Rules loosened for all-ages dances; Seattle council's action caps long controversy

Seattle's controversial teen-dance ordinance was repealed by the City Council yesterday and replaced with looser rules some hope will revive the city's sagging all-ages dance scene.

The teen-dance ordinance was enacted in 1985 after revelations of sexual abuse and drug trafficking at a dance club called The Monastery. The resulting restrictions, critics complained, went overboard, making it impossible for dance clubs to host profitable all-ages events.

Getting rid of the old law had been a cause célèbre for local music promoters and activists, including former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, who attended yesterday's vote.

"This fight has just been for an inclusive music scene," said Novoselic, who has been active in the Joint Artists and Music Promotions Political Action Committee (JAMPAC).

"We're for safe, supportive entertainment options for young people. That's all we wanted," Novoselic said.

The new ordinance removes restrictions on the ages of people who can attend dances at private clubs. It also gets rid of requirements that dance promoters carry $1 million in insurance and hire off-duty Seattle police officers for security.

The new law requires a club to obtain a license from the city before hosting all-ages dances. It also requires criminal background checks on the person applying for the license and allows the city to revoke the license immediately if the dance promoter knowingly allows certain felony crimes to occur, such as sex offenses.

The license could also be revoked for three or more violations of a less serious nature, such as drug possession, in a year.

The new rules don't apply to school dances or concerts.

Although aimed at private dance clubs, the rules also would apply to dances run by nonprofit organizations — something the old rules didn't cover even though The Monastery, the infamous dance club that inspired the law, had been organized as a nonprofit.

Not everyone was happy with the vote. Critics of the new law contend it will encourage situations where unsavory adults can prey on teens.

"Somebody has to stand up and say it's bad legislation," said City Councilwoman Margaret Pageler.

Pageler had been the measure's most vocal critic. At one point yesterday, during an unrelated debate on alcohol restrictions in Pioneer Square, she compared music promoters pushing new dance rules with alcohol companies who exploit street alcoholics by marketing cheap fortified wine.

Pageler offered several amendments to the legislation, but all were rejected. That included her proposal to retain an age limit of 14 years and older on the dances.

City Council President Peter Steinbrueck noted the age limit would clash with the name of the new law: the All Ages Dance Ordinance.

Councilman Nick Licata said all-ages dances were "no more immoral than going to a movie with mixed ages at night."

The final vote was 6-2 in favor of repealing the old dance rules and putting the new ones in place. Voting no were Pageler and Councilman Richard McIver. Councilman Jim Compton was absent.

A task force of music promoters, police and others had proposed a nearly identical plan, and it won City Council approval in 2000, but then-Mayor Paul Schell vetoed the measure. That sparked a lawsuit by JAMPAC that challenged the constitutionality of the teen-dance ordinance. A federal judge rejected the challenge in April, sending the debate back to the mayor and City Council.

Mayor Greg Nickels hailed yesterday's council action.

"This new measure promotes common-sense regulation, allows young people to attend all age dances and insures that there are adequate safety provisions in place. Let's dance!" said Nickels in a written statement.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or