It wasn't the highest-rated TV show of the night, but for some viewers, the public-access broadcast of a recent City Council Public Safety Committee meeting was as surreal and tragicomic as an episode of Ally McBeal.
Those who tuned in saw City Attorney Mark Sidran briefing four council members on the proposed "added activities" ordinance, which would put tight restrictions on establishments with liquor licenses that provide live entertainment. A year ago, Sidran's proposals caused an uproar in the nightclub community, which felt threatened by his vague definitions of "public nuisance" and "outside impact" (i.e., holding club owners responsible for what happens on nearby sidewalks and in parking lots). To calm the mob, Public Safety Committee chair Tina Podlodowski convened a task force made up of venue owners, public officials, and representatives of organizations such as the Joint Artists and Music Promotions Political Action Committee (JAMPAC). Members of the task force met for nine months, making recommendations that led to a draft of the proposal that appeared to be palatable to all parties.
But all that "process" now looks like wasted time. At the April committee meeting, Sidran, who was allowed to attend in his capacity as city attorney, appeared to be wiping out the task force's suggestions, essentially repeating the same points he made on the subject more than a year ago.
"He went through this point by point, and he submitted basically his original proposal," says JAMPAC executive director Angel Combs. "I'm really disheartened. It makes me wonder whether [the task force] was just a smokescreen."
Sidran believes there's a connection between live music and public disturbances, and therefore he wants to give the police the right to pull a club's added-activities license in cases where there's a problem. A club owner could appeal the suspension, but during that period live music would not be allowed. Sidran also feels that clubs should be responsible when patrons continue their party on the streets, while club owners say it's impossible to control a customer's behavior once he or she leaves their establishment.
Sidran argues that the proposals he's pushing for, which have the support of the mayor's office and Public Safety Committee members Margaret Pageler and Martha Choe, are intended to punish solely the irresponsible. "Regulation is almost always aimed at those who cause problems," he says. "You wouldn't have to have regulation if everyone ran a good night club. . . . My answer to the industry is that you have to take it on faith that the government, when it regulates, is going to do so with common sense."
Some task force members aren't willing to take that leap. Tina Bueche, owner of the Pioneer Square bar Dutch Ned's, accepts that the city should have recourse to deal with trouble spots, but says that Sidran's proposal would allow police to shut down law-abiding clubs after just one misstep. "[If] the intent is to use the added activities ordinance as a tool to combat problems," she says, "the language should be crafted to match the intent."
The proposed ordinance is headed for a vote by the council sometime in the next few weeks.