When it comes to a ready reflex to grow government and its regulatory burdens absent any concern for the real-world effect on local businesses or even city agency capacity to administer the latest whatever-rule, D.C. political sophisticates aren’t very sophisticated.
District officials don’t much think things through.
That is again evident with newly introduced legislation by D.C. Council members Vincent Orange and Mary Cheh to impose a jaw-dropping requirement on all alcohol-licensed dining, drinking and dancing establishments. This law, if approved, would affect the nearly 1,500 bars, restaurants and nightclubs throughout the city.
The bill, the Nightlife Regulation Amendment Act of 2015, would create a massive new paper-shuffling task for city bureaucrats that would bury them in worthless information. The irony is that all the prescribed number crunching would prove totally without value.
Orange’s proposal, co-sponsored by Cheh, would require alcohol-licensed restaurants, bars, nightclubs and some special-license multi-purpose facilities “to measure the noise levels emanating from their establishments once an hour from the hours of 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. every night they are open to the public and require the establishment to report those measurements to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA).” Businesses would be required to purchase a “decibel meter” to measure the sound level outside the establishment “and record the decibel levels on a form prescribed by ABRA [that] must be submitted … on a weekly basis.”
Businesses failing to file weekly reports or supposedly self-reporting violations of the city’s noise ordinance would be subject to a four-step violation schedule ascending from a warning to a fine to license suspension and revocation. It’s a paper-pusher’s dream and a taxpayer’s nightmare, and a small business operator’s new burden to bear.
Let’s do the math. Calculate 1,500 businesses open an average of six nights a week recording exterior sound levels eight times a night and reporting those numbers once a week to the city utilizing a handwritten paper form. This produces 72,000 individual numbers per week and 3.75 million data points each year.
D.C. may drown both its golden goose and itself in a mountain of meaningless paper.
Why require the District’s predominantly small business hospitality enterprises – the city’s largest hometown business sector, major employer, leading tax generator, and primary revenue producer and economic development contributor – to assume a task that is best conducted by qualified city inspectors? Why necessitate huge new expenses for both the city and businesses when it serves no real purpose?
Whatever pitiful-in-scope problem the proposal purports to solve also serves as the singularly worst so-called solution possible. It requires that local businesses purchase special equipment, attempt to properly take sound readings from appropriate locations and outsources reporting to those being monitored. Are you chuckling yet?
Let’s also examine the actual scope of the issue. The tiny cadre of chronic complainers about noise from nighttime venues, rooftop decks and sidewalk cafes admit that there are around a dozen nuisance establishments citywide at any given time. Yet city inspectors very rarely find actual noise ordinance violations when conducting on-site testing in accordance with the law.
Rather than a behemoth beehive of superfluous statistics overwhelming the city’s alcohol agency, there is a simpler sensible solution.
Instead of a punitive adversarial scheme, why not a productive and proactive approach? For far less cost than all that recordkeeping and hamster-wheel-spinning futility, the District could initiate an executive-level resource managed by the city’s economic development office.
Better to fund professional sound engineering specialists to consult with existing venues and new applicants to improve or plan designs by integrating materials and configurations utilizing emerging technologies in sound-mitigation and soundproofing. Assisting local small businesses by providing effective technical assistance beats a rotting deluge of data dumps.
Being the best neighbors possible is almost without exception the goal of community nightlife businesses. They could use a hospitable helping hand instead of a slap in the face from D.C. politicians.