City Nightlife: Not Dead Yet
posted by April 5 at 12:48 PMon
At a meeting this morning of the city council’s neighborhoods committee, club owners and music-industry reps spent an hour airing their concerns about Mayor Nickels’s controversial nightlife legislation, and offering their own suggestions about how the city should regulate problem clubs without adversely impacting nightlife in the city.
Bar owners Jerry Everard, Jeff Steichen, and Pete Hanning, and music promoter Dave Meinert, spent an hour outlining for the committee the problems with the mayor’s proposal and the solutions they’d like to see to address neighborhoods’ primary issues: Noise and violence. Neither the ordinance itself nor the clubs’ issues with the ordinance have changed much since the mayor’s nightlife task force was disbanded last year. Club owners feel its provisions (which require clubs to police the area outside their property and allow the city to shut clubs down for minor violations) are unnecessarily punitive and don’t address the problems they were meant to solve. (Georgetown Merchants Association representative Kathy Nyland, who opposes the legislation, called them “comical.”) For example, “If you have three minor health code violations in 24 months, that is grounds to have your license revoked,” Everard said. “The mayor’s office says [they] wouldn’t do that, but the fact of the matter is that is what the ordinance says.” Everard said the ordinance also gives too much latitude to the head of the office of economic development (which answers to the mayor) to shut clubs down if he or she feels they may be a problem. For example, “if the director is of the belief that hip-hop music is going to create violence, the director can say a club can’t have hip-hop music.” Perhaps most egregiously, Everard said, the proposal would hold clubs responsible for the actions of patrons and “prospective patrons” within 50 feet of their property; two violent incidents within 50 feet would be grounds to shut a club down, even if the perpetrators had no intention of entering the club at all.
What club owners do want, the music-industry representatives told the council, is more police; better training for bouncers; an enforceable noise ordinance that targets clubs and patrons; the ability to hire off-duty cops for security; a real nightlife commission that helps clubs operate safely, instead of just enforcing punitive laws; and a new law requiring sound insulation in new and converted condo buildings, so that the sound of people talking (the cause of most residential complaints) couldn’t be heard inside units. “If an unamplified human voice can be heard on the seventh floor of your condo, that’s a problem with sound insulation, not a problem with the human voice,” Meinert said.
As for security, Meinert said, “It used to be that big clubs with huge clubs hired off-duty police officers. That tool has been taken away from us and the mayor’s office has refused to give it back.” Steichen pointed out that the city provides police officers to manage crowds and traffic at big events like the Bite of Seattle and Mariners games; Friday and Saturday nights in Belltown, he argued, are no different than a downtown-wide special event. “It is a police problem when 10,000 or 20,000 people are going down to an entertainment district, and it seems quite wise when that many people are assembling in a neighborhood to beef up police controls.”
Council members on the committee, which also included Jan Drago, Peter Steinbrueck, and Richard McIver, responded positively to most of the club representatives’ ideas. Failing to provide increased police presence downtown on weekends, Steinbrueck said, “is not unlike if the city were to say to the Mariners or the Seahawks, ‘You’re responsible for patrolling the traffic after your games, and we won’t provide any officers to help.’” Drago chimed in, “You are pointing out a huge hypocrisy—the Mariners and the Seahawks do hire police, and are required to by the city. … It’s not at all clear to me that more regulation solves the problem. What is clear is that enforcement goes a long way toward solving the problem.”
Some in the nightlife industry have expressed concern that even after all her meetings (this morning’s committee meeting was the third of eight on the subject), Clark won’t substantially change the mayor’s proposal. This morning, however, she seemed extremely receptive to what nightlife representatives had to say. “One of the things I keep hearing is that Seattle doesn’t have a way to deal with the one or two problem clubs that keep arising,” Clark said. “Maybe we need to change some of the existing laws to make them more enforceable.”