Urban Politics #117: Special Events Legislation & Vote

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

With assistance from my Legislative Assistant Newell Aldrich on this issue.

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.


Special Events Ordinance-Vote On Amendments

On Monday November 19 the City Council passed an ordinance amending the City’s Special Events Ordinance, by a 5-4 vote (Conlin, Wills, Licata, Nicastro)

The ordinance extends the Special Events Ordinance to cover events on private property. It was brought forward with the intent of regulating Mardi Gras, by placing private businesses (i.e. bars and clubs) under its regulations. The Special Events Ordinance formerly covered only events held on public property.

Background on the ordinance is available in edition 113 of Urban Politics at http://www.seattle.gov/council/licata/up_113.htm .

The ordinance had been held at the Full Council since October 22. The new version contained changes from the version described in UP 113. There were a number of improvements to the ordinance from the previous version, beyond the addition of an appeals process and one-stop shopping for permits included in the earlier version:

– The threshold for applying the ordinance was raised to 500 people gathering in public space for events on private property

– “Significant” was added to the definition of “substantial impact”, as described in UP 113

– The appeals process was modified to require people not on the Special Events Committee.

However, I believe there are still basic flaws that mar the effectiveness and even the rationale for this legislation. The extension of the law creates more rules and process, but ultimately without the intended result of avoiding future Mardi Gras.

– It does not force bars to apply for a permit. If bars choose not to participate in the permitting process, they are not subject to the permit process for regulating the crowds.

– It cannot obtain cost recovery, because only those who apply for the permit can be required to pay for police protection (even then it only partly recovers the costs to the City)

– It does not require “rigorous procedural safeguards” for prior restraint. This was a reason the so-called “Added Activities” license was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. District Court.

– There is too much vagueness as to when it applies, which could result in the City being accused of discriminatory enforcement. Further, many people will not know when it applies. Perhaps this will be solved over time, but in the meantime, the City may be subject to lawsuits.

Current Status Of Mardi Gras

The Pioneer Square Community Association is currently planning public events for Mardi Gras. These events would fall under the previous version of the Special Events Ordinance, including a parade. The bars and clubs, however, are not planning a joint Mardi Gras event this year, so unless they voluntarily agree to fall under the permit, they can’t be forced under the purview of the new, amended Special Events Ordinance. My understanding is, this was the whole point of this ordinance, which leaves it unclear what the purpose of passing it is.

For these reasons, I cast a “no” vote.

I believe that a repeat of last year’s Mardi Gras tragedy can best be prevented by cooperation between the neighborhood, clubs, and the City.

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