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Thursday, April 5, 2007

Nightlife: Not Dead Yet

posted by on April 5 at 12:48 PM

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.”

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Dang it - I really wished I could be there. There are a lot of broad regulations aside from what is brought up here that will affect more than clubs - it will affect bars, pubs and restaurants too.

The definition of "nightlife premises", the folks affected by this ridiculous proposal, means "any business open to the public in which at any time between 10pm and 6am liquor is served" and "any space or combination of space within the premises totaling 500 or more square feet..with density of one person per 7 square feet."

I had to paraphrase for space, but that definition encompasses a lot of businesses.

This proposal is fucked.

Nickels, I can't wait to watch you go down.

Posted by rubyred | April 5, 2007 1:15 PM

It's too bad that only a few clubs create the bulk of the problems, but all club owners may end up paying the price. Can't they find a way of dealing with just those particularly problematic clubs?

Also, IMHO, those denying the connection between hip-hop nights and violence around those clubs have their head in the sand. Just look at recent problems on Capitol Hill. Get real.

Posted by A Few Bad Apples | April 5, 2007 1:52 PM

Seattle has a music and club scene that other towns would die for and our mayor is focused on killing it.

Posted by Tim Keck | April 5, 2007 1:58 PM

There is a way to deal with just the problem clubs and it gives the Mayor the tool he's been asking for without creating more bureaucracy. The state legislature has in front of it a bill giving the city council power to tell the liquor board not to renew a club's liquor license.

The Mayor's Ordinance calls for the creation of a Nightlife Advisory Commission. We would propose the ordinance die, but this idea be kept. Citizens could complain to this Commission who would investigate and make recommendations to the Council and Mayor on what should be done, including the option of the venue having their liquor license pulled.

As for hip hop,I ran a hip hop night at 3 different venues over 8 years and never saw violence. I don't have my head in the sand. (Top 40 nights might be different, No Fergie!). The reality is that promoters and how venues are run allow for or encourage problems, not styles of music.

Posted by Meinert | April 5, 2007 2:04 PM

Either way Dave, this is dangerous legislation - who's to say a new crop of angry condo owners that moved into a 6 month old building across the street from a 6 year old bar won't make it their duty to close the bar down due to whatever complaints they can come up with.

Oooh, that Busch Garden really pisses me off, I'm going to get their booze license revoked! I can't believe Stellar Pizza - I'm going to complain to the board. Screw Hatties Hat! I moved to Ballard to get some rest! Damn that Matador keeping me up late! (actually, revoke those guys, that's ok)

Renegade condo owners (or vindictive citizens) - it will happen.

Posted by rubyred | April 5, 2007 2:40 PM

Well, we can finally get El Corazon shut down! Earls, goodbye! The bad places where awful people go like Tommy's, Kincora and The Cha Cha will have to clean up. Yes! This is great! Stop complaining. People need to behave, and if they don't, hold the idiots serving the beer responsible. Who cares?

Posted by Tonal | April 5, 2007 3:15 PM

You know, he'd actually be a decent mayor if he'd get over his nightlife hangups.

Posted by Sean | April 5, 2007 5:10 PM

Tonal, the thing is, there are already things in place to deal with "problem businesses" thru the Liquor Control Board and the cops.

Your comments boarder on police state tactics. These businesses are people's livelihoods and provide JOBS and TAXES for the city - they aren't going to jeapordize that so some losers can get loaded and act like jackasses. To say bar owners don't care is wrong.

This town is so fucking difficult to own a small business in. I'll say it again, Fuck you Nickles.

Posted by rubyred | April 5, 2007 5:19 PM

I agree with Meinert that the problem isn't the music but the venues.
How do we get to well run vunues?
I have yet to hear any meaningful recommendations from the Nightlife lobby beyond "get more cops".
The "get more cops" line is just a ruse to put the burden of club safety on the city when it belongs with the clubs. "more cops" would be a direct public subsidy for a few club owners.
Club Owners are quick enough to ring up the tabs at the end of the night they should get as serious about managing the rest of their club.
The club owners should propose a code of conduct they would support. A code of conduct that they would support enforcing. When that happens we might see some progress.

