolerate those who already walk disorderly hollering in the streets in the early morning, and then get off on all charges if you're of the privileged social class.  I agree completely.  Thanks for your contribution of knowledge of what's gone on in Ann Arbor.  Sad again, for Ludington putting a drink in front of some people with one too many DUI's already.

Did you hear, Lake Lady, that some property on Park Street sold for $800k?  The mayor was on the local radio station this morning saying how the property in Ludington is increasing in value and "everyone" wants to be here.  I couldn't find the sale in realtor.com, maybe it's too recent to be listed yet, but that's good news for those that want to sell!  And Jen Tooman (DDA marketing) was on on the radio promoting the drinking districts as six businesses have shown interest in promoting street drinking.  Then mayor Steve Miller promoting his DDA chair position and painting the crosswalks with some program to local artists and high school.  Talk about a party in the streets downtown!  Now we should be able to see the crosswalks even with one too many alcoholic beverages!  And get the taxpayer bus to take you home.

I did see that Freedom Seeker. I also saw that a lot next to the fish station at Loomis Boat launch sold for 500,000. Is it a coincidence that the bathrooms there are getting a costly overall? I think not. All those party animals will need a place to deposit their expensive beverages after walking around town drinking all day...What do you think? A low income high rise or a paved parking area for more food trucks and a big beer tent?  Weed smoking tent? ( it is coming folks) Stay tuned. 

I can't wait to put my house on the market in the spring. We will make A LOT of money. Hey, if Ludington is going to sell out, why not the rest of us?

They don't seem to want the single family home owner anyway... How boring and  traditional and sooooo uncool in the eyes of our hippy dippy mayor...

I was just thinking that, LL.  Single-family residents are being pushed out, it seems, and the COL/DDA don't care.  More rentals, especially high end rentals equals more beer selling in the summer and justified the department and the Jobs of the DDA.  Historically, it works for a short-time for a city, imo, but when the economy takes a hit, and tourism dips, so does everything else.  My dad watched this upand down tourist cycle in the 1930s and 40s and you could pick up properties in tourist areas cheap when they collapsed.  It's a tricky market.  I would imagine that this latest thrust to have drinking districts is in response to some of the brewery investments maybe already starting to realize they've over invested.  But then I could be wrong and breweries could be making loads of money--it's not my cup of tea or herb as someone who wants to live in a nice little town along the lake, and I struggle with the frustration.  The whole economic world is in a new realm and it's hard to understand.  I hope you cash out well and I understand the frustration of having to make the move.  Although it is hard to give up a piece of residential paradise, and the city benefits from your prudent improvements, I think it will be a positive thing to get out of a city that doesn't seem to care for its residents, infrastructure, or those things that make a livable community for residents.

I just googled "Rockford Outdoor Drinking Area" because Jen Tooman on radio said that Rockford was a "model" for the drinking areas, and it answered with the innocuous term, "RORA--Rockford Outdoor Refreshment Area." Sounds like hot chocolate.

Sounds more like informally referencing a city to the west of Chicago ('Rora, Illinois), Rockford ironically is another major city in IL.  Can't help but notice that Rockford MI tries to indicate it's against state law to drink outside:  "Patrons must stay within the designated Refreshment Area boundaries. Leaving a Refreshment Area with an alcoholic beverage violates State and local law."

Social districts, like many ideas from a government with so many laws they can't keep track of them all, are redundant and in reality goes against exactly what it's trying to promote.  I think this may be why the COL decided to table the idea for now to look at a better way of helping the downtown rather than hurting it.

Good points all. Thanks X for bringing this to the public's attention.

I don't know where to begin. This social districting is just riddled with contradictions and phony feel good rhetoric. You are correct X about taking more money from the businesses and their patrons. I don't see how anyone can miss that part of the deal. Why make a law that requires no law in the first place. I lay all the blame on the spineless Republicans for not standing up to the tyrannical Governor. They should immediately pass legislation to nullify all the freedom and liberty robbing executive orders Heir Whitler has put around our necks. When I read your post and the links I just sat here shaking my head. We have a Capital full of morons who act like children. Of the many foolish things covered in this bill, several really stand out.
!. How can the City possibly deny businesses not involved with this SD from doing the same no matter where they are located and they do not pay the bribe required.
2. I notice one of the requirement of the SD is that "Alcoholic liquor shall not be consumed on the public highways," MCL 436.1915 . So does that mean a participant cannot walk across the street in a SD drinking  a cup of cheer on their way to another bar? There are just to many foolish things wrong with this SD crap.

It's bureaucracy at its bureau-craziest.  State legislators had so much time off their job last year that they needed to pass a lot of dumb laws just to make it look like they were doing something.  Our governor was too busy giving orders that didn't make sense to close down businesses, when she could have advised local governments to relax some of their own self-imposed alcohol 'blue laws' so that restaurants/bars could sell take-out adult beverages to those planning on quaffing them outside because they were outlawed for drinking it indoors.

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