Nightlife Crackdown Back in Play
Mayor Nickels's nightclub license is the bad idea that refused to die.
The licensing proposal, which went through several iterations before apparently dying in council member Sally Clark's neighborhoods committee last month, has been resurrected in kinder, gentler form by Clark's colleagues Richard Conlin and Nick Licata, both of whom had been staunch opponents of any mandatory licensing scheme.
The new licensing legislation, the details of which Licata and Conlin have tried to keep under wraps, would reportedly eliminate some of the more draconian aspects of Nickels's and Clark's proposals—replacing the rule holding clubs responsible for what happens on nearby sidewalks and in adjacent parking lots, for example, with a more lenient stipulation holding clubs responsible only for violent acts that occur inside their doors (previous versions included nonviolent violations and applied within 50 feet of a club's front door). The new rules would also narrow the definition of a nightclub to include only clubs that make a majority of their profits from alcohol sales, are open after 10 p.m., and have a large capacity. "This will not be the license the mayor proposed," Licata says. The intent, according to Conlin, is to come up with a licensing scheme that "just deals with violence and the larger clubs. Personally, I don't like the idea of licenses and Nick doesn't either, but if this is the only way we can get at the problem... we are open to the idea."
Club industry representatives, several of whom met with Licata last week, say they're very concerned about any license that doesn't include a citizen commission with substantial authority to mediate disputes between the city and clubs—something that has not been a part of any licensing proposal so far. "If there's going to be a license, there needs to be a real commission, like the San Francisco [Entertainment Commission]," says David Meinert, a local promoter who, along with other nightlife-industry representatives, met with Licata Friday. The San Francisco commission has the power to help clubs through the licensing process, promote the city's nightlife industry, help clubs mitigate noise and other violations, and mediate disputes.
Recently, Nickels tried (unsuccessfully) to convince the state liquor board to shut down Tabella Lounge, a club in Belltown, based on the number of "incidents" reported to the city's LiquorStat reporting system. But that system, which counts as an infraction any incident reported to the city in or around a club—including 911 calls coming from the club itself—is notoriously flawed. In fact, a recent police report said Tabella security did "a very good job" of maintaining order outside the club; and security tape taken during a recent shooting revealed that the incident did not, contrary to the mayor's claims, originate inside Tabella.
"I think the mayor's very aggressive PR effort over the last several weeks has put a fright into some council members, and that's unfortunate, because a lot of the stuff they're hearing is not correct," says nightlife lobbyist Tim Hatley, who also met with Licata last week. "There's a lot of false information being spread by the mayor."
The license proposal remains in Clark's committee, where it could come up as early as this Friday, July 27, if enough council members express support for Licata and Conlin's compromise. "Until I have something to show people, I don't know who [on the council] to target," Clark firstname.lastname@example.org