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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Nickels’ New Nightlife Regulations

posted by on October 26 at 17:36 PM

Mayor Nickels’s Office of Film and Music just released its new nightclub regulations, which now apply to bars without entertainment (defined, somewhat obscurely, as places that serve liquor and have an occupant density of one person per seven square feet) as well as clubs. (The old version applied to any place that offered live entertainment of almost any kind—still a very broad definition.) Among the new provisions in the legislation:

• The definition of “impacted public areas” (where club owners must prevent litter and illegal behavior while the club is open and until half an hour after it closes) has been changed from “public property adjacent to the nightclub premises where either patrons or prospective patrons gather”—an almost impossibly vague standard—to areas within 50 feet of a club’s entrance. That’s better, but still too large; as owners of clubs in Pioneer Square have pointed out, the public areas “impacted” by each club will frequently overlap, forcing club owners to patrol the sidewalk in front of each other’s properties.

• The noise standard has been loosened slightly, from noise “audible to a person of normal hearing” inside nearby buildings to “amplified sound [that] is plainly audible for a continuous period of sixty (60) seconds or longer to a person of normal hearing located either: 1) inside a residence or business other than the nightlife premises; or, 2) in a public place at a distance of seventy-five (75) feet or more from the nightlife premises.” Still pretty harsh, but better.

• The absurd requirement that clubs “prevent” crimes inside their premises has been revised to a requirement that clubs “take all reasonable steps to prevent [violent] criminal activity”—not as big a change as club owners wanted, but an improvement nonetheless. Standards requiring club owners to prevent patrons from bringing weapons and drugs onto the premises have been removed.

• A standard requiring clubs to have a staffed telephone line any time the club is open has been revised to require clubs to return calls within 24 hours.

Nightclubs would have their licenses suspended for seven days on the second violence or overcrowding violation, or the third violation of any rule, within a 24-month period—an improvement from the automatic suspension for a single violation in Nickels’s original legislation.

The club rules, notably, do not include another element of the plan that Nickels has long promised, but never delivered: Assistance to help nightlife thrive in Seattle. The new ordinance contains just three minor nods to Nickels’s original promise. The city will:

• Create a “Nightlife Premises Guideline Handbook” listing rules for nightlife.

• Designate a city office to serve as a liaison between club owners and the city.

• Providing training opportunities for club security.

So what does it all mean? Nickels, most likely, will take credit for compromising with nightclubs and implementing reasonable regulations, as well as funding the liaison position (something he’s been crowing about for a while.) Club owners, meanwhile, will likely breathe a sigh of relief that the rules are so much less onerous than the mayor’s original proposal—and kvetch that the new ordinance does virtually nothing to help clubs. And the Stranger will point out a few things the city could do that would dramatically improve opportunities for nightlife businesses in the city, such 24-hour liquor licenses; requiring people who move into noisy nightlife districts to sign waivers acknowledging they know the nature of the businesses around them; and requiring better noise insulation on new and refurbished condos and apartments, not just clubs.

The mayor’s task force on nightlife will meet next Monday, October 30, to discuss the latest proposal, which has to be approved by the city council before it can become law.

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While it likely was brought up when originally introduced, I wanna ask it again: So do we know who exactly is backing Nickels on this legislation, i.e. any organizations,lobbyists or groups? It seems out of left field coming from Nickels in a vacuum. I don't sense any pressing need to regulate nightlife security.

Posted by Gomez | October 26, 2006 6:10 PM

Nickels is bowing to pressure from The SPD, who want more power and less oversight.

This process has been bungled from the beginning and the nightlife industry has been lied to by Nickel's staffers. For instance, many of Nickel's staff, including senior staff to me directly, said this legislation will do away with 'Good Neighbor Agreements'. Now they say it won't. That's called a lie. The whole process around this ordinance has been political amatuer hour run at best by people who have no clue. Nickels should be embarassed. Hopefully, we will have wiser, more informed and better politicians working in City Council who will just kill this thing. It's crap.

Specifically, the noise standard is ridiculous. It is vague and incredibly subjective. The standard should just be based on the current noise ordinance standards which are measurable and objective. Also keep in mind, the neighbors aren't complaining about noise coming from inside a club, they are complaining about noise from people outside the club. The regulations do not address that at all.

The requirement that clubs 'prevent crimes' still exists. 'Take all reasonable steps' is an attempt to pacify club owners while really changing nothing, or even making it worse. This could esily be interpreted as requiring pat downs at all bars. Again, this is a subjective standard that WILL be used by SPD to harrass clubs they don't like - clubs with minority and gay patrons.

I have yet to see the whole ordinance, but I would imagine the language in there where receiving a second violation within a 30 day period would mean the City could pull a permit is still there. This means receiving a noise violation and then 'not taking every reasonable step to prevent violence and drugs' (meaning violence and drugs don't actually even need to occur, just not taking the steps to prevent them is a violation) could result in a venue like the Showbox having their permit pulled which would have them cancel all their shows.

But beyond the specifics in this ordinance is that the idea of the ordinance is whacked from jump. What we need is a serious wholistic plan for late night businesses in Seattle. It needs to be comprehensive and deal with things like parking lot rules, increased policing in areas where there are people out at night, rules for people on the street making noise, parking issues in neighborhoods, and most of all more (again), we need more police enforcing laws already on the books. Club owners would gladly accept new sane regulations that address real issues, but this is nothing more than a bullshit ordinance resulting from a bungled process that ignores the real issues and further empowers a corrupt police department that needs more oversight not new vague laws that give them the ability to close legal businesses because they don't like the music and patrons.

I am not sure what has happened to Nickels. He ran as pro music politician and the music community made the difference in his election. He created the music office, has hugely supported Vera, sheltered the music community from ugly attacks after the Capitol Hill shootings, etc. All great stuff. Now suddenly he takes us through this process which has been an attack on the people who got him elected and we have been lied to all the way through it. It's like the demon Mark Sidran has posessed Nickel's body.

City Council - table this ordinance. Create a serious group of people who can come together with an intelligent and well thought out plan that can take Seattle into the future with great urban nightlife that is safe and positive yet vibrant. Nickel's plan is a plan of destruction. In two years from now you will still need to deal with the neighbohood complaints you are getting now because this plan does nothing to solve them. But the SPD will get to shut down a few hip hop clubs which should allow some new condos in gentrifying neighborhoods, along with a lot of waste d time and energy on protests etc.

Posted by Meinert | October 26, 2006 7:22 PM

Well said Meinert.

Posted by him | October 26, 2006 8:57 PM

So here's the million dollar question: Who in the liberal/progressive Seattle community is able to run against this guy and actually able to win? How about a normal person - not a Charlie Chong.

The Mayoral elections are a way off, but whoever this person is had better start making some noise, or we're going to be stuck with another Developer's lapdog.

The council is just as bad. In my humble opinion, this is why we need City Council districts - get some normal neighborhood types in there, not a bunch of poodles.

Posted by somebody do something | October 26, 2006 9:23 PM

well, although he is on the council, Nick Licata got more votes in the last election than Mayor Lovetunnel...

Posted by gnossos | October 26, 2006 11:08 PM

It appears Nickels, like any politician, told the lies he needed to and pandered to the groups he needed to in order to win back his office, then doubled back and showed us his true colors. And now it's too late: he's not up for re-election IIRC until 2009.

Posted by Gomez | October 27, 2006 8:51 AM

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