The mayor’s Nightlife Task Force met yesterday in the claustrophobic Boards and Commissions room in the basement of city hall to discuss the mayor’s proposal to license nightclubs, an issue on which the two sides are still nowhere close to agreement. Originally, the mayor’s office had proclaimed the meeting of the public advisory committee closed; but the meeting was reopened after open-government watchdogs pointed out the slippery legality of closing a public meeting.
Belying Film and Music Office director James Keblas’s claim on KUOW earlier in the day that bar and club owners, neighborhood activists, and the mayor’s office were “all working together” and “getting close to finalizing” a list of nightclub regulations, yesterday’s meeting was a raucous, tense affair, with bar and club owners handing mayoral staffer Jordan Royer a red-lined version of the mayor’s proposed legislation that included dozens of changes, many of them significant, encompassing nearly every single paragraph of the ordinance. (I’ll post a scan here shortly; there really is virtually no overlap between the two proposals.) Among the provisions bar and club owners found most troubling:
â€˘ A provision allowing the mayor’s office to issue a notice of violation (which, if sustained, would shut a club down for 30 days, effectively killing the business) without first giving the club a chance to talk to the new nightclub advisory board and work to resolve the problem. (Royer told Downtown Seattle Association member Kate Joncas, who is on the task force, that the mayor’s “intent” was to have plenty of due process; but unless that due process is written into the ordinance, Joncas noted, it wouldn’t be binding on Nickels or any future mayor.
â€˘ A section requiring club owners to “prevent” patrons from bringing in weapons or drugs or engaging in violence. Red Door owner and task force co-chair Pete Hanning told Royer, exasperated, “I am not going to pat down my customers. I’m not going to make them feel like they’re coming to an unsafe place. The language as written… is not something we’re going to agree to.” Once again, the response from Royer—a variation on “as long as you’re not doing anything wrong, it won’t affect you’—was vague and unsatisfying. “If they try to keep it the way they had it written, we’ll scream bloody murder,” Hanning said later.
â€˘ A provision defining a sound violation as any noise that is “clearly audible” inside a neighbor’s residence, an utterly subjective standard that would, as the Fenix’s Rick Wyatt pointed out, require “someone to stand in the guy’s apartment” to see if a complaint was valid.
â€˘ A provision requiring club owners to patrol the area up to 100 feet outside their club for 30 minutes before and after closing time. “In Belltown, you’d have people crisscrossing people up and down the street,” Hanning says. Besides, “that’s when I need people in my restaurant,” he said.
“That’s pretty much taken straight out of San Francisco,” which has its own club license, Royer retorted.
â€˘ Another section requiring club staff to call 911 any time they witness any illegal activity. “Panhandling and smoking crack are illegal too—we’d be calling 911 constantly,” Showbox owner Jeff Steichen said. Royer’s testy response: “Everyone knows what illegal activity is. It’s kind of common sense.”
â€˘ A provision requiring clubs to staff a telephone to take complaints at all hours—something Royer also said was “again, right out of San Francisco. I didn’t make this stuff up.”
A larger issue, neighborhood activists and bar owners such as Hanning have pointed out, is that the club ordinance—which is supposed to help neighborhoods crack down on public nuisances associated with nightlife—doesn’t apply to bars at all. That means that in Fremont, which has reported a dramatic surge in violence, noise and public-urination incidents in recent years, only three businesses—Nectar, the High Dive, and Tost—would be affected. How would this cut down on drunken unruliness from the dozens of other drinking establishments in the area? No one at the mayor’s office is answering that question. “None of the things people are complaining about—noise and people peeing in people’s yards and parking and violence—are addressed by this ordinance,” industry gadfly and music promoter Dave Meinert says.
Moreover, the new regulations don’t include any new infrastructure to help clubs, save one new city staffer who will likely be overwhelmed implementing the perplexing maze of new regulations. And there’s nothing in the proposal to increase police presence in nighttime hot spots, probably the single most effective thing the city could do to improve nightlife for club patrons and neighborhood residents.
With so much still unresolved, you’d think the task force would need to meet several more times, at least, to reach a compromise on draft legislation. (Indeed, yesterday was the first time the task force had sat down to discuss the legislation itself; at the last meeting, the task force only had a two-page outline to go from.) Instead, the mayor’s office has decided to fast-track the process, moving the date it will send legislation to the city council up from January to September. “The negotiations are getting to a place everybody can agree on,” Keblas said on the radio before the meeting.
“I do not feel that is at all appropriate,” Hanning said today. “This was the most productive meeting we’ve ever had, and yet Jordan and the mayor’s office were saying it was the last meeting.” Late yesterday afternoon, Royer sounded open to the idea of holding one final meeting. However, as we were leaving, we ran into Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis outside the board room. I asked him whether the task force would be meeting again.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Ceis replied.