Independent panel for Modesto's downtown sought

The Police Department likely won't be the agency with the final say over Modesto's new entertainment and dance permits if a committee charged with crafting a downtown safety plan has its way.

Members of that committee said they'd like Modesto to create an independent commission that would review requests for entertainment or dance permits.

Now, the Police Department administers applications for dance permits. It's up to Chief Roy Wasden to say whether a restaurant or club can have one of those agreements.

Wasden's department last month asked the City Council to write a new ordinance to oversee downtown restaurants and clubs that provide entertainment.

The department contends it can't dedicate more resources to policing downtown dance clubs; there are 13 today. It wants the city to create a comprehensive approach to managing the area's burgeoning night life scene.

Members of a committee reviewing the department's initial proposal said they are trying to adapt it by:

Having it apply to entertainment venues anywhere in Modesto, not just those downtown

Creating an entertainment permit commission that would give the city's police and fire officials a chance to provide testimony about club plans, but not the power to scuttle them unless violations occur

Finding a way for officers to quickly shut clubs that violate their agreements

The committee's 12 members include two bar owners and one restaurant owner, as well as a mix of public and private employees appointed by the City Council.

It is expected to present a draft of its recommendations by December. Its members gave the council's Safety and Communities Committee an update on their progress Monday.

"I don't want the whole thing to sit on the Police Department's shoulders," said Councilman Will O'Bryant, who leads the Safety and Communities Committee.

The entertainment committee's meetings are closed to the public because its members want to work quickly and it was formed to represent a cross- section of downtown interests. Its recommendations will be presented at several council meetings before they can take effect.

City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood is working on a way to distribute the group's agendas and minutes so other club owners can follow the discussions.

Attorney Brian Haddix, chairman of the city's culture commission, has challenged the city's decision to close the entertainment discussions. He contends that the group was formed for a legislative purpose by a legislative body, meaning its meetings should be open under California's Brown Act.

On Monday, Wood said the meetings can remain closed because the group was formed as an ad-hoc committee with a limited purpose to advise the city.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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