Mayor's club-license plan not in council's proposal
or else. Follow the fire codes ... else. Keep order — or else. For a long time, city officials have rarely been able to make...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Turn down the volume — or else.
Follow the fire codes — or else.
Keep order — or else.
For a long time, city officials have rarely been able to make good on such threats to problem nightclubs.
Now the City Council hopes to sharpen the enforcement tools it already has while trying out a new hammer it got from state lawmakers: a much greater say in the renewal of liquor licenses.
Requiring clubs to have a special license, though, isn't high on the council's agenda, despite pressure from some residents and Mayor Greg Nickels.
A committee chaired by Councilmember Sally Clark met Friday to discuss draft legislation, which it could vote on as early as Thursday. Among other things, the package of proposals would:
• Make it easier for the city to respond to noise complaints by setting specific noise limits, arming inspectors with noise meters and increasing fines against offenders.
• Expand the public-nuisance code to allow the city to go after clubs that repeatedly violate fire-safety codes.
• Create a high-level position to work with problem nightclubs and, if necessary, recommend that their liquor licenses not be renewed.
If passed by the committee, the legislation, which makes no mention of licensing, would go to the full council in August.
"It's not like there's opposition to a license," says Council President Nick Licata. "From what I'm hearing from council members, it's rather they want to try this approach first and see how it works."
Council members also are waiting to see how a new state law plays out: The state Liquor Control Board must now give more deference to the wishes of a city that objects to a liquor-license renewal.
For months, residents of Belltown, Pioneer Square and East Barclay Court in the Central Area have demanded that the City Council do something to rein in clubs they view as obnoxious.
The friction promises to get worse because the city is permitting a record number of condominiums in areas long known as nighttime stomping grounds for young adults.
It's been nearly four years since a citywide summit on nightlife problems. The summit's participants — residents, club owners, police and regulators — agreed that the main problems arose from the fact that the city allowed split uses in some neighborhoods, such as Pioneer Square and Belltown. That meant that after 10 p.m., they turned into party zones that didn't mix well with the residential surroundings.
The summit's participants also agreed that the city didn't have sufficient tools to deal with irresponsible nightclubs.
In November, Nickels asked the council to require all nightclubs to obtain a license — one he could revoke for clubs that logged chronic complaints of violence. That was met by loud protests from owners of neighborhood pubs, popular restaurants and large dance clubs.
The clubs objected again after Nickels recently issued a list of eight problem nightclubs. The list contained inflated numbers of liquor-law violations, and included police incident reports generated by the clubs themselves calling 911.
The data in the mayor's list came from a new city database known as LiquorStat, a tool the city can use to determine which clubs are having the most problems. But on Friday, Denise Movius, the head of the city's Department of Executive Administration, acknowledged that the database is not "ready for prime time."
For example, she said, city officials incorrectly assumed that all the enforcement reports on clubs by the Liquor Board were violations, when in fact, most were complaints.
She also acknowledged that a high number of police reports attributed to a club can be positive because it may mean the club's security is calling 911 to report crimes.
Another problem the council wants fixed: The city doesn't track occupancy limits well, making it difficult to enforce the fire code.
Nearly two years ago, a city nightlife team inspected 85 bars and clubs and found most were out of code — many with blocked emergency exits and missing permits for large crowds.
Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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