Two years ago Sunday, the Entertainment Commission was born to oversee special events and the permitting of entertainment businesses in Modesto.
The day after its second birthday, three City Council members said it's time to make some changes to the commission.
First, they plan to fill three vacancies that could shift the balance of the commission, which some think is tilted in favor of club owners.
The council members also want to see rules enforced on the few entertainment outlets that repeatedly violate the rules.
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"If problems are occurring, the wheels of justice have to have new wheels," Councilman Joe Muratore said during Monday's discussion before the city's Safety and Communities Committee. Councilmen Garrad Marsh and Dave Lopez also serve on the committee.
City officials could refer repeat violators to the commission to make changes to their permits, such as requiring them to close their bars early or other measures that would get them to comply.
If the commission doesn't take action, the matter could be referred to the City Council.
The Entertainment Commission was conceived as a balancing act. It's supposed to promote a safe and vibrant music and dance scene in Modesto. Since 2009, it has approved applications for 48 entertainment establishments and 31 special events, not denying a single applicant.
The commission has drawn complaints from organizations and business owners about excessive paperwork, or requirements to provide private security or comply with other standards that raised the costs of running special events.
City staff members who work with the commission said it had to apply uniform standards and requirements to meet the city's public health and safety rules.
Costs pose challenge
Modesto police officials continue to look for ways to reduce and recover the costs of policing the concentration of nightclubs and music and dance establishments in the downtown.
In late April, Police Chief Mike Harden and other staff talked with San Jose officials about a proposal to share police service costs with entertainment venues in downtown San Jose. Under the plan, businesses would pay for 50 percent of police overtime costs through permit fees.
San Jose officials anticipate a legal challenge if it tries to assess the fees.
If Modesto were to copy the idea, officials would have to decide which of the permitted and nonpermitted entertainment venues downtown would be charged the fees. The department's overtime cost runs up to $250,000 a year.
A club with 500 capacity, or 10 percent of the total for permitted facilities, would be expected to pay 10 percent of half the police overtime cost, or $12,500, officials said.
At least one business manager disagreed with the proposal.
"It does not make sense to tax us, on top of taxes, on top of taxes," said Sean Roche, general manager of Firkin & Fox bar and restaurant. "But I don't make the rules."
Harden said he is exploring other options as well, such as eliminating the overtime costs of policing the nightclub scene. The department plans to shift resources to create a new unit that would handle certain duties early in the week and police the night life Thursday through Saturday for regular pay.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.