Here's what the Teen Dance Ordinance (TDO) does: any dance admitting over 150 people, and anyone under 18, must limit attendance to those between 15 and 20 years old; have two off-duty police officers as security; get a $1 million insurance policy; charge a re-admittance fee to those who leave, and end by 2:00 a.m. Non-profits, schools, and the City of Seattle are exempt.
The TDO has nothing to do with alcohol, which is regulated by the Washington State Liquor Control Board. Furthermore, the TDO's definition of "dance" is so squishy that the cops can enforce it subjectively.
Here's what the All Ages Dance Ordinance (AADO), proposed to replace the TDO, does: The AADO doesn't include age limits, and doesn't require off-duty police or insurance. However, any dance with more than 250 people must have at least two trained security persons, plus one more for each additional 100 attendees; the promoter must pass a criminal background check; and a Music and Youth Commission would be established to monitor all-ages events. Only school dances are exempted.
The Seattle City Council already passed the AADO, in September 2000, but Mayor Paul Schell vetoed it. The effort was not a plot by evil music promoters--it was started by a group of young people who asked the city council to create a Music and Youth Task Force (MYTF), to be composed of young people, members of the music community, and police and fire department representatives. Once established, the MYTF proposed the repeal of the TDO and the passage of the AADO.
1. Won't repealing the TDO make underage drinking easier?
No. It's illegal for anyone under 21 to consume alcohol in Washington State. Neither the TDO nor the AADO have anything to do with this.
For the last few years, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has allowed 21-and-over clubs to host all-ages live music events up until 10:00 p.m. This sounds alarming at first, like an invitation for older guys to buy young girls drinks. However, any adult who provides alcohol to a minor is guilty of a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and/or a year in jail. Any club that admits minors has to be very careful, because penalties for serving minors are harsh: The club can get shut down fast, and the server can face criminal sanctions from the Liquor Control Board. That's why these clubs segregate minors, or have alcohol-free shows--to prevent problems.
2. Won't repealing the TDO allow clubs like the infamous Monastery to return?
No. A little history helps here. The Monastery club led to the passage of the TDO in 1985. It was actually a church, part of the Universal Life Church. Citing teen drug and sex problems, the city closed the club using public nuisance laws, not the TDO.
The Monastery actually illustrates a problem with the TDO: Nonprofits, such as churches, are exempt, so nonprofit status gets you around the law. The AADO would close this loophole by removing the exemption, stopping a future Monastery from emerging.
3. Won't repealing the TDO endanger the safety of young people, especially by removing the requirement to hire off-duty police officers for security?
The best way to ensure safety is to have enough security at an event. Whereas the TDO specifies only two off-duty police officers for security, no matter how big the event, the AADO requires additional security for additional attendees. Since non-police security (which the AADO allows) is cheaper, promoters can hire more security personnel.
In any case, the TDO's requirement for off-duty police isn't used in the real world, because the TDO makes it too expensive to have a show, so almost nobody applies for dance permits. This drives the activity underground, away from all regulations and supervision. Bringing it back aboveground will be safer.
4. Won't removing age and time limits cause problems, like all-night raves?
The AADO defines "dance" in a way such that raves would be explicitly subject to the law.
The Seattle Fire Code (which has nothing to do with the TDO) is currently used to regulate raves. The fire department can require promoters to hire security, including off-duty police; it can also require them to take out additional insurance. That's why there are lots of off-duty police officers at raves (which in reality don't get regulated by the subjective TDO). The AADO wouldn't change the fire department's involvement in all-ages dances.
All-ages events, including concerts at KeyArena, the Pier, and Bumbershoot, already happen. These events allow intergenerational mingling, which is actively discouraged by the TDO. Is this automatically bad? Lots of adults don't want to be in smoky clubs where alcohol is the main attraction.
Also, the AADO's looser time guidelines shouldn't be considered in a vacuum. If the city doesn't have a general youth curfew, the only impact of a required ending time for all-ages dances would be to put kids on the street--kids whose parents haven't already made them go home by that hour.
Finally, the AADO would impose strict regulations on who can hold dances--like doing criminal background checks. George Freeman, proprietor of the Monastery, need not apply.
In response to Mayor Greg Nickels' proposal to scrap the Teen Dance Ordinance (TDO) and replace it with the All Ages Dance Ordinance (AADO), the puritanical forces are emerging from their caves. P-I cartoonist David Horsey penned an anti-repeal comic on Sunday's May 5 editorial page and City Council Member Margaret Pageler has organized a May 13 anti-AADO meeting at the Miller Community Center.
"Protect Our Kids," Pageler's flier hectors. "Forum for parents, community organizations and residents concerned about commercial exploitation of teens."
Show up at 6:30 p.m. and let Margaret "Jihad" Pageler know that equating teen dances with "exploitation of teens" is the kind of rhetoric an unelected puritan like the Taliban's Mullah Muhammad Omar can get away with (at least for a while), but not an elected city council member in Seattle.
The Miller Community Center is at 19th Avenue East and Thomas in Capitol Hill.--Josh Feit