Just because Gus Hellthaler is paranoid, that doesn't mean the city isn't out to get him. Shortly after midnight last Friday, December 2, members of Seattle's Joint Assessment Team (JAT)—a multiagency taskforce that monitors clubs for public safety, revenue, and licensing issues—entered his Blue Moon Tavern to give it a round of official scrutiny.
"They sent their jackbooted, authoritarian thugs in here and scared the bejesus out of my bartenders," says Hellthaler. "They went around with a clipboard IDing all my customers. And when it was all done, the problem was that after 71 years of operating, this bar suddenly didn't have an 'apparent certificate of occupancy.'" Hellthaler says a JAT member also pointed to a man dancing and deemed him "overserved."
The Blue Moon, on Northeast 45th Street, is in the midst of a brawl with city attorneys over Hellthaler's refusal to sign a Community Good Neighbor Agreement ["Mooning the City," Amy Jenniges, Nov 2]. The document, which is becoming an increasingly common hurdle for nightclubs, entitles the city to enforce a long list of rules, such as requiring bars to join neighborhood business associations.
Since Hellthaler returned his agreement unsigned, he's received more than his share of city oversight. For instance, his application to the Washington State Liquor Control Board for an upgraded license was rejected ["Moon Blues," Amy Jenniges, Sept 1]. In an e-mail to one of his assistants, city attorney Tom Carr confirmed that Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis signed off on the objection. And in October, while Hellthaler was in the middle of contesting the city's agreement in court, the Seattle Police Department staged an undercover drug buy in the alley adjacent to the Blue Moon. It looked to Hellthaler like a coordinated effort to swing the judge's opinion against his tavern.
The Joint Assessment Team already had an image problem. The perception, increasingly common among nightclub operators, is that the JAT is the city's bully squad. Rhetorically, at least, Mayor Greg Nickels has expressed concern over this perception. In a meeting with The Stranger during his reelection campaign, he acknowledged, "It does look heavy-handed.... [We're] making sure that they understand that this is not intended and it is not acceptable for it to be an intimidation. [The JAT] is meant to get in there, take a look at the public safety issues and the revenue issues, and then get out."
So why, of all the bars in Seattle, would the JAT hit the Blue Moon during its first wave of monitoring clubs outside downtown?
The mayor's office points out that other bars in the University District and Fremont also received visits from the JAT and denies that the team is an instrument of coercion. "The JAT, which started out downtown, is now citywide and prominent," says Nickels spokeswoman Marianne Bichsel. "The JAT is trying to make positive interactions. We've had very few complaints."
But tension remains at the tavern: Hellthaler, widely regarded as a "good neighbor" during the 23 years he's owned the bar, believes that until he signs the Good Neighbor paperwork, he'll be a firstname.lastname@example.orgIN OTHER NEIGHBORHOODS
GREENWOOD: A recent change in Seattle Public Utilities policy dictates that the construction of natural drainage systems along streets will no longer include sidewalks—news that infuriates pedestrians in general, and sidewalk-starved neighborhoods like Greenwood in particular. "To me, it shows a real bias toward automobiles," says Michael McGinn, president of the Greenwood Community Council. He points out that private developers are required by the city to build all affected areas up to the "modern standard," but that the city is absolving its own agency of the same responsibility. "We have this idea that we must maintain the road for automobiles because they're entitled to a smooth ride," says McGinn, "and yet we don't have enough money for sidewalks so that our children can have a safe place to walk." CENTRAL DISTRICT: Aspiring dental hygienists at Seattle Central Community College will offer cheap dental services to anyone with the courage to entrust his or her teeth to a student. The program, to launch next month, will be most heavily promoted in the Central District area surrounding the college, home to an East African immigrant population among whom dental health coverage is in short supply. Conceptually, the Dental Hygiene Project is analogous to the discount you'd get for a haircut at a beauty school—except that hair grows back. So it's up to students to assure volunteers they're in good hands. "It's quality care," says Jamie Wood, one hygienist-to-be. "We're going to be extremely thorough because we are students, and everything will be thoroughly checked by professionals in the field." -TF