Urban Politics #92: All Ages Dance Ordinace (AADO)


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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CONTENTS:

  • All Ages Dance Ordinace (AADO)
  • History: 1977-1985
  • 1985 To Present Under The Teen Dance Ordinance (TDO)
  • Critiques Of The Teen Dance Ordinance
  • Clarifications
  • Future Legislative Action

All Ages Dance Ordinace (AADO) (thanks to my Legislative Assistant Newell Aldrich for working on this issue)

On August 21, by a 7-1 vote, the City Council passed the All-Ages Dance Ordinance. Councilmember Conlin and I co-sponsored this legislation, which repealed and replaced the Teen Dance Ordinance. The law would govern the admittance of those under 18 to dances and dance events.

The following day, the Mayor vetoed this legislation. This edition of URBAN POLITICS provides background information on this complicated issue. Recent public debate has not reflected the subtleties involved. I will provide additional information in a future UP.

History: 1977-1985

From 1977 through 1985, teen dances and dancehalls were unregulated in the City of Seattle. There were a number of venues where youth could see musical performances and dance. There were some problems with lack of regulation; concerns about the safety of youth arose with the Monastery, a church that often held dance events, amid allegations of sexual abuse, and drug and alcohol use.

As a result, in 1985 the City Council passed the “Teen Dance Ordinance” (TDO), to regulate dances that admit those under age 18; some amendments were later passed in 1988. The key elements of the TDO include:

- Age limits: if those under 18 are admitted to a dance, then only those ages 15-20 can enter. Those under 15 can be admitted with a parent or legal guardian; those 21 and over can enter only if accompanying a youth under age 18;

- Security requirement: A minimum of two persons trained in law-enforcement (as a practical matter, this means two off-duty police officers), with one off-duty officer to patrol the sidewalks and public areas outside the teen dance;

- Insurance: $1,000,000 in liability insurance;

- Exemptions: Tax-exempt non-profits, the City of Seattle, and schools are exempt from the TDO.

The entire ordinance can be viewed at the City Clerk’s website (type in 6.294 under “Code Section Number” and click on “Submit Query”).

1985 To Present Under The Teen Dance Ordinance (TDO)

Shortly after the passage of the TDO, there were no longer any venues serving youth in Seattle (the Monastery was closed using existing civil abatement laws; ironically, because the TDO exempts non-profits, the Monastery would never even have been subject to the law).

A few years later, Seattle became world famous for its music scene; however, youth had little access to it. If they wanted to access live music or dance, they often had to go elsewhere, to Tacoma, Bremerton, or to Redmond, with its thriving, City-owned venue. Youth access in the City of Seattle became very limited.

In practice, although it may not have been intended, the TDO ended up being a near de facto ban on youth dances and venues. Almost no one has obtained the license during the 15 years it existed, and no one has been prosecuted under it; currently, only the Mountaineers have a Teen Dance license.

Critiques Of The Teen Dance Ordinance

A key problem with the Teen Dance Ordinance is lack of clarity about what it regulates. The TDO says it regulates “dances”, but does not define the term ‘dance’. According to the Law department, the TDO is not intended to regulate concerts. However, because ‘dance’ is not defined, promoters and the Police often have a different understanding of what the TDO regulates.

Police say that promoters often call dances ‘concerts’ in order to avoid the TDO; promoters say the Police have an unreasonably broad definition of ‘dance’. Thus, even with the best of intentions, Police and promoters often lack a common understanding of what the TDO regulates, which leads to frustration on both sides. This problem has existed since soon after the passage of the TDO.

This highlights another issue: in practice, promoters have operated not by complying with the TDO, but by skirting it. The TDO can be avoided, for example, by forming non-profits to carry out dances. When the TDO was proposed, a club planning to open informed the City’s licensing office that it was going to be a private club (and therefore exempt).

The requirements of the TDO also drive up costs. The requirement that promoters hire off-duty Police officers is very expensive. In addition, the 15-20 age limit makes it very difficult for promoters to draw a large enough audience to break even.

As a practical matter, with such severe regulation, the activity doesn’t disappear–it simply goes underground, away from all supervision. Supporters of the TDO argue that the real estate market is why there is no teen clubs in the City; however, this ignores the fact that such clubs existed before the TDO.

Promoters have been wary of allowing those under age 18 to attend music events, due to fear of the TDO. In practice, many clubs have both dance and concert events; sharp regulations on dances make it difficult for venues to survive, with only concerts. In addition, the appeal process is unclear, and time for suspensions is not specified.

Thus, the TDO is both burdensome and confusing. On the other hand, Police say the TDO is a useful tool they can use to educate promoters, and they support the ordinance.

Clarifications

I will provide more information on this subject in a future edition of Urban Politics. However, I’d like to clarify a few issues that have been discussed in public recently.

First of all, the All-Ages Dance Ordinance (and the current Teen Dance Ordinance) regulates only one thing: whether those under age 18 can be admitted to dance events. Thus, it is needed only if the promoter wishes to admit those under age 18. These ordinances to not regulate whether dance events can take place.

Whether events can take place, and whether those under 18 can attend, are two separate matters with separate regulatory processes. Whether events can take place is covered by regulations such as Use Permits from the Dept. of Design, Construction and Land Use, and Assembly Permits from the Fire Department, and the Business License. Once a promoter obtains these permits, he or she can hold an event with those age 18 and over. If the promoter wants to admit those under 18, the AADO would be required.

Secondly, the City cannot legally require Police officers to work off-duty. Off-duty officers can only be hired through the Police Guild, a private group.

Future Legislative Action

In order for the City Council to consider an override of the Mayor’s veto, or to pass other legislation, the ordinance must first be placed on the Referral Calendar at a meeting of the Full Council. The earliest that could happen is Monday, September 11.

The Council cannot vote on ordinances on the Referral Calendar until the next Full Council meeting, which takes place Monday, September 18. That is the earliest the Full Council could vote.

While a majority of five votes are required to pass an ordinance, by state law, an additional vote is required to override a veto.

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