Earlier in the week, Podlodowski won the city council's approval on her Noise Control Ordinance by a 6-3 vote. She was psyched about the ordinance. She said stronger legislation against noise is what Seattle needs, since 12,000 noise complaints are made to the city each year. But Schell huffed and puffed and threw her efforts into a tailspin, and Council Members Nick Licata, Peter Steinbrueck, and Sue Donaldson scraped together a compromise that betrayed Podlodowski's original law.
This is quite an embarrassment for Podlodowski, who worked for 18 months to satisfy cranky neighbors with a tough ordinance. Ultimately, the mayor's threat to veto opened the door for noise ordinance opponents like Licata and Steinbrueck to submit a watered-down version, sabotaging everything Podlodowski was after. The whole affair leaves a bad taste in Podlodowski's mouth, and as of this Monday morning she was busy blaming everybody but herself for the demise of her final piece of legislation (Podlodowski leaves the council in January). The mayor, she says, poisoned the process by airing his concerns late in the game, and her colleagues, she contends, were misinformed. What Podlodowski fails to understand is that her constitutionally suspect proposal was to blame all along.
Podlodowski said the city's original law, passed more than 20 years ago, is unenforceable because it creates "an infinite loop," where officers ask noisy people to turn it down, noisy people say they will -- they don't, and officers can do nothing but keep asking. Police have lobbied the mayor and council to change that clause so they can use their discretion in enforcing the law no matter what the noise offender says. Podlodowski's proposed law scared club owners: They resist being beholden to cranky neighbors -- the law's biggest beneficiaries -- who pester the police with noise complaints.
More importantly, Podlodowski's revision of the law prohibited protests in residential areas and protests that included amplified sound, in effect banning megaphones entirely. It allowed unamplified voices in nonresidential areas between 5:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. It also gave police the power to cite violators on the first offense, allowing police to decide what is "plainly audible" from 50 feet away in residential areas, or 75 feet away in nonresidential areas. The first offense would bring a $100 fine, the second $250 -- and the third could cost $500 and up to 90 days in jail.
Podlodowski had help from committee member Margaret Pageler, who brought in the Sidran perspective. When Pageler brought the ordinance to City Attorney Mark Sidran's office for review, she learned they could make the public assembly exemption stricter by flexing the council's right to restrict the time, place, and manner of allowable demonstrations. Podlodowski voted for Pageler's draconian terms, limiting protests to nonresidential places in the daytime.
Schell immediately attacked Podlodowski and the city council for making significant changes at the last minute. He said Sidran's office has been too involved in shaping the ordinance. Schell says he won't approve "attempts to restrict how, when, and where lawful picketing, marches, and rallies can occur." He also took issue with "the lack of a first warning for commercial establishments" before they're subject to fines.
Podlodowski called the mayor's rejection of the ordinance "silly." Striking out at the man who chose her swan song as his first veto, she said Schell just didn't understand the revised legislation. Prohibiting amplified protests anywhere, anytime is less restrictive than the current law, she said. (Unions disagree. According to the King County Labor Council, her ordinance would shut down protests.) She said every city has a noise ordinance, and many are more stringent than the one she proposed for Seattle. New York's fines are greater.
Podlodowski also defends cranky neighbors. She said the biggest problem is in residential neighborhoods such as University Park, where middle-class homeowners live side by side with University of Washington students. Neighbors upset by parties thrown by student renters next door lobbied the city to strictly enforce bedtime, and that's what Podlodowski tried to do.
On Tuesday, the day after the ordinance passed out of council and landed on Schell's desk, where it was rejected, Podlodowski called a 2:00 meeting with the mayor to try to convince him to rethink his threatened veto. By Wednesday afternoon, she was rushing through the halls of the 11th floor rallying council members to whip up new language that would appease Schell. Her tactic was to reach a consensus with them on language taken from their amendments, pass it through Sidran's office, the King County Labor Council, and the police, and shoot it up to Schell.
Ironically, Licata -- who voted against Podlodowski's ordinance -- saved the day. He introduced legislation that could transform the noise ordinance into something the mayor might be able to live with. It would allow megaphones, except in residential neighborhoods, between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., protect clubs from being seized, and warn violators before fining them. Licata hopes to pass his amendment package, which could include a surprisingly reasonable suggestion from Donaldson, a Podlodowski supporter, limiting fines imposed on clubs. His amendments would drastically reshape Podlodowski's ordinance. If the mayor's threat to veto still holds, Licata says a less oppressive ordinance will be crafted. Either way, Podlodowski loses. Her last stand will either be vetoed, or gutted by her colleagues to Schell's liking. The noise ordinance will barely resemble her original proposal.
"Granted, I wanted it stronger," Podlodowski says, regretful that the ordinance didn't turn out the way she wanted. At this point the process remains out of her hands, as the city attorney's office decides whether the council's proposed changes are constitutional. Ultimately she blames the mayor, whose threat to veto, she says, gave way to "bad legislation."