Nirvana played its first show in Seattle at the Central Tavern in Pioneer Square. The Shins and Death Cab for Cutie started off as just a couple of local bands doing time in Belltown.
At midnight on April 19, what the Nightlife and Music Association dubbed “The Night the Music Died,” clubs, bars, venues, and taverns corked their booze and pulled the plug on their performers for five minutes as a statement against Mayor Greg Nickels’ Nightlife Ordinance.
The controversial proposal — pitting neighborhood residents against watering holes, venues, and dance clubs — would give ample authority to the Mayor’s office to deal with what are seen as “problem clubs” by forcing nightclubs to apply for a nightclub licence.
This, in probably “the most regulated industry in the city,” says Tim Hatley of Seattle NMA. “If we already have existing laws on the books to regulate this, do it.”
Nickels made the proposal in response to three violent crimes associated with nightlife, said aide Regina LaBelle at a City Council Economic Development and Neighborhoods Committee (EDNC) meeting.
City Councilmembers Sally Clark and Richard McIver, who sit on the overseeing committee, question whether Nickels’ proposal is overly burdensome.
Club-owners will be responsible now for all litter within 50 ft. of their establishment, something arbitrary in assessment. Clark says, if passed, councilors will need to “make sure the threshold is high enough that it’s not a cigarette butt in the wrong place.”
“The nightlife ordinance gives an awful lot of leeway to the police department in determining who they might enforce and how they might enforce,” says McIver.
But the bass-saturated, neon-blooming nightlife is forcing the police department to reallocate resources. Clark notes the clubbing zones drain so many cops from the city (at times blockading clubs to encourage after-hours rowdies to disperse) that 9-11 calls from other parts of the city are going unanswered.
According to one officer involved in the Nightife Assessment Task Force, this is because SPD has no means of “ensuring follow-through and accountability” from the nightclub owners.
Washington state recently passed HB 2113, allowing cities to write the State Liquor Board requesting they not renew an establishment’s liquor license.
“I’m not convinced that the issues will be solved by licensing and compliance,” says City Councilmember Jan Drago, who also sits on the EDNC. “The current noise and nuisance ordinances are not workable and not enforceable.”
Everyone on the EDNC agrees that SPD has higher priorities than noise and litter, and admits that few noise complaints actually result in a citation.
Under the Mayor’s plan, citation and license revocation authority would be vested in a position within the mayor’s office; these violations would be passed there from SPD. Five noise complaints or three fights over two years could shut a club down.
Drago is at work on a counter-proposal, to be offered later in May, that would empower citizens to act on noise violations.
“Our fear is that the new legislation could discourage small clubs from opening,” says Hatley. “Fifty- to seventy-five-person venues are essential for the ecology of home-grown bands.”
The NMA does support the creation of a Nightlife Advisory Board (NAB), one element of the mayor’s proposal, but wants to see separation of power from the mayor’s office and SPD.
“Business owners have a liquor license, health department license, zoning permit, conditional-use permit, and on and on,” says Hatley, “and how easily this new licence could be revoked is our biggest concern.”
By CHRIS MILLER, Contributing Writer