Back in 1999 and 2000, JAMPAC (which stands for Joint Artists and Music Promotions Action Committee) spent 18 months as part of the city's Music and Youth Task Force. The task force was charged with working out a compromise with the city to amend the onerous TDO. The 1985 ordinance mandates that venues putting on dances for teenagers--15- to 20-year-olds--have to get a special permit and agree to a series of regulations including: buying $1 million in liability insurance; closing the show to people 21 and over; hiring an off-duty police officer and at least two security officers trained in law enforcement; and charging a readmission fee. The regulations effectively killed Seattle's all-ages venues in the early '90s, a time when the city was the epicenter of youth music culture in America.
Meanwhile, the ordinance had failed to clearly define which music-related events counted as a "dance."
"I'm not going to become a danceologist here," SPD Assistant Chief Clark Kimerer said in his court deposition. "There's a variety of physical activities that occur at a concert. Whether or not they arise to the level of dancing is, I guess, in the eye of the beholder."
The compromise solution between the city and the Music and Youth Task Force in August 2000, known as the All Ages Dance Ordinance (AADO), nixed the age restrictions, insurance requirements, and off-duty cop guidelines. It also clarified what qualifies as a "dance." The AADO won city council approval in a 7-1 vote. Unfortunately, Mayor Paul Schell followed the advice of the very folks JAMPAC had been "compromising" with on the task force--Mark Sidran's City Attorney's Office and the Seattle Police Department--and vetoed the AADO on August 22, 2000. ["Dancing Fool," Josh Feit, Aug 31, 2000.]
"Our lawsuit was a direct reaction to Schell's veto," says JAMPAC Executive Director Angel Combs. (Direct, if belated; Schell vetoed the AADO more than a year and half ago.) On Tuesday, January 22, attorney David Osgood, the same guy who derailed former City Attorney Mark Sidran's proposed (and unconstitutional) added activities ordinance in U.S. District Court, filed JAMPAC's motion in U.S. District Court. The demand: Scrap the TDO.
At first glance, Osgood seems to be on shaky legal ground. The city's defense cites a U.S. Supreme Court case (City of Dallas v. Charles Stanglin DBA Twilight Skating Rink) that upheld a teen dance ordinance in Dallas, Texas.
"JAMPAC ignores Dallas v. Stanglin," writes Assistant City Attorney Ted Inkley confidently. However, on closer inspection (try reading the Stanglin decision, Ted), the Texas case bears little resemblance to the issues at hand in Seattle. "They ruled on apples in Stanglin," Osgood says. "This is oranges."
Osgood rightly points out that the Stanglin case ruled on a narrow issue ("rights of association"), while JAMPAC's suit addresses an array of constitutional issues like prior restraint and freedom of expression. Overturning a Texas Court of Appeals decision, the Supreme Court wrote simply: "The Texas Court of Appeals held that the ordinance violated the First Amendment right of persons between the ages of 14 and 18 to associate with persons outside that age group... the First Amendment secures no such right." In short, the Supreme Court simply said teenagers don't have an inalienable constitutional right to hang out with 21-year-olds in dance halls.
Well, okay, but JAMPAC isn't suing to win teenagers the right to hang out with 21-year-olds in dance halls. JAMPAC is suing on behalf of club owners to put on music events for teens. "To the extent that JAMPAC is claiming their own First Amendment political expressive rights in putting on a concert," says David M. Skover, professor of constitutional law at Seattle University, "then to that degree the Dallas v. Stanglin opinion is less relevant."
"This lawsuit is about the right to free expression without prior restraint," says JAMPAC Executive Director Angel Combs. "Artists have a right to perform to audiences of all ages, whether it be for money or political cause. Through the permit process, the City of Seattle wants to maintain the ability to arbitrarily 'choose' which music performances are allowed to take place."
"The city can't use dancing as a poison pill... [or] as a wet blanket to blot out free expression," says Osgood, JAMPAC's attorney.
Osgood is referring to the fact that music shows often go hand in hand with political events like the Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets benefit show for homeless youth at the Elysian last November 28 featuring BlöödHag, or the Go Girls Music Conference benefit featuring girl bands at Sit & Spin last September 29. "I get asked to put on political shows all the time," says David Meinert, JAMPAC board member and local band manager and booker. "In Seattle over the last decade, the music scene has become very political and very vocal. The Capitol Hill Block Party is a great example... 15 regional bands played, and city council members and candidates spoke."
And Meinert is accurate when he says Seattle has a history of politicized music shows. Seattle legends like Nirvana, Love Battery, the Gits, and Gas Huffer all cut their teeth on benefits in the early '90s for causes like rape relief and books for prisoners. And then there's the creepy experience of Catwalk club owner Arman Badri, who canceled a Persian New Year's festival scheduled for his business because he feared the TDO.
City Attorney Ted Inkley would not comment on the city's TDO defense.