When they're not too busy taking standardized tests or studying to take standardized tests, our students could benefit from the civics lesson being played out in downtown Modesto. Here goes:
The sudden boom in downtown nightclubs and restaurants caught Modesto off-guard and ill-prepared.
The city needed a new ordinance to deal with club owners who risk public safety by violating the terms of their dance permits.
But who should write it?
When local government officials make the rules, they're usually good for local government.
When the police shepherd the rule making, the rules are usually good for the police. Last fall, the cops took a stab at penning an entertainment ordinance. Theirs would have made toe-tapping a misdemeanor for the club owner who allowed it. And they would have controlled the entertainment scene.
Wait a minute, business owners said. That won't work. They wanted some input.
"I don't like the perception of the Police Department being judge, jury and executioner," said Councilman Will O'Bryant, a retired Alameda County sheriff's deputy who is chairman of the City Council's safety committee.
The rest of the safety committee agreed and formed what became a 12-person ad hoc committee that included business owners and police, fire and city officials, along with two at-large members. Their job was to write the proposed entertainment ordinance for the entire city, not just downtown.
M onday, the safety committee approved the final draft of the city's proposed entertainment ordinance.
While the document might not be perfect, it's vastly different that what the police originally floated last year. They are still a player, but not the player.
The proposed ordinance gives club owners the ability to police themselves because they, in effect, are establishing the rules.
"It was really a great lesson," said Bob Quintella, a retired Modesto Centre Plaza director. "Not only did they get input from businesses and citizens, but there were times when the police would make a comment and the business owners themselves would say, 'No, it's got to be stricter than that.' "
The ordinance calls for seven unpaid commissioners, appointed by the City Council. They will approve or disapprove entertainment permit and special permit applications. They can suspend, deny or revoke permits, or impose fines and other penalties.
There's still time to tweak the ordinance before it goes to the full council for a vote in April.
"If someone comes up to us with something that's missing in the ordinance, we still want to hear it," said ad hoc committee member Chris Ricci, a music promoter and general manager of the Fat Cat nightclub downtown.
"The nice thing about this ordinance is that the entertainment commission is a good component, arbitrating between the city and the people who want to put on events," Ricci said. "And, when people break the rules, it provides an efficient way to deal with them."
O'Bryant said the diligence that went into the ordinance should pay dividends over time.
"I believe the way we're doing it now will save the city a whole lot of headaches," he said. "The last thing you want to do is end up in litigation or (have penalized club owners) showing up at the council on appeal."
Mostly, the ordinance represents government by the people and for the people.
"It was a pretty amazing situation when you've got business and government and private citizens together," Ricci said. "There was a lot of input from a lot of people."
A civics lesson, indeed.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.