Posted by Zander | April 5, 2007 6:36 PM

"The "get more cops" line is just a ruse to put the burden of club safety on the city when it belongs with the clubs. "more cops" would be a direct public subsidy for a few club owners. "
not the case, if the clubs pay for the off duty officers to work then how is that a subsidy? also, having more police in a nightclub area of town is the responsibilty of the city. A brisk business of clubs in one area is doing plenty for the economy to justify this.

Posted by clubmgr | April 5, 2007 7:26 PM

We have suggested many things, you just choose to ignore them and like the other busy-body neighborhood activists refuse to have a serious discussion that could lead to solutions because you have little to do and love being involved in the drama.

Here are some of the suggestions we are making, more could develop out of a real process of stakeholders actually meeting and working on this instead of the fraud 'task force' the Mayor put together:

- Allow venues to hire off duty police to patrol areas outside the club
- Make the noise ordinance tougher and enforceable
- Fill the unfilled liquor agent positions
- Hire additional liquor agents that patrol only late night venues
- More police on the beat in high density areas on busy nights
- Better building codes so the sound of an unamplified human voice isn't heard inside a 7th floor condo
- Enforcement of public nuisance laws
- A new noise ordinance enforced against loud individuals on the street at night
- Stricter enforcement of current Fire codes and liquor laws
- Requiring that people moving into the city be told the city is noisy, 24 hours (some buildings are already doing this)
- creation of an advisory board made up of stakeholders that will hear complaints, investigate them, work with city departments, venues and residents to resolve them and make recommendations to the council and mayor on whether or not their liquor license should be renewed, a new power the council will have if a current piece of legislation we support passed in the state legislature
- since some violence occurs in parking lots, require parking lots open after 10pm to hire security

All sides are going to have to give a little and feel a little pain to resolve the issues surrounding urban density and nightlife. The city needs the power to close bad clubs, we want people living downtown and they should be safe, and we want a great club and nightlife scene. People in Seattle can listen to the relatively few but noisy condo owners who want to make Seattle into Taiwan - an anesthetized shopping mall type society that closes at 10pm - or we can have a real discussion that treats nightlife as the valuable thing it is while recognizing the needs of residents, in order to create a vital, diverse, and fun CITY. Here's a link you should follow if you're not into that -,-122.272339&sspn=0.450038,1.271667&ie=UTF8&z=11&om=1

Posted by Meinert | April 5, 2007 7:34 PM


These are better ideas. Though I think you deliberately misundertand some of them.
The City is going to be reluctant about having off duty Police work at Nightclubs after the Officer Powers situation. It literally invites an FBI investigation. Is that what you suggest for Seattle's Night Clubs?
Club are already required to adhere to the Liquor and Fire codes. They are in fact legally obligated to do so. The State and the City shouldn't have to play "gotcha".
Changing the building code? Coming from a group that doesn't want fire sprinklers becuase of the cost and hassle that is a bit much.
A better noise ordinance that includes the unamplified voice is a better idea.
Detterence policing is also a good idea. But, where will the police and money for them come from?
The thing about Carnation is (being diplomotic) unproductive and promoting sprawl pro global warming. Especially, when you talking to one of the few people who was actaully born in Seattle.

Posted by Zander | April 5, 2007 9:12 PM

Zander - these are the same ideas we've been talking about for two years, you just have refused to listen or consider them.

The FBI investigated the relationship between off duty Seattle Police and clubs and found no issues. And yes, it is part of what I suggest. If nightclubs could hire off duty police through the local precinct and pay the precinct via a check an invoice (not directly to the cop in cash) then there would be no issue.

