Sealing his reputation as perhaps the most anti-nightlife mayor in Seattle history, Mayor Greg Nickels proposed a new nightclub-licensing program last week that combines the most draconian aspects of the noise ordinance, good-neighbor agreements, and former City Attorney Mark Sidran's unconstitutional added-activities ordinance. Galvanized by the alarming draft proposal, club owners (including some frustrated members of the mayor-appointed Nightlife Task Force, which was supposed to sign off on the ordinance) have banded together as the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association, which has already hired a lobbyist, Ron Sims operative Tim Hatley, who says he has suggested a fee of $2,500 a month for the services of the firm he runs with Rachel Bianchi, Bianchi/Hatley LLC.
Red Door owner Pete Hanning, who also chairs the Nightlife Task Force, has taken an active role in the new nightlife association, in part because he feels many of the new regulations are "not appropriate" for Seattle's nightlife community. Hanning cites provisions in the mayor's bill that would require clubs and bars to submit a new business plan as part of their application for a new nightclub license, including the names of all partners and managers ("I'm not going to know who my managers are going to be when I apply for a license") as particularly burdensome. "It needs to be less restrictive, and we need to hold more people accountable." David Osgood, an attorney for several bars and clubs that are challenging Nickels's ongoing crackdown on nightlife ["Corralling Clubland," July 6], goes further than Hanning, calling the draft ordinance "toxic," "added-activities-plus," and "ten times worse than anything Mark Sidran ever drafted." For a detailed list of the anti-nightlife provisions in the mayor's legislation, see "No Fun," below.
A club can have its license suspended for 30 days for any infraction. Three suspensions and the city would take away its license for good. Among other things, the Nightlife and Music Association is trying to get those shutdown times reduced: to seven days for the first violation, and thirty for the second.
Clearly, there are real issues with clubs, particularly concerning public safety; between January and April, the city shut down two clubs, Mr. Lucky and Larry's, that had repeated violent incidents. "I think there's a recognition that there are issues of violence related to some of the clubs, which no one likes. But noise is a totally different issue," nightlife lobbyist Hatley says. "There should be a recognition that people are moving into an area with nightclubs and restaurants and bars."
The director of the Mayor's Office of Film and Music, James Keblas, said last week that the draft legislation was only a draft, and that "a lot more conversation still needs to happen" before the mayor makes his recommendations final. However, this seems like a minor point: The mayor's starting position is so far out of line with what club and bar representatives want, it's hard to see how the two sides can use it to come up with a collaborative resolution. Hatley says mayoral staffer Jordan Royer, who distributed the draft law to task-force members last week, has said he "supports" the creation of the pro-nightlife trade group; but that, again, is difficult to believe given his office's longtime unwillingness to do more than pay lip service (with economic-impact studies, press releases, etc.) to Seattle's "vibrant" nightlife.
The association has already started looking beyond the mayor's legislation. If it grows as much as organizers hope, music promoter David Meinert says, "it could be bigger and more powerful than JAMPAC," the now-defunct music-industry lobby group whose work was instrumental in overturning the Teen Dance Ordinance. Hatley says that once the current battle over Nickels's nightlife legislation cools off, the group hopes to become "a long-term organization that can really advocate locally and potentially at a state level" to win legislative changes that help the nightlife industry. Among the changes Hanning says he would like to see are privatized liquor sales; extended drinking hours; and the legalization of whole-bottle sales in email@example.com
Here's a quick rundown of a few of the more onerous aspects of the mayor's draft club regulations. For a more detailed list and continuing coverage, visit www.thestranger.com/blog.
• First, the bill defines a "nightclub" as any large (50-person capacity or higher) bar that offers live entertainment after 10:00 p.m., including everything from live music to burlesque to poetry. Thus bars that offer DJs, like Linda's, would be considered "nightclubs."
• Thus redefined, the owners of such "clubs" would be responsible for any violations of the new nightclub standards on their "premises," including preventing patrons from carrying weapons or drugs onto the premises—not making efforts to prevent, but preventing. Additionally, club staffers would have to call the police "if they either observe or are informed of any possible violations of law occurring either on the premises or in the impacted public areas."
• Speaking of which, here's the definition of "impacted public areas": "public property adjacent to the nightclub premises where either patrons or prospective patrons gather." This puts club owners in charge of not only policing the sidewalk outside their clubs (and isn't that the police department's job?) but also determining which passersby might be "prospective" patrons and policing their behavior, also.
• The law also includes a new noise ordinance that would apply only to nightclubs, stipulating that any noise "audible to a person of normal hearing" from neighboring homes or businesses for 20 seconds or longer is grounds for yanking its nightclub license.
• The police chief can "summarily suspend" a club license, with no hearing or discussion—exactly the sort of thing that drove club owners nuts when Mark Sidran was fighting for the added-activities ordinance, from which Nickels's proposal takes much of its language verbatim.
• Club employees would be responsible for maintaining security within 100 feet of the club before and after closing time and cleaning up litter not just inside and around the club, but on the "adjacent" premises.