Seattle City Councilmembers are lining up against Mayor Greg Nickels nightlife proposal with renewed intensity. The proposal would require additional licenses for venues that serve alcohol and have live music, and would bring the venues under a series of what many club owners call draconian rules designed to drive them out of business. Nickels’ proposal is an attempt by the City to address neighborhood complaints about noisy clubs and their patrons.
Issued last year, the proposed regulations would force clubs to police areas near their venues for litter, noise and people—even if the litter, for example, is not on their property or the noise is not of their making. Under the Nickels rules, fines would be steep. A first violation of the noise ordinance would bring a $2000 citation and could later go up to $6,000.
“Are we using a sledgehammer where a flyswatter could work?” asks Councilmember Richard McIver.
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen calls it “a very heavy-handed, broad-brush approach.”
Nickels’ proposal currently sits in the hands of City Councilmember Sally Clark, chair of Council’s Economic Development & Neighborhoods Committee. Recently, Clark had been leaning in favor of passing along Nickels tough rules to the full council with only minor tweaks.
Her approach changed at a June 4 public hearing on the new rules, where she and other Councilmembers heard from dozens of club owners and citizens.
“I think the 50-foot proposal should be dropped,” she said of Nickels vision of club employees policing areas not on club property.
Rasmussen says he may not wait to see what version of the proposal eventually comes out of Clark’s committee.
“I’m going to come up with a different plan for dealing with legitimate issues raised by neighborhoods and by individuals who live near the nightclubs and the bars,” says the first-term Councilmember. “The mayor’s proposal is unacceptable. It’s too heavy handed—another fee, another license, and more cost to businesses that are just struggling to survive.”
Other city councilmembers question the necessity of a separate license, including Peter Steinbrueck, Richard Conlin, and McIver. Clark could not be reached for comment.
But one club owner at the center of neighborhood complaints says he already feels hassled under current rules. Waid Sainvil owns Waid’s, a 10-month-old Haitian restaurant and club on First Hill. He says he has worked to accommodate nearby
neighbors who complain about noise from his club.
Sainvil soundproofed the inside walls and roof of the club. Later, Sainvil soundproofed the building’s exterior. Now, says the club owner, his neighbors are in a “weird situation because they cannot complain about me, because they cannot hear anything.”
Sainvil says Waid’s had over 120 noise complaints from his neighbors since opening last year.
Sainvil says that some neighbors made it clear they didn’t want a club in their neighborhood—they wanted Seattle University to buy the land and drive up nearby property values. He says he thinks it is part of the condo-building gentrification of downtown catching up with Capitol Hill.
“If we can put a man on the moon, then I should be able to contain some noise coming from a building, no matter how old the building is,” says Sainvil. “It’s humanly possible.”
Still, Sainvil says he worries how a place like his club could become targeted under new nightlife rules. He says he’s already had some experience with having a bull’s eye on his property.
Hans Bernard, a Waid’s employee, says that soon after the club opened it was visited by several local and federal law enforcement officials plus the local health department—all at once.
“They all walked in together fully armed,” says Bernard, who’s worked at Waid’s since it opened.
Clark’s committee is scheduled to hear from the public again on June 21 at a University Heights forum.