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By City Councilmember Nick Licata
With assistance from my L.A. Newell Aldrich
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.
** This was originally distributed on August 3**
Seattle City Council, on Tuesday, August 3rd, unanimously passed Council Bill 116917 I sponsored that some call the “meathead ordinance.” It allows Seattle Police officers to give tickets for after-hours disturbances in Seattle’s nightlife districts. The legislation enacts the number one recommendation of the Nightlife Advisory Board, created by the City Council to promote the co-existence of residents and nightlife establishments in Seattle’s vibrant neighborhoods. The law allows police officers to give tickets for fighting, threats, or unreasonable noise between midnight and 5 a.m. in commercial districts.
BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
The origins of this bill can be traced back to December 2007 when the City Council passed Resolution 31003 to create a Nightlife Advisory Board to advise the Council regarding nightlife issues. That resolution noted the City Council sought to support, maintain and promote an active and safe environment that would foster a successful music and nightlife industry, while also accommodating higher density in the City’s urban centers; the goal being to balance neighborhood livability with vibrant nightlife activity.
The Nightlife Advisory Board consisted of three representatives from neighborhoods, three nightlife and music representatives, a noise expert, a Liquor Control Board representative, and a public safety representative. Their duties included advising the Council on the City’s enforcement of nightlife related regulations and developing possible recommendations for improvements to the rules and processes associated with regulating nightlife activities.
In December 2009 the Nightlife Advisory Board issued its Final Report, and recommended the City Council “Revise City Ordinances to allow Seattle Police greater ability to enforce public nuisances and disturbances violations, specifically fighting and drunk and disorderly conduct…and for officers to issue a citation in the form of a ticket to those who do not correct or cease the behavior.”
I believe this bill passed because groups on all sides of this issue were willing to make compromises. In moving the legislation forward, I reached out to groups including neighborhood community councils and business groups, the Downtown Seattle Association, Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the ACLU, and homeless groups. The legislation was developed in cooperation with the Seattle Police Department and Seattle’s Law Department.
A large number of the problems police have to deal with in nightlife districts are connected to closing time, and a surge of bar patrons coming onto the street together. The new law should address 80 to 90% of the behavioral problems police encounter when crowds leave the bars. It provides police officers with a preventive tool to address unruly bar patrons on the sidewalks. With the passage of this legislation, residents should experience quieter nights and safer streets in those neighborhoods that host night life establishments.
Seattle police officers would be able to give $100 citations between midnight and 5 a.m. for fighting, threatening another person, or making unreasonable noise in the public areas of commercial districts.
The ordinance applies in Downtown Seattle, Belltown, and other business districts throughout Seattle. The ordinance also requires a report in 2011 by the Chief of Police and the City Attorney on its use in reducing nighttime disturbances. It will go into effect after a State Department of Ecology review, as legally required for laws involving noise. The review can take up to 90 days.
The legislation is also included in Mayor McGinn’s Seattle Nightlife Initiative, an eight-point plan to increase public safety, grow our nighttime economy and improve urban vibrancy.
Further specifics about the definitions of public place, threaten, and unreasonable noise are listed below.
“Public place” means an area generally visible to public view and includes alleys, bridges, buildings, driveways, parking lots, parks, plazas, sidewalks and streets open to the general public and the doorways and entrances to buildings or dwellings and the grounds enclosing them. It does not include areas of private property where tables and chairs are placed for the use of patrons consuming food and/or beverages; it does include sidewalk cafes.
“Threaten” means to verbally communicate the intent to assault, fight or cause bodily injury to the person threatened or to any other person.
“Unreasonable noise” means loud and raucous, and frequent, repetitive, or continuous sounds that are audible to a person of normal hearing at a distance of seventy-five (75) feet or more from the source of the noise. Unreasonable noise may be created by: amplified or unamplified human voice; any horn or siren attached to a motor vehicle, except such sounds that are made to warn of danger or that are specifically permitted or required by law; and, the starting, operation, repair, rebuilding or testing of any motor vehicle, motorcycle, off-highway vehicle, or internal combustion engine.
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