It wasn't much of a debate.
After City Attorney Pete Holmes publicly embraced studying the idea of allowing later closing times for bars and nightclubs, or no closing times at all, KUOW invited club owner and Seattle Nightlife and Music Association (SNMA) member David Meinert to appear on The Conversation with Richard Thurston, a gallery owner who lives and works in Pioneer Square. Meinert was supposed to argue for later closing times; Thurston was supposed to argue against them.
"We had 20 minutes to talk before the broadcast," says Meinert. And after the conversation, Thurston says, "I would have no problem with staggered hours at all," provided those rules come with a nightclub noise ordinance—which Meinert also supports.
Thurston's fears had centered on an increase of late-night noise. But Meinert makes a persuasive case that a uniform 2:00 a.m. closing time causes "one bulk push-out, with the streets around the clubs filling with people all at once." If bars didn't have to close so early—and 2:00 a.m. is early for clubgoers—it would push fewer people out onto the streets at once.
"And that," Meinert points out, "would mean fewer fights, less noise, and more business—which is good for everybody."
It would also mean fewer noisy afterparties in private residences and fewer unregulated speakeasies.
The 2:00 a.m. closing time is set by the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB), and changing it would not require an act of the legislature, but later hours would require a host of officials to give their blessing.
The study as proposed by Holmes would require the mayor, the city attorney's office, and the SNMA to craft a package of proposals over the next six months and present them to the liquor board. The package would include a new noise ordinance, new regulations to allow police to cite people causing public disturbances (instead of making arrests, which the police are reluctant to do), and a new schedule for bar closing times.
For the closing times, two possibilities are on the table: staggering closing times, such as 3:00 to 4:00 a.m., or allowing bars to set their own closing times, which would mean issuing 24-hour liquor licenses.
"If you were to push it back to 4:00 a.m., you're just pushing all the 2:00 a.m. problems back to 4:00 a.m.," says Meinert. But a 24-hour license would let "the market determine who stays open and until what time," he says.
Kathy Mulady, a spokeswoman for the city attorney's office, says Holmes is considering the 24-hour option "as a part of looking at nightlife and public safety in general." Mayor Mike McGinn's office is also considering staggered closing times, part of his platform when he ran for office. Their support is crucial.
"We have an open mind," says WSLCB spokesman Brian Smith. However, the WSLCB would require more than just the city's support.
Before the state could change the rules, Smith says, the liquor board would accept public input from people who could be affected by the rule change. On the list of people with the state's ear: "Other law enforcement agencies that would be impacted, like the state patrol and King County Sheriff's Office, as well as neighborhood groups that might have issues with nightclubs still going at 4:00 a.m.," Smith says.
"We owe them a plan," says Meinert. "We're going to put together this package of proposals and take them to the board."