Some neighborhood leaders and club owners were optimistic upon hearing the broad outlines of a proposal released Thursday by City Councilmembers...
Some neighborhood leaders and club owners were optimistic upon hearing the broad outlines of a proposal released Thursday by City Councilmembers Sally Clark and Jan Drago to regulate Seattle nightlife.
Compared with an ordinance unveiled by Mayor Greg Nickels in November, the new proposal appears gentler on nightclubs that run afoul of city rules for noise, overcrowding and other operating standards.
Nickels’ proposal, which would affect about 300 clubs, would allow the city to suspend or revoke the license of businesses with multiple violations in a year. The council members propose progressively higher fines, but keep license suspension an option for clubs where violent crimes occur.
The council proposal turns up the pressure on nightclubs to keep the noise down or face fines as high as $6,000 per incident under a beefed-up noise code. The city would hire agents equipped with noise meters to work nights and early mornings and issue fines to businesses emitting noise that exceeds a yet-to-be-determined decibel level, Clark said.
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Even though the city now can fine clubs $500 for excessive noise, the city hasn’t been able to enforce the law because police are responding to higher-priority incidents. Nightclubs that defy the noise rules also could be declared a public nuisance and shut down, under amendments proposed by Clark and Drago to an existing nuisance code.
“What I’ve heard over the course of our work is that people genuinely value Seattle’s music and performance scene, want neighborhoods to feel safe and livable and want rules that are clear and enforceable,” said Clark, who chairs a committee on economic development and neighborhoods. “This package gets us that combination.”
Marty McOmber, a Nickels spokesman, said the mayor received the Clark-Drago proposal late Thursday and needed time to study it. But the proposal appeared to take the mayor’s concern about violence in nightclubs seriously, McOmber said.
Comparing the proposed nightlife rules
City Council members Sally Clark and Jan Drago have developed an alternative to nightlife rules proposed earlier by Mayor Greg Nickels:
Licensing: Both proposals require establishments to obtain nightlife licenses if they serve alcohol after 10 p.m. and meet certain thresholds for crowds and space.
Commission: While both proposals create a nightlife commission composed of club owners and neighborhood residents, the Clark-Drago proposal would authorize that group to hear complaints against clubs and make recommendations on a club’s license. The mayor’s proposal restricts the group’s role to being an adviser on nightlife policy because of the potential for conflicts of interest.
Noise: The mayor’s proposal requires clubs to keep noise contained so it isn’t plainly audible from a distance. The council proposal would establish a decibel level for violations and ratchet up fines, with a first offense costing $2,000 and subsequent offenses costing more.
Nuisance: The council proposal would make it easier for city officials to use the nuisance code to require club owners to address public complaints.
Enforcement: The council proposal hires people to work at night and issue citations to businesses that break the rules. The mayor’s proposal leaves enforcement work to the police.
Source: city of Seattle
Compiled by Sanjay Bhatt
“From the start, the mayor’s focus on this has been to prevent violence in nightclubs in Seattle,” McOmber said. “He wants a vibrant nightlife, not a violent nightlife.”
The Seattle Nightlife and Music Association is opposed to Nickels’ proposal. Co-founder Jerry Everard, who owns Neumos in Capitol Hill, said Nickels’ proposal doesn’t address “the underlying conflict due to the increasing urbanization of Seattle.
“I know that Sally listened intently to what we said, and it sounds like she’s proposing something here that will address the root of the problems,” he said.
Vafa Ghazi, president of the Fremont Neighborhood Council, said the broad framework of the Clark-Drago proposal sounded good. Nightclub owners “should be given a chance to correct their mistakes” before having their licenses suspended, he said.
Mary Orvis, president of the Ellington Condominiums in Belltown, said the new proposal’s emphasis on graduated fines seemed more workable than Nickels’ proposal, which emphasizes license suspension. “In some ways, I like that more than taking away someone’s right to run a business,” Orvis said. “There’s a chance for correction rather than having a bad manager on duty one night. We all want to get along but we also want them to quiet down and behave.”
The condominium association has voiced complaints about noise, violence and litter in the streets outside Mirá!, a club in the Labor Temple across the street from the condos. One night, Orvis says, police were called out because of a crowd on the street that was climbing on a Metro bus and rocking parked vehicles. “It looked like a riot,” she said.
Clark’s committee will hear public comment on its proposal at 5:30 p.m. Monday.
Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or firstname.lastname@example.org