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DC Nightlife: Another ANC Urges ABC Reform

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  • Dominic Sale
    ________________________________________ ________________________________________ ATLAS ADVISORY November 6, 2003 * A Special Nightlife Advocacy Report *
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 6, 2003
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      ATLAS ADVISORY
      November 6, 2003

      * A Special Nightlife Advocacy Report *

      ________________________________________
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      ADAMS MORGAN ADVISORY NEIGHBORHOOD
      COMMISSION (ANC) VOTES UNANIMOUSLY
      TO URGE THE D.C. COUNCIL TO AMEND
      ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE CONTROL (ABC)
      LAWS TO EXCLUDE CITIZENS GROUPS
      AND INDIVIDUALS FROM THE SO-CALLED
      "VOLUNTARY AGREEMENT" PROCESS


      Advisory Neighborhood Commission members
      representing the Adams Morgan neighborhood
      (ANC 1C) voted unanimously last night to urge
      the D.C. Council to amend ABC licensing
      regulations to effectively limit the negotiation
      of so-called "Voluntary Agreements" with
      licensee businesses to the affected ANC,
      to the exclusion of small and unrepresentative
      citizens groups and informal groups of as
      few as three or five individuals, as current law
      allows. The commissioners plan to make this
      proposal to the D.C. Council at public hearings
      to discuss proposed new ABC regulations
      scheduled for later this month.

      In August, the Mount Pleasant neighborhood
      ANC (1D) voted unanimously to request that
      the ABC Board void the so-called "Voluntary
      Agreements" between all eight neighborhood
      licensee businesses and a small neighborhood
      citizens association which include prohibitions
      on music, dancing, entertainment, DJs, and
      cover charges. These restrictions also prohibit
      licensees from selling their businesses to buyers
      intending to continue the operation of an ABC
      licensed establishment, as well as restrictions
      prohibiting advertising. The restrictions in the
      Mount Pleasant neighborhood currently remain
      in effect as the ABC Board has so far refused to
      review the matter or respond to the ANC resolution.

      The resolution adopted by the Adams Morgan
      ANC states that "Alcoholic Beverage Control
      (ABC) protest procedures under current law
      often result in unnecessary or unfair delays,
      costs, and expenditures of time by the ABC
      Board, ABRA [Alcoholic Beverage Regulation
      Administration] staff, [license] applicants, and
      protestants." ANC 1C Chair Alan Roth argued
      in favor of the resolution, saying that "the current
      system is broken" and results in an "undemocratic
      process" which is "too cumbersome." Several
      representatives of the Kalorama Citizens
      Association (KCA) voiced opposition to the
      resolution during public testimony prior to the
      ANC vote, arguing to preserve the legal standing
      of citizens groups in the licensing process and
      calling the ANC proposal "a disgrace." Other
      residents characterized the current so-called
      "Voluntary Agreement" process as "punitive" to
      businesses, "unfair" and "not balanced."

      Andrew Kline, General Counsel for the
      Restaurant Association Metropolitan
      Washington (RAMW), pointed out that
      so-called "Voluntary Agreements" are not
      a licensing requirement, even though the
      assumption has grown that businesses must
      negotiate such agreements with license
      protestants. ABC Board Chair Charles Burger
      recently clarified that licensees are not obligated
      to sign a so-called "Voluntary Agreement" at a
      community forum last month. However, local
      nightlife supporters point out that license
      opponents hold venue owners hostage, even
      before they open for business, by demanding
      that they sign restrictive and, in the case of a
      new license application, preemptive agreements
      through the threat of lengthy delays in licensing
      approval or even the refusal to approve or renew
      a license.

      Community advocates of ABC regulatory reform
      have argued that these restrictive agreements
      are coercive and exceed statutory law by creating
      new regulations with no legislative sanction or
      "balancing tests." They further argue that
      opponents of nightlife abuse the regulatory
      process to infringe on the long-traditional
      role of restaurants, bars, taverns, lounges,
      and nightclubs in the nation's capital as venues
      for music, culture, social expression, and
      community life without regard for First Amendment
      protections, due process, and equal protection.
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