D.C. Might Tighten Law On Youths In Clubs

Brooke Smith and Oscar Wilson are Taleshia Ford's sister and father. He had criticized the city over Taleshia's death.
Brooke Smith and Oscar Wilson are Taleshia Ford's sister and father. He had criticized the city over Taleshia's death. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Keith L. Alexander and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Any District club, bar or restaurant with entertainment that serves alcohol after 11 p.m. would be required to have a special license to admit anyone younger than 21, under a D.C. Council proposal.

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said he would introduce a bill today requiring that establishments present a detailed, written security plan before obtaining the annual license, which would cost $375 and be in addition to the regular alcohol license.

The nightspots would have to assure the city that they have a certain level of security and maintain logs of violent incidents. They would have to train employees to handle unruly crowds and specify procedures for checking identification and searching customers. And if the measures weren't enough to maintain order and prevent underage drinking in the city's entertainment spots, the proposal would reserve the right of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration to tighten the measures.

Graham, who has advocated the closing of several nightclubs where violence has erupted, said he wants to force clubs to tighten their security and the monitoring of underage drinking.

When adults and underage youths are mixed with alcohol, "you have a potentially troubling and potentially dangerous environment," Graham said.

His colleagues had not seen his proposal yesterday, so it was difficult to asses the bill's chances for approval. But D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said he was worried that the bill could make it "onerous" for businesses to operate.

"We don't want to interfere with parents going out with their children. We want to encourage parents to have that experience with their children," Gray said.

Graham said the bill could be "toughened or weakened" as it goes through the legislative process. A spokesperson for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said his office had just received Graham's proposal and had no immediate comment.

Restaurant executives worry that the bill could reduce revenue and burden restaurants with more paperwork. Andrew J. Kline, general counsel for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, called the plan "overly broad" and added that an 11 p.m. curfew at restaurants could inconvenience businesses and patrons.

"I would hate to walk into a restaurant after the theater and be told that I cannot dine there [with my children] because they don't have a permit," he said.

Parents often take their children for late-night dinners or a show at a club such as Blues Alley, Kline said. "I am troubled that there is no exemption for a minor accompanied by a parent or guardian," he said. "If I want to take my daughter to Blues Alley, I should be able to do so without an impediment."

In the city, 900 businesses are licensed to serve alcohol, and more than 700 are restaurants. Seventy of those restaurants also have licenses for dancing and entertainment.

Graham proposed the bill in response to the killing Jan. 20 of Taleshia Ford, 17, in Smarta/Broadway, also known as Club 1919, on Ninth Street NW, just off the bustling U Street corridor. The club admitted teens but also served alcohol to patrons 21 and older.

After the shooting, Graham initially considered a bill that would ban all patrons under age 21 from attending venues where alcohol was served. But after several heated meetings with nightclub owners, musicians and youth advocates, Graham opted for a less stringent plan.

"I'm willing to create a constructive environment for young people to dance and hear music," Graham said. "This is about more than underage drinking. It's about entrepreneurs trying to make a fast buck."

The Black Cat, at 1811 14th St. NW, often caters to under-21 crowds for its late-night concerts. Owner Dante Ferrando said he supports additional security and monitoring but worries the legislation could go too far.

Nightclubs that cater to younger crowds also would have to implement a $1 surcharge on all under-21 admissions at the door. That fee, Graham said, would be used to fund the expansion of the city's underage-inspection unit, part of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration. The liquor board's 10 inspectors primarily focus on monitoring restaurants and taverns that serve alcohol during the day or early evening. The expansion would increase the number of inspectors and allow them to monitor nightclubs and restaurants after 11 p.m.

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