Music commission pushes for action on ‘agent of change’
Monday, January 14, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki
Members of the city’s Music Commission are pushing staff for action to produce an “agent of change” ordinance that City Council can vote on to bring some clarity to friction between entertainment venues and nearby hotels and residences.
At last week’s meeting, commissioner Rick Carney expressed frustration that the agent of change concept – which would place clear expectations and enforcement on any business that opens in areas where noise complaints could arise – has lingered for more than three years. The issue became a topic of concern beginning in 2015, when the newly opened downtown Westin hotel began logging noise complaints against a nearby nightclub that had already been in operation.
“I wanted to keep it on the agenda so it doesn’t fall by the wayside the way it seems to have since I’ve been on the commission, which is going on three years,” Carney said. “We all were in great agreement that it was very important to figure out something to be codified, but people have been reluctant to take that step.”
In mid-2017, it appeared City Council was on track to consider an agent of change ordinance that included considerations for creating a licensing and penalty system for music venues and nightclubs. However, that measure was pulled due to objections from music venue owners and leaders in the local hospitality industry.
Action from Council restarted the process last year with a series of stakeholder sessions, the next of which is scheduled for Feb. 2 at Austin School of Film. The city’s Music and Entertainment Division has also hired a consultant to guide the process and advise on best practices and consequences of the many potential elements of an agent of change policy. The consultant previously helped establish a similar ordinance in San Francisco.
At last Monday’s meeting, Erica Shamaly, manager of the music division, said staff are pushing for having a set of recommendations for City Council to consider this spring – most likely after South by Southwest – that would lead to the drafting of ordinance language.
“We’re working with our consultant on gathering all that stakeholder input to come up with some recommendations to put before Council,” she said. “It won’t be specific ordinance language yet. We’re going to give them something well-rounded, showing the impact of every possible scenario, so Council has everything needed to move forward with a decision.”
Commissioner Stuart Sullivan said commissioners feel like they don’t have enough of a role in a process that has been identified as a priority yet has stalled, even while pressure on music venues increases as construction continues, bringing the possibility for more conflicts around noise.
“Do we actually have a role in this? I know that we can approve something that then goes to Council, but is that our only role in this?” he wondered. “I came on here a little over a year ago and that was the main topic. Getting that cleared off of our desk – I would love to see that.”
David Colligan, the city’s manager of global business expansion, said the commission can also lend its support to budget requests for staffing and purchase of sound equipment for enforcement of noise levels, a consideration that hospitality interests and neighborhood groups have pushed for in negotiations over the ordinance.
Carney said he and other commissioners need to stand firm in support of music interests as the issue progresses.
“I understand there are lots of facets with this and the hospitality industry, but we are not the Hospitality Commission, and so it’s our job and duty to advocate for the venues and musicians as strongly as we possibly can.”
Photo by LoneStarMike [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons.
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