An interdepartmental and interagency Code Compliance Team (CCT) was established as part of the Seattle Nightlife Initiative to provide assistance to nightlife businesses and coordinate code enforcement efforts among city, county and state agencies. The CCT meets monthly to discuss issues including street-food vending and code enforcement at liquor establishments and to develop recommendations for an overseeing Policy Team to consider. The Policy Team meets once a month to track trends and developments and makes recommendations regarding new city policies such as noise and sound ordinances, density, zoning, food service, new licensing programs, deployment, definitions and etc.
The CCT has already been very successful at managing code enforcement and working with other agencies. After extensive negotiations with the State, in April 2011 the Washington State Liquor Control Board approved the City’s request to include new public safety conditions in a nightclub liquor license. Going forward, the City will request that each nightclub show that it has (1) a written safety plan on file, (2) professional training for security personnel, and (3) compliance with fire code occupancy requirements, in order to obtain or renew a liquor license. At the mayor’s direction, the CCT also worked closely with Seattle Police to address neighborhood complaints concerning a series of “rave” parties at The Citadel, near Othello station. SPD sent a nuisance letter to the owner of the property, and the owner is working to address the community’s concerns.
The City of Seattle is examining the potential impacts of a shift from the current 2:00 am closing requirement for alcoholic service beverage licenses to a “flexible hours” system. The change is being considered in response to the current system, which by unintended consequence encourages overindulgence while simultaneously pushing thousands of patrons on the streets with limited resources to effectively manage the activity. By transitioning to a flexible hours system, there may be an opportunity to improve Seattle’s quality of life by eliminating issues of public safety and nuisances associated with current closing times.
Another component of the Nightlife Initiative is a new Nighttime Amplified Sound Rule, which sets a limit of 65db(C) on noise affecting residential dwelling units. The new rule is the product of extensive community input and consultation with nightlife businesses. It includes incentives for businesses to mitigate noise complaints before facing fines and enforcement action. The Mayor will conduct an annual review going forward, to ensure that rules are fairly enforced.
The Seattle Police Department offers a Security Training Program, open to the public, that trains security personnel from bars and clubs on how to maintain safety and work effectively with the police. A goal of the Seattle Nightlife Initiative was to make these training classes required as part of liquor license applications and renewals for nightclubs, through the state Liquor Control Board. As of April 2011 the state Liquor Control Board has agreed to include this condition in nightclub licenses and the City will seek to include this in all new nightclub applications going forward.
Improving communication and collaboration between the Seattle Police Department and nightlife establishments is critical to achieving a safe and vibrant nightlife in Seattle. Relationships between nightlife establishments and the SPD have been strained at times. Some establishments avoid calling the police for fear that any call is perceived as a negative mark against their establishment. More recently establishments and the police have taken steps to improve communications and collaborate on nightlife-related issues. Quarterly meetings to discuss nightlife are scheduled in conjunction with Precinct Advisory Councils in the West and East Precincts and as needed in the North, South and Southwest Precincts.
The Seattle Nightlife Initiative will help nightlife establishments learn best practices and relatively simple guidelines to minimize conflicts and problems. The City will promote these best practices using a variety of methods, including:
- Outreach via the City of Seattle’s Office of Film + Music, incorporating the Nightlife Establishment Handbook
- Connecting businesses to associations, such as the Washington Restaurant Association and the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association
- Inclusion of the best practices on the Washington State Liquor Control Board’s (WSLCB) website and in its online liquor license orientation
- Requiring technical assistance and training for nightlife establishments that have been cited or have been the source of multiple complaints
- Encouraging enrollment in nightlife educational opportunities provided by national associations such as the Responsible Hospitality Institute
Providing accessible and safe transportation options is one of the highest priorities of the Seattle Nightlife Initiative because it enhances Seattle’s nightlife experience for neighborhoods, hosting establishments, patrons and employees, as well as reducing alcohol-related accidents and injuries.
While noise, disorderly conduct and driving while intoxicated can be addressed through enforcement, they also can be minimized through improving late-night transportation options and choices. For example, public transit that closes before midnight or long waits for cabs may influence a person to make the wrong choice when deciding whether to drive home after drinking.
