Footloose redux

Stop the music! Sacramento city government is cracking down on dancing by 18- to 21-year-olds, but the target is really hip-hop in Old Sac

Dancers revel in the freedom of expression, a freedom that may soon be limited to after 5 p.m.

Dancers revel in the freedom of expression, a freedom that may soon be limited to after 5 p.m.

Photo By Jill Wagner

It is early evening at The Rage—the air outside heady with nervous excitement and cigarette smoke, the air inside steamy from hormonally charged bodies entangled under the strobe lights.

This local black-walled nightclub is a haven for dancers who are too young for the bars, and too old for the high school coffee house hangout. The 18-to-21 crowd is drawn by reasonable admission prices, along with the option to order a Coke.

It is also the business that may have the most to lose if proposed changes to the city’s Dance Ordinance are passed by the Sacramento City Council.

In a bizarre attempt to regulate the city’s nightlife, the Sacramento Police Department, together with the Department of Convention, Culture and Leisure (who among you knew this existed?), have drafted a revised ordinance that, if passed, would essentially leave area nightclubs at the mercy of arbitrary regulations and the police department.

Under the new ordinance, those under 21 would not be allowed in any clubs that have a liquor license past 10 p.m., leaving clubs like The Rage without a strong client base.

“We’re 18-and-over five out of the six nights we’re open. It would destroy our business,” said Mitch Shintaku, who works as a barman at The Rage.

And that’s only the beginning of the potential effects. Demonstrating the incongruous nature of this new ordinance is the decree that clubs not allow any type of dancing before 5 p.m. Ever. No tango, no ballroom, no square dancing.

Linda DeLong, administrative services officer for the leisure department, admitted that 5 o’clock was “arbitrarily selected.”

“You can’t tell me when to dance!” said the owner of Faces, Terry Sidie, eyes widening in his tanned face. “It’s not fair. It’s like what Hitler did when he started making it a police state.”

Instead of a lifelong dance permit, club owners mayhave to renew their permit every two years.

Photo By Jill Wagner

And the police do play a key role in the ordinance. Club owners would now be required to submit an application for a permit renewal to the police department every two years, while the current law allows owners their permit for life.

“Does that mean that if you happen to offend somebody at the police department, that they’re the sole person who says I’m out of business?” asks Sidie, who has had the same permit for 16 years.

DeLong defended the change, saying that some club owners were making major changes to their building and music formats. “This is basically a way to touch base and review a club’s history to see if they have possibly been causing trouble in the neighborhoods.”

Sergeant Daniel Hahn with the police department added, “We get a lot of complaints about certain clubs, so it’s a way to keep track of the number of calls made to us about a club, and work with them on it.” Or perhaps deny a license renewal if neighbors with political clout make a stink with city council members.

The motivation for the change appears to stem from problems last summer between the Old Sacramento Citizens and Merchants Association (OSCMA) and the owners of Tabloid 95 and Café New Orleans, clubs located in Old Sacramento. Both owners were threatened with legal action by the OSCMA and told to stop catering to the “hip-hop crowd.” The nightclub owners believe that the term “hip-hop crowd” was used by OSCMA to target the predominantly African-American and Hispanic clientele (see SN&R January 4, 2001, “Hip Hop’s Bad Rap”).

Police deny any link between problems in Old Town and the decision to revise the ordinance. “To say it’s Old Sac would be wrong. It’s a city-wide ordinance. We’ve had incidents in other parts of the city.” But Hahn couldn’t name any when questioned. DeLong, however, did admit to a connection. “The OSCMA was involved initially. They wanted someone to do something about the clubs, and that’s when they approached police about [the ordinance].” DeLong also stated that a draft of the revised ordinance was submitted to the Old Sacramento Management Board, the board that oversees the OSCMA, for approval.

Adding fuel to this Old Sac speculation is the fact that police currently have their eye on the very spot that this ordinance seems to be targeting. If they get their way, the underground dance locale of Tabloid 95 will be turned into a Police Service Center when its lease expires at the end of the summer.

Richard Burton, attorney for Café New Orleans, believes that this new ordinance is a way for police to force out the clubs they’ve had problems with. With the Friday and Saturday night police barricades outside, Old Sac club owners have already seen close to a 50 percent drop in business. Burton believes the ordinance is just the final push. “If [the police] don’t like you, they’re going to cite you. It gives way too much power to law enforcement.”

Jeff Kravitz, attorney for Tabloid 95, agreed, and is ready for a legal challenge: “We’re going to fight this tooth and nail.”

A revised Dance Ordinance has a tentative date of July 24 for review by the Law and Legislative Committee. If they approve it, it goes to the City Council for a final vote on August 9.

Mason Wong, owner of The Rage, is hoping that because this is a draft, his club may be spared. “They might ‘grandfather’ it, the people that have held [18-and-over nights] all along will be left alone to keep on doing it.”

If not, Wong may be in agreement with this statement made by Kravitz: “In a free society, everything is allowed except for that which is prohibited. In a police state, you have a situation where everything is prohibited, except for that which is allowed, and this ordinance is definitely moving in the direction of a police state.”