Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nightlife: Report from August Capitol Hill Community Council Meeting and Reflections

This last Thursday night, James Keblas, Director of the Seattle Music and Film Office, came to the Capitol Hill Community Council meeting to talk about the Seattle Nightlife Initiative. Before I go on, here are the bullet points of Mayor McGinn's Nightlife Initiative:

1. Code compliance enforcement
2. Flexible liquor service hours (This links to the Report on Flexible Hours, created of the City of Seattle by the Responsible Hospitality Institute.)
3. Noise ordinance enforcement
4. Security training requirements
5. Precinct community outreach
6. Professional development
7. Late-night transportation alternatives
8. Targeting public nuisances

Ok, short explanations first. "Code compliance enforcement" and "professional development" are about the city working with nightclubs and bars to make sure they're doing everything they're supposed to to be good neighbors, like helping a nightclub figure out where they should put baffling to keep the noise down. "Security training requirements" requires clubs to send their security staff to Seattle Police Dept. security training classes at a cost of $90 per employee. "Precinct community outreach" is the SPD talking to and getting feedback from the community about nightlife. I'm not clear on if the City plans on adding to the SPD's outreach budget or if the Mayor's office just threw that one in there to remind everyone that the precinct already talks to the community about safety issues already.

As you might expect, "flexible liquor service hours" got a lot of attention; allowing some bars to stay open and serve alcohol longer is controversial here, even if it's not in other places around the country. There wasn't a lot that Keblas could concretely say, since that's the part of the initiative that will take the longest to roll out. Every other Nightlife Initiative plank can be taken care of within city government or between the city and nightlife businesses. Flexible liquor service hours is dependent upon the Liquor Control Board, who isn't beholden to the city and has the whole of Washington to worry about. What Mr. Keblas could say is below (quote courtesy of Cienna Madrid, but it's pretty much what I remember him saying, too):
I don’t want to get too far ahead of the process now...but here’s a hint of what we think would happen. It would be a privileged license with a tremendous amount of conditions attached...You have to be able to measure it, in order to do it successfully. Measure SPD calls, drunk driving issues, economic impacts. Set these measures in place, say 'here are the numbers right now.' Then we'd grant something like 200 licenses spread among numerous neighborhoods, and build it up intentionally over time.
Mr Keblas also said something interesting about the Liquor Board's reaction to the Mayor's office's proposal of flexible liquor service hours. It was that the Liquor Board will be willing to have a conversation about flexible liquor hours if the City can show they have the people of Seattle onboard. Hmm. This could be interesting.

"Noise ordinance enforcement" is about making sure that noise complaints about clubs are valid, and when validated that those complaints are pursued by warnings and fines to the clubs in question. Validation entails an enforcement official taking a noise measurement in the dwelling of the complainant with all doors and windows closed. I thought that sounded kind of weird until Mr. Keblas explained that someone wasn't going to show up on your doorstep to do a sound measurement at 3 o'clock in the morning. Complainants would need to make an appointment for the enforcement official to come by and take the measurement, presumably sometime in the evening.

"Late-night transportation alternatives" are stuff like taxi stands, drive-u-home services, and being able to pay the parking meter till 10am the next day. This all seems like commonsense to me, and really, it's weird that we don't have any of this already. Sadly, there is no money to extend bus hours til the wee hours of the morning.

"Targeting public nuisances", aka the asshole ordinance, has already been put in place; said ordinance was passed about a month ago. It lets police officers ticket noisy, stupid drunk people instead of having to wait for them to commit an offense (assault, destruction of property) and then taking an hour off the street to arrest them. On the face of it, it sounded great, because nothing sucks more than some jackass yelling their head off at 3am. I totally want those people fined for being noisy idiots.

The problem is that it can be used in a discriminatory manner, like loitering laws. I was also concerned that a ticketing a noisy jerk might also be used as probable cause for a search, like a traffic stop. While I'm happy to have someone have to pay up for being a pain in the ass late at night, I don't think it's cool for them to have their pockets riffled through by the cops in the process. I checked up on this with Mr. Keblas, however, and he said that the police wouldn't be able to use the ordinance in that way.

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