We are proposing three new elements to the late-night transportation component:
a) Late-Night Transit Service
Most transit service is oriented toward daytime riders, focused especially on morning and evening commuters. The frequency of transit service drops significantly in the evening hours, with only minimal service available after midnight. Without sufficient transit service at night, people choose to drive. This is understandable but challenges our ability to move people efficiently, allocate limited public parking for use by both nighttime patrons and residents who live near business districts, and meet our climate protection objectives. There are also obvious public safety and health implications to driving being the main mode of transportation for patrons heading home after an evening out on the town. As part of the Seattle Nightlife Initiative we will:
I. Make better use of and raise awareness of existing transit service. While transit frequency in the evening and early morning hours will never match that of rush hour, transit is still a viable option for many. Current marketing and awareness of late night transit service is limited. Seattle will work with King County Metro Transit and the nightlife community to promote transit as an option for patrons.
II. Seattle is developing a Transit Master Plan to guide our transit service investments for the coming decade. We will include consideration of late-hours service in that discussion. Seattle will work with Metro to make sure limited existing service hours are allocated as efficiently as possible. Through the Transit Master Plan process, we can also determine whether to pursue more transit hours and investment into late-hours service.
III. The city can explore other options that may be able to fill some of the gaps. For example, fixed-route jitneys, or share taxis, are a more prevalent transportation option in other cities. Jitneys are typically a little bigger than a cab, smaller than a bus, some with regular routes and hours, others with flexible schedules. The Department of Finance and Administrative Services will work with the Department of Transportation to assess potential demand for such service here.
b) Late-Night Taxi Zones
The city can do a better job of making taxis an easy decision for people. One way is to make their presence more visible and dependable in parts of the city with concentrated nightlife destinations. The City will work with property owners and businesses in Downtown, Belltown, Pioneer Square, Broadway, University District and Ballard to set up late-night taxi zones. These new zones will provide a safe and visible sidewalk location for people to hail a taxi. This work is scheduled to take place late Spring through Summer of 2011.
Such concentrated taxi zones would make cabs more visible and allow them to queue to handle greater demand when needed. The zones will be signed and in effect 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. We will work with nightlife establishments in business districts to make this option known to their customers — including a map with locations of late-night taxi zones. We will also work to encourage nightlife establishments to work with limo operators to have arrangements for taking people home.
With both Late-Night Taxi Zones and Late-Night Transit Service, it’s also important that we give people a safe, well lit place to wait for the bus or taxi at those hours, and we’ll take good environmental design practices and public safety concerns into account in where and how we locate those facilities.
c) Next-Day Parking Pre-Payment
The City’s on-street parking pay stations formerly began operating at 4 a.m. to allow pre-purchase of a maximum of two hours of parking that starts at 8 a.m. that same morning. The Mayor asked SDOT to reprogram all pay stations to instead open at 10 p.m. so drivers can pay for those first two hours the next morning, giving themselves a little more time to get home safely and retrieve their vehicles the next day. We will work with nightlife establishments in business districts to make this option known to their customers and publicize the option on pay station graphics.
Starting Thursday, April 21, 2011, people will see new blue and yellow informational stickers explaining the changes on the pay stations in the Pike-Pine and Capitol Hill neighborhoods. The stickers will eventually be applied to all pay stations.
Undesirable behavior by patrons after they leave nightlife establishments is an ongoing concern. As defined, this behavior includes but is not limited to illegally consuming intoxicating liquor, publicly urinating, causing fear of bodily injury, engaging in acts of violence (including fighting), discharging firearms, creating unreasonable noise that disturbs others and intentionally obstructing pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
Public nuisances and disturbances are difficult to deal with as they often cannot be directly controlled by establishments. Due to current city laws, police also have limited tools to deal with them. Because this undesirable behavior often occurs in a public setting late at night, it can affect an entire neighborhood and lead to negative perceptions of nightlife establishments (“they are promoting drunken behavior!”) and the police (“they are just ignoring the problem!”).
The Nighttime Disturbance Ordinance was passed by the City Council on August 2, 2010. It creates a new civil infraction for loud noise, threats or fighting that occur in a public place in a commercial or industrial zone between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. The noise provisions of the ordinance were approved by the Department of Ecology in November and SPD is currently conducting officer training on the ordinance. Enforcement began in January 2011.