May 13, 2015 at 12:13 pm EST | by Mark Lee
D.C. may drown its golden goose, and itself, in paper
Nightlife Regulation Amendment Act, gay news, Washington Blade

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.

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.


Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at

  • Mark, great article. You nailed the massive amount of problems with this proposal and actually made a sensible proposal. I am an acoustical consultant and am often hired either prior to an establishment opening or after receiving complaints from neighbors to mitigate the sound. We are also often hired by the neighbors to determine if there is a violation and if so, the business causing the problem has almost always been willing to work with the neighbors to fix the problem. Your last statement also jibes with my experience, the last thing someone in the nightlife business wants is noise complaints from the neighbors and the reputable ones hire a qualified consultant to fix the problem.

  • Regardless of the solution proposed, someone finally has the cajones to point out that this is a real problem.

  • One thing that is somewhat related to this is that Steve Lambert, one of D.C.’s most visible talent buyers/booking managers/promoters, is announcing a call-to-arms for bands: “All bands in DC. Wake up, they are trying to shut down the scene and music venues.”

    Does no one else see the irony of a person whose self-aggrandizing behavior and appalling lack of respect for local D.C. musicians since his arrival in 2006, now is making a plea of solidarity to the very musicians/bands he continues to marginalize? Steve Lambert doesn’t care about the scene or the bands, beyond their capacity to serve his own aspirations. He is a paradigm of a shady, despicable business player with zero regard for the fallout of his methods at the expense of quality artists.

    While this issue requires collective attention, the last person any self-respecting musician/band should align themselves with is Steve Lambert, whose power position in the D.C. music scene has resulted in a significant decline of support and opportunities for quality local bands and will continue thus until his removal/departure.

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