Neighbors making noise against nightclubs
Seattle Times staff reporter
Proposed nightlife code
Who it would apply to: About 300 bars and nightclubs in Seattle.
What it would do: Require businesses meeting the definition of a "nightlife premises" to apply for a license from the city. It also would create a seven-member board, of which at least three members would be licensees, to advise the city on the new rules.
Standards for operation: Businesses must take "reasonable measures" to prevent violence, liquor violations, excessive noise and criminal activity on the premises and the perimeter. They also must clean up litter around their establishments, post a phone number for complaints and respond to calls within 24 hours.
Penalties: Range from a $50 fine to the suspension or revocation of a license.
Next public hearing: 9:30 a.m. April 5 in the City Council chambers.
To read the proposed ordinance: Go to www.seattle.gov/council/clark/ and scroll down to "Nightlife Ordinance" for a link to the proposed ordinance and schedule of public hearings.
Source: city of Seattle
At one time or another, Victoria Beach says, she has tried sleeping pills, a glass of gin or pleasant music, but she cannot fall asleep. She calls 911.
Her neighbors on East Barclay Court in Seattle's Central Area are sleepless, too. They blame years of noise emanating from a restaurant and lounge that's gone through several name changes. After having held protests in the mayor's office and won a judgment in small-claims court last year against Mundo's, some are moving away.
Waid Sainvil, the owner of Waid's, a successor to Mundo's, says the neighbors are using him as a scapegoat to gain support for an ordinance proposed by Mayor Greg Nickels that for the first time would define the nightlife industry by law and aim to regulate it.
Since Sainvil bought the business last year, he says he's spent $50,000 on improvements, such as 8-inch-thick walls and soundboard, to contain the noise of amplified music. The lounge is open until 2 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Clashes like these are occurring in more Seattle neighborhoods as more people move into the city and more neighborhood restaurants turn into nightclubs. The City Council is cool to Nickels' proposal, which essentially would give the executive more power to shut down nightclubs that repeatedly get reported for violence, excessive noise and other public nuisances.
The proposal emerged after high-profile violent incidents in Pioneer Square and Lower Queen Anne. If approved, the ordinance would eliminate the city's practice of negotiating individual "good neighbor agreements" with nightclubs in residential areas.
"While the laws that are on the books may in theory be adequate to deal with a problem liquor-license location, it's clear that if the licensee is sophisticated and knows the laws, that they can keep the problem going more or less indefinitely," said Andrew Taylor, chair of the Miller Park Neighborhood Association, which spent years trying to shut down another Central Area nightspot, Club Chocolate City.
The mayor's proposal would require bars and nightclubs to carry out "all reasonable measures" to prevent violence and to report criminal conduct at their businesses and within 50 feet outside where patrons gather. It also would define a noise violation as sound coming from a club that is audible continuously for 60 seconds from 75 feet away, either from outside or from an adjacent building. Licensees violating those standards repeatedly could be shut down for a week to 30 days.
At least 300 bars and nightclubs -- more than 10 percent of the liquor-license holders in Seattle -- would fall under the new regulations. The Seattle Nightlife and Music Association opposes the proposal, calling it "an onerous regulatory regime with excessively severe penalties for minor violations."
Rather than add a new layer of bureaucracy, many bar owners and some residents say they would prefer more police on the streets to enforce existing city laws against excessive noise, litter and threats to public safety.
"I don't want to endanger my staff" by requiring them to police the sidewalks outside the business, said Pete Hanning, who owns the Red Door in Fremont. "There needs to be an acknowledgment within the city that we need more public safety."
Earlier this month, Nickels proposed beefing up neighborhood policing with 105 new officers over the next five years -- a plan that requires City Council budget approval.
City Councilmember Sally Clark, who chairs a committee scrutinizing the mayor's nightlife proposal, wonders whether tuning up existing codes would be a better place to start. She calls the existing noise law "ridiculous."
Under current law, police must visit a business or home twice -- first to deliver a warning, second to confirm the business has disregarded it -- before the owner can be fined. Because police officers are stretched thin and noise complaints are low-priority calls, offenders often get only a warning.
Clark says most large cities have a zero-tolerance policy toward excess noise. In New York, for example, a first noise infraction brings a $3,000 fine, and a second violation is a $6,000 fine, she said.
People disagree on what's a reasonable level of noise in an urban setting. Even on East Barclay Court, where several residents complain about the bass vibrations from Waid's coming through their walls, James Nowak, who owns a bed-and-breakfast on the street, says he hasn't any complaints with Waid's.
When Beach moved to the neighborhood 26 years ago, she says there was no nightclub there. The noise level jumped when Mundo's opened about three years ago, she said. She has packed most of her belongings and is ready to move, yet holds out hope the city can shut down Waid's.
"I'm not going to let Waid chase me out of my neighborhood," Beach said.
Waid Sainvil doesn't want to get chased out, either. "They harass me so much," he said, "and I'm sick of it. Even the police officers are tired of coming here."
Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company