Next Tuesday, Mayor Mike McGinn will fulfill his campaign promise to foster local nightlife while keeping problem bars and patrons in check by introducing his eight-point Seattle Nightlife Initiative. The initiative includes mechanisms to ticket obnoxious people on the street, stagger closing times for bars, handle residential complaints about club noise more fairly, and more. It already has the backing of the Seattle Police Department and nightlife activists who say that the measures are long overdue.
"It targets actual bad behavior instead of just giving police the broad power to target clubs or abuse people who aren't doing anything wrong," says Dave Meinert, a nightlife advocate and owner of the 5-Point downtown, who's seen a draft of the mayor's proposal.
Of the nightlife initiative's eight points, a so-called meat-head ordinance is getting both bar owners and residents excited. The ordinance, which is currently sponsored by city council member Nick Licata, would allow police to issue tickets for some public nuisance behaviors—such as fighting and drunk and disorderly conduct—between the hours of midnight and 5:00 a.m. in targeted nightlife areas. "Currently, we have limited means for dealing with these people," says SPD spokeswoman Det. Reneé Witt. "If they create enough of a disturbance, say if they're fighting, we can take them off the street." Obviously, the benefit of such an ordinance is that there's an immediate penalty for wasted yahoos, it might dissuade these people from being drunk, public messes in the future, and it keeps officers on the streets instead of having to process and book them.
"This targets actual bad behavior as opposed to giving police broad power to abuse people not doing anything," says Meinert. "We want healthy late-night activity. What no one wants is shitheads ruining it for everyone."
And the proposed ordinance is specific enough that it won't infringe on individual freedoms, says ACLU Deputy Director Jennifer Shaw. "Given the problem of people coming out of the bars at 2:00 a.m. and causing a ruckus, this gives a reasonable time frame for addressing the problem, it limits the areas it can be used, and it gives the alternative of citations instead of making behavior a crime."
Another aspect of the initiative that has bar owners' stamp of approval involves how SPD handles noise violations. There's already a 2007 city ordinance on the books that sets nighttime noise limits at 80 dBC (which measures bass). What the initiative proposes is making the ordinance complaint-based, meaning SPD couldn't investigate an establishment for noise violations without a resident first calling the police. Once a resident complained, police would go to the complainant's home, shut all the doors and windows, and measure the noise levels to see if the business was in violation.
"It takes out the possibility of police targeting specific businesses," says Meinert. "An officer needs to get a complaint and then get evidence that a club is too loud before it results in enforcement. It's subjective. It's fair."
Other aspects of the initiative address extending liquor service hours (the effects of which still need to be studied, says Washington State Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith), beefing up club security training, improving late-night transportation options, creating guidelines for nightclub good business practices, deploying a compliance team to work with nightlife businesses and other agencies, and arranging meetings between residences and nightlife businesses to encourage productive communication.
"This initiative takes a comprehensive look at resolving chronic nightlife problems in Seattle instead of just reacting to the issue of the day," says James Keblas, director of the Seattle Office of Film and Music, who has worked on the initiative. "It's smarter, it's faster, and it covers a lot of ground."
McGinn will outline all of these ideas and set time lines for implementing them next Tuesday, July 13, at 7:00 p.m. at the Century Ballroom on Capitol Hill.
*This post has been updated.