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Originally published July 6, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 6, 2007 at 2:05 AM

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Plan to rein in clubs has an air of urgency

As concerns about safety escalate after a recent Belltown shooting, a Seattle City Council committee is giving new urgency to curbing a...

Seattle Times staff reporter

As concerns about safety escalate after a recent Belltown shooting, a Seattle City Council committee is giving new urgency to curbing a range of problems related to Seattle's nightclub scene -- from noise to littering to violence.

A proposal unveiled Thursday by Councilmember Sally Clark would expand the city's power to monitor and cite nightclubs that threaten public safety and make the lives of nearby residents miserable.

Clark says there aren't enough council votes to support Mayor Greg Nickels' proposal to require nightclub licenses, which would let the city shut down clubs that fail to stop escalating violence.

Still, council members said they want some regulation in place as soon as possible.

"We don't want to wait for a tragedy to happen," said Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck, a member of Clark's committee, which met Thursday.

Here's a rundown of the alternative proposal from Clark's economic-development and neighborhoods committee:

• Nightclubs could pay into a pool run by a neighborhood association that would hire off-duty Seattle police officers to patrol the streets outside nightclubs and bars.

• Five nights a week, two city inspectors would cite clubs that violate noise, occupancy and litter rules.

• The city would impose steep fines on clubs that generate noise above a specific decibel level.

Like other cities encouraging residential growth in their downtowns, Seattle is struggling to balance the interests of nightlife businesses and a growing population of residents who expect to sleep through the night and be free from street violence.

Clark's proposal came after testimony Thursday from angry Belltown residents.

Just after 1 a.m. Monday, a suspect fired shots along Western Avenue that wounded a young woman. Police say the man they arrested, a 21-year-old Navy cook assigned to the USS Abraham Lincoln in Everett, and a friend had been at Tabella Restaurant & Lounge about 11:30 p.m. Sunday.

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Another nightclub, Venom, is next to the parking lot where the shooting occurred.

That same night, a street fight broke out involving up to 25 people, a police official told Clark's committee Thursday, and 18 police officers responded. It was not clear whether that incident was related to the shooting.

According to a city database, the Seattle Police Department has logged 12 incidents this year involving patrons of Tabella or that took place outside it or in nearby parking lots. The incidents range from assault to disturbing the peace.

The state Liquor Control Board has cited Tabella once this year for allowing minors to consume alcohol and once for overserving; four citations last year were mostly for disorderly conduct. The city has documented a similar pattern of incidents involving Venom.

Tabella owner Kauser Pasha says it's wrong to hold his club responsible for the behavior of "stupid kids" outside his premises.

Nickels' office says licensing is the only way to be sure business owners take public safety seriously.

"Tabella could have been shut down in March" if the city had a licensing regulation in place, said Marianne Bichsel, a spokeswoman for Nickels.

While some on the City Council support the idea of a nightclub license, others believe it's unnecessary and a distraction from beefed-up enforcement.

"I don't want to penalize 200 clubs for six" offending clubs, Councilmember Richard McIver said.

A memo circulated at Thursday's meeting offered a glimpse into the nature of the violence reported to police, from stabbings to clubbings and shootings.

Nickels made his licensing proposal in November, after a series of high-profile crimes at nightclubs in Pioneer Square and Lower Queen Anne.

His legislation would affect about 300 businesses -- many in Belltown -- placing the onus on clubs rather than police to keep the peace inside and within 50 feet of nightclubs.

The Seattle Nightlife & Music Association lobbied against it, saying it would hurt business and wouldn't reduce violence.

For their part, Tabella and other nightclubs have repeatedly asked for permission to hire off-duty police officers to work inside their clubs, but city officials have opposed that. In the past, some officers working off-duty security for nightclubs have been investigated for alleged misconduct.

The committee's alternative proposal -- letting a chamber of commerce or other third party hire the off-duty officers -- has the support of Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, who said his department already allows that, but no one has taken him up on it.

"We're not opposed to that," he said.

The committee is to vote on the draft legislation July 26. If it passes, it will go before the full council.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com

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