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Will debate over McGinn's nightlife plan need its own noise limits?

Mayor Mike McGinn has a nightlife plan that would address neighborhood concerns but also extend hours for bars. Let the shouting begin.
Mayor Mike McGinn, in a visit at Crosscut.

Mayor Mike McGinn, in a visit at Crosscut. Chuck Wolfe

Mayor Mike McGinn knows that his new "Seattle nightlife initiative" will create controversy.

Talking to Crosscut writers and editors a few hours before he and other city leaders unveiled the plan, McGinn said the proposals involve "meaty issues. I think there will be a lot of discussion." And, he said, he looks forward to hearing public viewpoints on proposals, which he said could take considerable time to debate and implement.

There's no doubt he will hear differing views. David Meinert, a partner in several Belltown establishments, told SeattleCrime.com that the initiative is "pretty brilliant." But residents in some neighborhoods, including Belltown, reacted with concern or alarm to early reports on the plan.

Since the initiative includes the hot-button idea of extending bar hours past 2 a.m., perhaps to 24 hours, there's no doubt that the proposals will provoke plenty of discussion — or outcry.

The administration describes the overall initiative as balanced. As McGinn puts it, the plan attempts to achieve three goals: "public safety, the community, and our nightlife economy. And there's a number of different proposals that address each of those."

The plan includes stepped-up code compliance enforcement, noise ordinance enforcement, development of late-night transportation alternatives, security-training requirements for liquor-license holders' staff, and police precinct outreach to communities. There's also support for legislation that City Councilmember Nick Licata is developing that would empower police to issue tickets to people creating disturbances. All of those have potential benefits for neighborhoods and clubgoers. And, as the mayor pointed out, the city this summer already stepped up police presence in nightlife areas.

For nightlife promoters and musicians, there's a strong verbal commitment to promoting "a vibrant nightlife economy" (something the initiative deems to be part of attracting "a creative class of innovators and progressive thinkers who drive the local economy and quality of life"). But the big change would be developing a proposal for "flexible liquor service hours." The initiative says the 2 a.m. closing requirement for bars has the "unintended consequence (of encouraging) overindulgence while simultaneously pushing thousands of patrons on the streets with limited resources to effectively manage the activity."

The closing hour creates a real crunch for police. One challenge for the mayor will be to show that public-safety officials can better manage a series of closing times, or no closing times at all. And neighborhood activists fear that, rather than facing one accustomed surge of noise at 2 a.m., people will be awakened repeatedly during the night. The initiative proposes a host of measures with the new closure rules, including putting more onus on nightlife operators to prevent disorder, involving neighborhoods more in operational planning, and creating a dedicated police unit that could work with other city departments on maintaining order.

Those ideas have already received some positive notice. But for McGinn, part of the challenge will be to show that the ideas will work in practice.

And that's made harder both by the city's strained financial situation and some of the specifics of how he has handled the budget crunch so far. There's not a lot of extra money to start anything new, without ending some other service. Plus, McGinn has already declined to hire the additional 20 police officers approved by the council for just this kind of thing: neighborhood policing.

City human resource officials have told the police department's seven-member crime-prevention team, whose members help neighborhoods deal with public-safety issues, to prepare to be laid off March 31 of next year. It sounds like a serious plan. Terrie Johnston, one of the crime-prevention specialists, said the human resource office also outlined outplacement services such as resume-writing help and advice on COBRA health insurance.

The crime-prevention people are in contact with neighborhoods in ways few other city officials are. Johnston said she has long been thankful for what she learned while helping a block-watch captain in Belltown after a surgery. Johnston stayed overnight, sleeping on the woman's couch. As a resident of a neighborhood north of the Ship Canal, Johnston said she was enlightened about the noise that draws complaints from Belltown residents. "I don't live in a concrete canyon," she said.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jul 14, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

is that a piece of bacon?

eyesopen

Posted Wed, Jul 14, 10:17 a.m. Inappropriate

I think its pizza, eyesopen

Jon Sayer

Posted Wed, Jul 14, 2:13 p.m. Inappropriate

It’s not the rushed sales of alcohol at 2:00 AM which causes the problems we’re seeing today. It’s the rushed consumption, which exacerbates drunkenness. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to do what’s done in most other large cities around the world and allow bar patrons to finish off their drinks in a leisurely manner before they leave the establishments? The only new rule this would require would be that in the last 10 minutes or so before sales stop, drinks would be limited to one per customer. This plan seems a lot simpler than the proposal for ‘staggered hours’, and it might even turn out to be technically legal under the present state law. If the bars show reluctance to go along, I say just let them know it’s now legal to do this, and let ‘market forces’ sort out who wins by being more customer-friendly.

Posted Wed, Jul 14, 5:23 p.m. Inappropriate

If you "stagger" the closing hours, some places could be required to close earlier than others. Who decides? Who's going to stagger first? (Show me a restaurant owner who wants to be closed when his competitor remains open.) And even if you work that out, what happens when a newcomer wants a liquor license in a neighborhood where bar owners have agreed on closing hours?

Posted Wed, Jul 14, 10:41 p.m. Inappropriate

I think we've figured out that Mayor McGinn is capable of stopping something - his veto is evidence of that.

But is there any evidence yet that he can actually do something as Mayor?

I get the impression that the 7th floor of City Hall is not the place to go right now for people who want to actually do things.

Most of the people who want to accomplish things at City Hall seem to be getting of the elevator on the 2nd floor these days.

So while it is mildly interesting to know what the Mayor is up to, it doesn't seem to be particularly meaningful.

Maybe we will have a vibrant debate. I'm just not expecting the leadership to make anything happen come from Mayor McGinn.

Jan

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