Mayor McGinn proposes letting bars stay open later, or all night
Letting bars serve liquor later or even all night is one option Mayor Mike McGinn is considering as part of a new Seattle Nightlife Initiative to curb nightclub noise and violence.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Online surveyThe Seattle mayor's office is soliciting input on the nightlife proposal through an online survey: http://mayormcginn.seattle.gov/nightlife
Letting bars serve liquor later or even all night is one controversial option Mayor Mike McGinn is considering as part of a new initiative to curb nightclub noise and violence.
McGinn presented his proposal — which also includes required bar security-officer training, tighter noise restrictions and more late-night bus service — at a rock-concert-themed news conference Tuesday night on Capitol Hill.
McGinn said his proposal is "a new approach to an age-old issue." People are sometimes at odds over nightlife, he pointed out.
"Oftentimes ... our nighttime experience is viewed as a nuisance or a hindrance or an obstacle."
His announcement was attended by five City Council members and City Attorney Pete Holmes.
The mayor hired a consultant to look at flexible bar-closing times. The state requires bars to stop serving liquor at 2 a.m., so hundreds of patrons leave the bars between 1:30 and 2:30 a.m., sometimes overwhelming law enforcement.
If the city removed, with state approval, a mandatory end time for liquor service, the market would dictate closing times, said Dave Meinert, of the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association.
Acting Seattle Police Chief John Diaz said Tuesday that he supports the proposal.
"It's a proposal that's taken a more holistic approach to ensuring we have a vibrant nightlife in the city and also address public-safety concerns," he said.
Diaz said he particularly likes what he believes is a simpler approach to noise concerns in the proposal, as well as the idea that police could more easily issue citations to unruly bar patrons. Just the threat of a $125 ticket could help defuse some situations, he said.
Approval would be needed from the Washington State Liquor Control Board for an end to the mandatory last call. Liquor board spokesman Brian Smith said the board hasn't seen proof less-restrictive hours would be any safer.
"The evidence that we have seen is that staggered hours or 24-hour sales are not necessarily safer than the current system," he said.
The report by the mayor's consultant concludes that "Seattle is a model city to pilot a flexible hour system," especially as part of a larger nightlife initiative like the one proposed. "In conclusion," the study says, "the transition of 9-5 institutional systems to a 24/7 global economy has begun across North America. Some cities, such as Seattle, are embracing the transition and capitalizing on the growth of the city as a place to live, work, study and play."
Around the country, most cities and states have a mandatory bar-closing time of about 2 a.m., but there are some exceptions. New Orleans, some neighborhoods of Miami, and Birmingham and Mobile, Ala., for example, allow liquor sales 24 hours a day.
Richard Nordstrom, the president of the Belltown Community Council, said neighborhood groups should have been more involved in framing the proposal. "It's had Seattle Nightlife and Music Association input, but it's not had neighborhood input," he said.
He said the proposal failed to get at the real issue, which is overserving bar patrons.
Meinert acknowledged that some neighborhood leaders would be unhappy with the proposal, but he believes it's a fair solution.
"Many residents have been involved in this process, and they are happy," he said. "It's a compromise."
Former Mayor Greg Nickels proposed licensing clubs to give the city another way to enforce rules about violence and noise. The idea never gained the full support of the council. In 2007, police arrested 15 bartenders and bouncers for overserving people or letting in underage patrons in a nightclub sting led by former City Attorney Tom Carr. The sting was roundly criticized and resulted in no major convictions.
Both McGinn and Holmes campaigned last year on taking a less-punitive approach to managing and supporting nightlife, and representatives from the music community hosted a "Battle for Seattle" fundraiser for Holmes and McGinn at the Crocodile in September.
Pete Hanning, owner of the Red Door in Fremont and president of the nightlife-and-music association, said the new tone toward bars and clubs is not a sellout but a recognition of the economic reality that nightlife is important to the city.
"I think that we have had a change in the way the city views our economy, because a nightlife economy is an important one," he said.
The mayor's proposal acknowledges a poor relationship between "nightlife establishments" and Seattle police and neighbors, and stresses the importance of the nightlife industry.
His eight-part plan includes:
• Better code enforcement.
• Flexible bar-closing times.
• A new approach to enforcing noise ordinances. Under the proposed complaint-based system, places where measurements of the bass noise are above the allowed decibel level could be fined after the second violation. The city also would add building codes to encourage developers to better soundproof buildings.
• Required training for bar-security officers. The Seattle Police Department would train bar-security personnel about checking IDs, maintaining a safe environment, use of force and how to disperse patrons.
• Community outreach.
• Encouraging bars to join associations and participate in training to "minimize conflicts and problems,"
• Better late-night transportation options, such as later bus service.
• A new ordinance, proposed by Councilmember Nick Licata, to cut down on unruly bar patrons. The proposed law would make it easier for police to issue citations and warnings to people causing disturbances, particularly involving fighting and disorderly conduct.
Belltown has seen increased violence this summer, with two shootings and a fistfight just after the bars closed. One of the shootings — of 21-year-old Steve Sok — was fatal.
The city plans to solicit public feedback on the proposal until Sept. 15. After that, council approval would be needed as would state approval.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com
Seattle Times reporter Nick Perry contributed.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.
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