It's true clubs are supposed to follow laws now. But the laws aren't always enforced. And the bad operators often don't follow them and could be shut down for violations of existing law, we wouldn't need new ones if the laws on the books now were better enforced.

What group doesn't want sprinklers? Again you are ignoring reality to spin your side. The nightclub industry has been ok with the sprinkler regulations, we just want a realistic time frame to implement them. We are trying to have a serious discussion, your spin is distracting everyone from coming to real workable solutions.

The City has the money for police. The Mayor agrees.

Sorry to Carnation for referring all the frumps there, I'm sure they don't want busy-body 'activists' any more than Seattle does.

You might have been born in the city Zander, but you sure seem to want to live in a suburb.

Posted by Meinert | April 6, 2007 12:24 AM

Hey Meinert,

You claim to be a moderate voice of reason, but you are like most of the other bar owners I've met whose attitude toward their neighbors' complaints is, "If you don't like it, move!"

Your comment that if an apartment dweller on the seventh floor is bothered by unamplified human voices, then that is a soundproofing problem, is absurd. It is not the homeowners' responsibility to rebuild their building so that it satisfies your desire to make noise; it is your responsibility to not interfere with their right to a reasonable degree of peace and quiet in their own homes. And anyways, did you ever think that some people might want to open their windows at night?

In fact, I don't think you'd find much support for this idea in other cities, where presumably people understand that cities are noisy, unlike the so-called whiners who want to turn Seattle into Singapore, or worse. In Chicago, for instance, all outdoor bar or restaurant areas must move inside at midnight, and in New York, noise from a fixed outside source which is measured at 42 decibels or more three feet inside a resident's open window is a noise violation. The unamplified human voices coming from a moderately active outdoor bar area would likely exceed this limit in a nearby apartment. In fact, the Little Italy Neighbors Association apparently has a policy opposing all restaurant gardens.

Here are some more ideas from these provincial backwaters. In Chicago, there has been serious consideration given to empowering a bar's neighbors to vote to remove a bar's liquor license, although I'm not sure whether this has actually been enacted. And in New York, it is extraordinarily difficult to obtain a cabaret license for a venue which is not opening on the site of a previous venue with such a license.

To suggest that downtown residents complaining about excessive and unreasonable noise should move to Carnation really betrays a trailer park mentality.

Posted by A-Chan | April 6, 2007 12:33 AM

I've never understood why people move onto a block that's had a bar/nightclub for years, and then complain about the noise. Much less move to a neigbborhood like Belltown, presumably in part for the nightlife, and then complain about that very nightlife keeping them up at, well, night. It's like all the people who move into cheap housing near an airport, and then complain about the noise from the planes. Here's your huge helping of "Well, duh."

Speaking of which, has anybody noticed they're building a huge freaking senior citizens living facility on Ballard Ave virtually across the street from King's, Hattie's Hat, the Tractor, etc? How long will it be before they have old men with pants pulled up to their armpits calling the cops every 15 minutes because the young'uns are making noise after 8pm?

Posted by Joe | April 6, 2007 1:51 AM

just a couple of clarifications of fact.

1) Nickels has no secure funding plan for SPD hiring. His Neighborhood Policing Staffing Plan says 21 officers per year for five years would cost $2.0 to $2.5 million each year, a total ongoing NEW cost of $12.2 million by 2012. The funds could come from budget reductions(other needed services?), “revenue growth from a strong economy” (hope is not a plan) and state restoration of $20 million in B&O tax authority (up to Olympia legislators and VERY uncertain).

2) It's not true that the there were no issues identified with SPD and overtime policies. These are fairly serious findings:

Posted by lou | April 6, 2007 7:52 AM

Lou - you're correct, I should have been more clear - the FBI investigation led to no charges. I actually spent some uncomfortable time with them on this issue. But I do think there is a way to allow club owners to hire off duty cops and do it cleanly. What I proposed is the beginning of some set of rules that could work. And letting venues have off duty officers working is one piece of a larger solution.

