Tucson’s 2017 Noche en Blanco event, scheduled for Sunday, October 8, has been cancelled according to a written statement from the event’s organizing committee. Their request for a street closure permit had been denied by the city, according to the statement.
“Citing Tucson Police Department’s concern for security and public safety and a change in the City Attorney’s interpretation and enforcement of the liquor laws, the City of Tucson Special Events Committee is declining to approve our permit request as submitted for a street closure for a pop-up dinner on October 8,” the statement read.
The event—frequently described as a pop-up dinner party—has been held in a different downtown Tucson location each year for the last several years. All food, beverages, supplies, and entertainment at the event are provided by attendees, most of whom don’t know the event’s location until a few hours or less before it starts. Attendees are invited by table hosts, or “captains” pre-selected by an organizing committee.
Last year’s Noche event attracted more than 2,000 people, according to City Attorney Mike Rankin.
“The organizers of the event have worked with the City in prior years, and in advance of this year’s planned event, to secure the needed street closure permits and related insurance. However, one issue was never addressed, namely the public consumption of alcohol,” Rankin said today in an email to the Mayor and Council. “Under state law, it is a crime (a misdemeanor) to consume alcohol in public, and this event involves a great deal of drinking in public,” he said.
The event’s permit application, filed by Chris Leighton (a former city transportation administrator) checked a box indicating that the event was private and invitation-only. The sections of the application requesting information about food and alcohol were left blank.
Here is the full text of Rankin’s email to Mayor and Council:
Honorable Mayor and Council, and all –You have likely heard that the organizers of the Noche en Blanco event have chosen to cancel this year’s event, previously scheduled for 10/8. You may all be familiar with the event, but for those of you who aren’t, it is a “pop up dinner” where folks gather on a public street for a community meal. Everyone dresses in white and brings their own tables, settings, food, and drink. Organizers pick a date, and then blast out the location just a couple hours before the event to invitees, who then gather for the event. A key characteristic of the event is that it is somewhat spontaneous, and this element is important to the organizers and attendees. The event has been held on downtown streets for the last several years, and had grown in attendance from about 200 in the first year to over 2,000 in 2016. To get a feel for the event, you can view a video or 2 here:
The organizers of the event have worked with the City in prior years, and in advance of this year’s planned event, to secure the needed street closure permits and related insurance. However, one issue was never addressed, namely the public consumption of alcohol. Under state law, it is a crime (a misdemeanor) to consume alcohol in public, and this event involves a great deal of drinking in public. State law provides for a few exceptions to this prohibition, all of which require the securing of a license or permit of one type or another. You are familiar with these different types of permits, for example a Special Event liquor license (like the ones you often see on your Mayor and Council meeting agendas) or a Temporary Extension of Premises (which allows for an established, licensed business, like a bar or restaurant, to expand its service area for a particular event). These types of licenses/permits have certain restrictions that come along with them which would cause the event organizers to have to change the character of the event. In particular, these permits/licenses do not allow for a “bring your own alcohol” event, but instead the sale of alcohol in designated areas, typically for the purposes of raising money for a charitable organization.
The City previously has made the event organizers aware of the issues presented by the public consumption of alcohol. As an example, see the attached street closure permit issued for the 2016 event, specifically calling out the prohibition on alcohol consumption. As the years have passed, and the event has grown exponentially, the City, and in particular TPD, was not in a position to turn a blind eye to the alcohol violations that were occurring, especially in light of the fact that we hold all other similar events that include alcohol (e.g. Folk Festival; Fourth Avenue Street Fair; many others) to the liquor licensing requirements, and TPD engages in enforcement and citation for other instances of public drinking, including in areas near the event. Nonetheless, recognizing that this is a special type of event in our community, we examined different ways that the event could come into compliance with state laws and still retain its core character. The City’s special event folks met with organizers to talk through different options (a Title 4 special event license; extension of premises; holding the event in a park and securing a beer permit), but none of those options were satisfactory to the organizers for various reasons, such as compromising the spontaneity of the event or limiting alcohol to sales and consumption within designated areas rather than as a “bring your own” event. There were timing issues as well, as securing a special event liquor license would require going through the state-mandated process, and would require identifying vendors, a charitable organization, etc.I worked with Chief Magnus, the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, and various others to try to identify options for this event. One of those options of course was for the event to proceed as a spontaneous pop-up meal without alcohol, consistent with the terms of our street closure permit (see attachment). However, ultimately the event organizers chose to cancel the event planned for 10/8, and put the word out yesterday. I talked with Corky Poster (one of the organizers) in advance of the cancellation, and conveyed that the City will try to work with them if they choose to reschedule the event or start planning for a later event that would be reconfigured so that it is in compliance with state law. There are other examples of “White Dinner” or “Noche en Blanco” events in other cities across the county, including in Arizona (e.g. Phoenix), but those events are operated differently (e.g., in Phoenix, the event is in a park, under a special event license, with alcohol sales revenues going to a designated charity). Hopefully, Tucson’s version of Noche en Blanco can be reshaped so that it can continue in future years while navigating the requirements of state law that kick in when alcohol is involved.