Monday, December 15, 2008

Bar Decision Draws Opponents

What seemed like a straight forward and simple change has become a contentious issue for local and even national government officials. The city council decision to extend bar and alcohol service hours for the inauguration has drawn some predictable and not so predictable opposition since the 12-1 vote on December 2.

I'm OK with the ANC commissioners, residents of entertainment districts, and churches filing complaints. I understand that. If you live near 18th and Columbia or M and Wisconsin, I totally understand. Your neighborhood may be a little busier than usual on those nights. However, you should not be subject to illegal behavior. That obviously is not the aim of letting these places stay open. Be honest and realistic with your forecasts and expectations. Local debate and concern is natural and needed. Of course in DC, its expected because are hyper politicized about every issue.

Add to the mix a letter sent to Mayor Adrian Fenty from two United States Senators. One from California and the other from Utah. Neither from DC, as we have no Senate representation. Sens Feinstien (D-CA) and Bob Bennet (R-UT) mailed Fenty and Council Chair Gray to advise the two to reconsider the council vote. The 12-1 council vote. Of a council not located in CA or UT. It's in the District and represents the people of the District. Its a non-starter on considering their letter as legitimate factor as the legislation is the most local of local matters and not at all Constitutional in nature, like, for example, the DC gun laws.

Here are my top reasons that Council should keep the 5am ruling.

5. Pro partiers know how to party. Most people don't party until 5:00am on a weekday. Only a select few. These are the pros. Many of them are industry people who never get to legally party after work because they work beyond last call. Pro partiers know how to handle themselves. They are not wild animals, just solid partiers. They know their limits, how to stay safe on the streets and how to get home safely. Don't worry about them. By the way, there are few pro partiers in DC. Most will be coming from out of town. All the regular partiers will go home when they are tired or out of money, like they do every other night of the year.

4. Many bars will close at the normal hour. The Council ruling is not a requirement. Many bars and restaurants will choose to close according to their normal schedule. Perhaps the owners have a voluntary agreement with neighbors. Many won't stay open longer because they won't be able to staff their places for the additional days. Others just aren't equipped for 24 hour service. They literally won't have enough stock or space to expand service for this one time deal. Natural attrition. There you go.

3. We're talking about four nights and 11 total hours. The bill authorizes bars and restaurants to extend alcohol service hours from 3:00am to 5:00am on one day (Jan 18th) and 2:00am to 5:00am for 3 consecutive days, the 19th, 20th and 21st. That's 11 additional hours. 11 extra hours over four days. That's a big deal for an individual establishment, but the impact on the general public will be much more muted. The average person is not going to rage for 4 straight nights. Its nearly impossible, unless you are one of the pros mentioned above. Remember we're talking about 11 hours here. So much for all that extra necessary policing. Maybe if they saved some of those meaningless overtime shifts for this special occasion, we wouldn't be scrambling.

2. Congressional rule over DC is virtually illegitimate. Despite the wording of the Constitution, at this point, we rule ourselves. DC no longer needs the parent-over-shoulder known as U.S. Congress. Every city council in this country makes good, bad and mixed-outcome decisions on their own. They may pay at the ballot box, but we are the only city who pays with Fed oversight, under constant threat of Congressional veto of our own laws. At over 500,000 residents we operate like a small state and are more capable of self rule that at least a handful of derelict, corrupt cities and states across the U.S. Camden, East St Louis, Detroit, all of Illinois and Florida in the year 2000 all come to mind. Where is the Feinstien and Bennet letter to Illinois threatening to boot their criminal (allegedly) governor? There isn't a letter, because Feinstien and Bennet have no grounds to lord over Illinois state business. The same should go for DC.

1. For the love of pete, pretend you live in a real city for once. I don't know what it is about the occasional flashes of social conservatism in this town. Maybe its some of the mid-western or small town transplants. Maybe its old money. Perhaps some within our strong faith communities. I don't know. But please, for once I just want to say "LIVE A LITTLE." A childish, basic refrain, but its not to be helped sometimes in this town. The world will not end if some people drink at a bar until 5am. There will be more pressing issues at the inauguration like: availability of protest zones and upholding 1st amendment rights, safety of the all visitors and the President himself, possible freezing temperatures and January weather, critical transportation repercussions and lots of others. While some are even calling for an earlier last call, I wish that we could call this 12-1 vote a done deal and move on to the next.