A-chan - I am far from someone who doesn't care about this issue. I think it is a serious issue that needs serious discussions that work towards real solutions. Closing outdoor decks at a certain time in some areas is something to consider for sure. And noise coming out from a venue needs to be kept to a minimum, and the city needs a more powerful law to make sure of this. But changing these things doesn't keep people on the street quiet. So we should create a noise ordinance that allows for ticketing people on the street who are too loud, and current noise rules should be enforced and prosecuted (right now they aren't). But at some point residents need to realize there will be still be people on the street, they will start their cars, talk, etc. This is the ambient noise of the city. Residents need to realize some of this noise will never go away so it will have to be lived with or mitigated through better construction. It seems that to people supporting the Mayor's plan, nothing short of closing all venues that draw people downtown after 10pm will do. Instead, let's give the city a real tool to deal with problem clubs, the police a real way to enforce noise standards, and residents a place to take their concerns where they will be listened to and dealt with. I think if we all sat down together, identified the myriad of problems and considered solutions for each, then we could make some great strides. But an ordinance that looks to make only nightclubs responsible for all the issues is unfair, impractical, and unworkable. It's simply not a real solution and will have all sorts of unintended bad results (loss of jobs, lower tax revenues, less culture, etc).

And yes, it is partially the responsibility of people in noisy areas to deal with the noise. The attitude that residents and builders don't need to to anything different in coming to a solution to these issues is no more realistic than if club owners said there was no problem and they have no responsibility (which we aren't saying). EVERYONE is going to have to make some changes here - club owners, individuals on the streets, the city and residents.

Posted by Meinert | April 6, 2007 9:09 AM

I live in the heart of Fremont & and work the door at large club on Capital Hill. So I’ve seen this issue from both sides; as a neighborhood resident who often finds drunks peeing in the bushes outside his front door & as the front line of security at a busy nightclub on the Hill.

The one observation I can make from both perspectives is this: There are not nearly enough cops on the streets these days. Over the last 5 years I haven't seen a single beat cop walking the streets in either neighborhood.

I have a great relationship with the SPD & especially the officers of the East Precinct on Capital Hill. But they’ll be the first to admit that they’re understaffed. In fact, right now there are only enough officers to man one patrolman per police car – let alone allow for beat cops to walk or bike the streets.

Because of this, in both Fremont & Capital Hill (two major areas where clubs & residential overlap), police presence is limited to just responding to emergency calls, rather than interacting with clubs, patrons, and residents and diffusing troublesome situations before they become real problems.

This problem is the real question the Mayor needs try to addressing.

The pending legislation is wholly misguided in this regard. The Mayor is attempting to make private business responsible for policing the city's streets; something they have neither the resources nor the legal standing to do.

(Once I, as a bouncer, step off the clubs property, in the eyes of the law I’m no longer a security guard; I’m just another private citizen with no extra legal protections or indemnities from civil action.)

This legislation is just an end-around to avoid the real problem; so the mayor can avoid hiring an adequate number of patrolmen and thus keep his own budget low.

If the force levels where appropriate and patrolmen had the manpower to engage in real community policing - face to face and person to person - the vast majority of these situations would be addressed before they could ever escalate to the point of becoming a problem for the neighborhood's residents.

But right now, the best the SPD can do is put out fires when the arrise. And the mayor’s proposal is no solution; its intended to solve a budget problem rather than the real problems on the streets.

(And really, only a fool could think the solution to keeping our nightlife civil would somehow be to turn over the policing of our streets to low-paid - and often undertrained – private contractors. (i.e: club security staff) I mean, really – how’s that kind of approach working for us in Iraq, huh?)

The solution is better community policing. And for that, we’ll all need to bite the bullet and pay for more cops on the streets, painful as that is.

Misguided half-measures like this will only exacerbate the problem and create more ill will between residents, patrons, club owners & the city.

Posted by Tim Rhodes | April 11, 2007 2:52 PM

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