The Special Events Task Force, formed by Mayor Schell in response to the Mardi Gras disturbance, has spent the last few months considering that balance. Soon, the task force will hand the mayor's office a list of recommendations aimed at improving the special events planning process to enhance safety.
Right now, the recommendations are in draft form. At the final task force meeting on July 3 at the Seattle Center, the members reviewed the draft and offered suggestions. The new version will not be final until approved by the task force.
When private becomes public
In its current definition, a "special event" occurs in a park or other public place. The task force proposes expanding that definition to include events that are expected to have a major impact on public places.
A celebration like Mardi Gras, that was held in private bars but spilled over onto public streets, would meet the new definition.
Events are currently monitored by the city's Special Events Committee, which reviews applications from event planners and decides whether to issue a permit. Depending on the event, a planner may then be required to seek permits from other departments, such as fire, police or transportation.
A novice in special events planning could be overwhelmed by the plethora of required permits. To encourage a planner to stick with the permitting process - rather than drop the event or skip obtaining a permit - the task force formed a series of "customer service" recommendations.
Giving planners a hand
Ideally, a trip to the Special Events Committee would be a "one-stop shop," supplying planners with permit applications for all relevant departments. The city could also offer planners training sessions on crowd management.
A computer tracking system would help the Special Events Committee coordinate permits with other city departments. The system would highlight days when multiple events are scheduled, indicating greater impact on a neighborhood.
Another "customer service" recommendation would make the Special Events Ordinance, which outlines the permitting process, easier to find by relocating it to a more logical section of the city's Municipal Code. Right now, the ordinance is situated in the code under the Traffic Ordinance, a place where many novice event planners wouldn't think to look.
Expansion of authority
Improving customer service and coordination would require additional staffing and funding for the Special Events Committee. The task force recommended giving the committee additional resources and authority.
With expanded authority, the committee could deny a permit based on past history or require planners to assess crowd management. If an event didn't abide by permit requirements, the committee could issue sanctions.
An appeal process would likely accompany permit denials, so an event planner could present new crowd control information or argue against the decision.
Going too far
Although the Special Events Task Force included event planners keen to avoid over-regulating, some others groups felt the recommendations went too far.
JAMPAC, a group advocating for artists and musicians, wrote an e-mail that criticized expanding the definition of "special events" to include festivities that enter public space.
"This could also open the door to the censoring of certain events that the city simply doesn't want to take place," wrote JAMPAC Executive Director Angel Combs.
The e-mail also questioned requiring an event planner to address crowd control in a pre-event plan.
"This asks a promoter to predict the future," Combs wrote.
Task force members reviewed the concerns, but maintained their conviction about their proposals.
"I think that designing a plan is what event planning is all about. This seems very reasonable," said Seafair organizer Beth Wojick.
Once the recommendations are handed to Mayor Schell, his office must work with city departments to develop the ideas. Seattle City Council approval would be required before any of the proposals could be put into practice.