Sunday, August 27, 2006

Carrie Nation Returns

Pardon us for assuming that Carrie Nation had died in 1911. The anti-alcohol crusader has obviously returned in the reincarnated form of Council member Melinda Katz. As the NY Post reports this morning Katz has her hymnal ready (is the axe far behind?) and is poised to do battle with the night club industry.

Katz is looking for the city to get the authority to shutter clubs it deems a problem. "She said that the State Liquor Authority is understaffed and clueless about the needs of the city...'It's difficult for the SLA to truly assess when new bars are appropriate for certain areas-New York is a city of small neighborhoods,' she said." As Katz goes on to say, "...we should be the ones with the authority to shut places down."

In an unintended irony Katz claims that she's looking for ways to "make nightlife fun but safe." If so, than where is the over all understanding of how to protect and nurture the industry so that it can be fun? Where is the understanding of the unintentional consequences of vested authority on a city governed liquor authority?

On cue the Post follows up on the councilmember's observations with a quote from the co-chair of the licensing committee of Community Board #4. "If we said no, what we found in the past is the bars would get their license anyway, said Kevin Koffi...." Implicit here is that the community boards should have a virtual veto power over where a business could operate.

This, Ms. Katz, is a recipe for the certain demise of the industry and the fun you say that you want to preserve. The 500 foot law that limits 3 liquor licenses within a 500 foot radius, "unless there is a compelling public interest," is a joke in the heavily congested city that never sleeps. Yet the current SLA is reacting in a knee-jerk fashion already to the objections of the community boards, rejecting a liquor license to a four star chef on the Lower East Side because of CB #3' objections.

The money quote on all this comes from Mr. Koffi who ridicules the public interest exception for the 500 foot rule: "Attorneys would get around the 500-foot law by saying that the bar is in the public interest because it brings jobs and tax revenues, which is ridiculous...Any store does that." Absent the economic development argument, however, the public interest rationale would be in the exclusive purview of the anti-club community boards, folks with no concern for the preservation of the city's tax base. Which is more ridiculous.

Clearly all of this needs to be thrashed out in an atmosphere of mutual respect. If the shrill cries of the various Queens of Hearts don't cease, however, this fall's summit could quickly degenerate into an inquisition.