Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Mayor's Office of Film + Music blows!

I used to think James Keblas was a cool guy. He helped found The Vera Project, Seattle's publicly funded and supported all-ages venue that not only hosts all-ages shows, but provides young people access and training in all elements of the music industry. He was an activist for Seattle's music community for over a decade. But a few years back he was recruited to be the director of the re-vamped "Mayor's Office of Film + Music." And ever since, we seem to see ever-increasing support for more regulation and harassment of local clubs by the mayor and the Office of Film + Music. What gives?

I'm a small government, less rules, less laws, let the free market decide things kind of guy. It's not exactly a popular position in Seattle, where people seem to love nanny state laws to govern civility at the expense of freedom of expression. And what's really changed in Seattle to cause this sudden need for more government oversight and regulation? Violent crime is actually way down. Clubs are ten times more safe than they were ten or twenty years ago. Clubs no longer have smoking, free flowing drugs or other problems they once did. Yet they still need more regulation? Do they want to take all the fun out of rock and roll?

The biggest push for government regulation of Seattle's music community has come from city in just the past few years after the Office of Film + Music was established. And it's come through a large number of proposals to regulate live music clubs. There have been attempts to force clubs into special licensing, to pay off duty cops to police public streets and sidewalks near clubs, increased fines related to noise complaints, and gearing more tax payer dollars towards creating new city positions for club inspectors. All during a time when there are less problems with clubs.

One would think having an long time music activist as director of the office that regulates live music clubs would help lessen the red tape and make it easier to promote and support local music. After all, the Office of Film + Music boasts about how much the music scene helps the local economy. One would hope Keblas would be working against increased club regulations and provide a buffer between the Mayor and the music scene. Sadly, things definitely seem to have gotten worse in the last couple years, rather than better. Is this what it feels like when a small local band you've grown up with sells out? Or when your highschool drug dealer becomes a cop? The transformation from music community advocate to music club cop has been... well... disappointing. Am I making too big of a deal out of the actions of this office in recent years? Maybe.

Want to see you your tax dollars at work? Check out the job listing for Nightlife Regulatory Coordinator. Apparently we are willing to spend $40 an hour for someone to "Design and implement a comprehensive regulatory program regarding nightlife establishments in the City of Seattle which includes outreach, technical assistance and enforcement efforts. Current efforts regarding nightlife are spread across numerous departments and are poorly monitored, coordinated and implemented." This person will "Coordinate the activities of the Joint Enforcement Team (JET), an interdepartmental team responsible for the regulation of the nightlife industry to ensure a safe and vibrant nightlife in the City. Identify and forward policy recommendations to the JET Policy/Action Team and defend those recommendations." It's a $75,000 a year city job, not bad pay for regulating and harassing local clubs! Just to put it in perspective, the new Club Czar will be paid a higher salary than your average Seattle teacher, librarian, UW college professor or local nurse. Do you think that's fair? Do you want to see your tax dollars spent on this new position, when we already have building inspectors, fire marshals and police doing the job adequately?

Ironically enough, the Mayor's Office of Film + Music hosted it's first monthly happy hour last night... AT A NIGHT CLUB! "This will be a great time to learn more about the Film + Music Office, meet new people in our music and film industries and discuss current issues spanning film and music in Seattle." Or so was the plan... the turn out at Moe's however was lackluster and some local music club owners and bookers weren't even invited, so the very real issues that have been everywhere in the Seattle press and most on club owner and music fans' minds over the past year regarding new nightlife ordinances and regulations didn't get aired. Maybe next month? Maybe the real music community can show up in bigger numbers and give Mr. Keblas and his office a piece of their mind.

ps- To the Mayor's Office of Film + Music, generally when you throw a happy hour you at least have some free food, if not free drinks. I can't see being stingy on a couple veggie platters when you are so willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on government bureaucracy, nightclub regulations and their enforcement.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,

Thanks for slamming me without making a phone call first or finding out more information. You're totally right about me - now that I got this job I totally don't care about my hometown or the music scene that is part of my life's work. What are you thinking? I work my ass off every day on behalf of music in Seattle. Where have you been? I didn't see you at one Council hearing on the license issue. I don't see you at SNMA meetings. And for the record, the Happy Hour events have been going on since August and I have received significant feedback on their networking effectiveness. Maybe I should have known the only thing that gets you away from your keyboard is free booze and food. I guess I won't be seeing you around.


Dan 10Things said...

You failed to address the core issues I brought up. And I don't buy the idea that people must attend a council hearing to have an opinion on nightclub regulations or how our tax dollars are spent.

Look, I absolutely know you work hard for the music community. I praised your work in my rant and didn't discount it in any way. But, it's also your job, the Mayor's Office of Film + Music is a publicly funded office, and you are the public face of that office. Music fans and taxpayers have every right to be disappointed in all the nightlife regulation proposals and the overpriced Club Czar position. I'm not saying anything new here, you know people are talking about these issues. And I think more people should express their disappointment publicly, rather than in phone calls or behind the scenes conversations.

Believe me, I'd much rather you told me I was wrong, there won't be a 75K Club Czar position and you've really worked hard to kill all the nightclub regulations, rather than only be able to tell me I'm wrong about something trivial like when the happy hours started.

For people interested in helping fight the city's recent push for nightclub regulations, new noise ordinances, new safety requirements, and new admission tax rules, check out the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association: Government is not your partner in rock'n'roll.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with regulating nightlife. Sure it's been safer since the past but it's because the City of Seattle has stepped up to make it a safer place for ALL AGES. Music needs to be enjoyed by everyone in a safe place; more people would be willing to participate if they know they won't be shot outside of a club by a loony fan.

And regulating the clubs themselves isn't a bad idea. Many club managers, bookers, and owners are out to screw bands over, Chop Suey being a great example. If someone doesn't regulate these messy business tactics our favorite bands won't be making enough money to come back.

James I think you're doing a great job, introducing people not only to the rock world but encouraging citizens of Seattle to expand their music tastes. Happy hour has been a fantastic way to meet people, pick their brains and learn more about our city, our music, and our films.

Dan please keep attending the happy hours and keeping the conversation open. It's always good to hear the other side. Maybe you will even find supporters for your ideas.

Dan 10Things said...

Lidia, I think it's naive to think that the current way the mayor and our city is regulating and harassing clubs will do anything to help bands. And who fears going to club because they may get shot anyway? Anyone besides you?

I think if you talk to bands, club owners and music fans, the vast majority favor more music and artistic freedom and wish city government would keep it's hands out of our music community as much as possible. It's hard enough to keep a rock club alive these days (see the Crocodile and King Cobra's recent struggles for example, or large corporations buying struggling clubs like Chop Suey and the two Showbox locations) without government bearing down on clubs.

There was a great article about this recently in the Seattle Times by Jonathan Zwickel that addressed some of this, he pretty much spelled it out:

"Where there were once positive relationships between police and local concert venues, now venues operate in fear of noise and capacity violations and the fines they bring. Venue employees are called upon to enforce infantile state liquor laws, such as the one that bars adult performers from drinking alcohol while performing, by city cops patrolling clubs. Noise violations occur where none have occurred before, shutting down long-standing music nights. Consensus among the industry: It's more difficult to live in Seattle as a musician, promoter or club owner than just a few years ago. And nightlife is suffering."

Read the whole article here:

While you and city officials may not feel the impact oppressive governing of our live music clubs is having, you and Keblas are in the minority. I'm not saying anything that club owners, music fans, bands, and local newspapers aren't also saying.