It’s official: Those thumpin’ downtown nightclubs — and the people inside — must behave themselves more than ever to avoid losing their dance permits.

In a meeting where dry policy talk digressed occasionally into the joys of dancing and the sound of music, the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday approved a proposed dance ordinance that will require large nightclubs to seek renewal of their permits every year.

The new ordinance — which city staff has been working on with nightclub stakeholders for two years — also establishes a penalty system authorizing the city to revoke a dance permit after five violations of the law. Violations could include excessive noise, overcrowded bars or the presence of minors, among others.

The overarching aim of the ordinance is to maintain law-and-order downtown. In the past three years, one-third of all the city’s reported late-night criminal offenses — and half of the alcohol-related offenses — occurred in the area with the downtown dance clubs. Hotels also have complained about the noise levels.

The dance ordinance was drafted in 1960, and last updated in 1994.

On Tuesday, two marginal matters were left unresolved.

The first had to do with tiny venues: Should small establishments like coffee shops and hole-in-the-wall bars be required to apply and pay for dance permits? Although technically deprived of dance floors, many of those micro-venues host live music — and where there is song, council members acknowledged, there is potential for dance.


Das Williams

What if someone is dancing to a swing band in the coffeehouse? asked Council member Das Williams. “It’s probably not something we want to be regulating.”

The second unresolved matter had to do with amplification. The council on Tuesday held off on deciding whether midsized bars that opt for a less-restrictive permit for “live entertainment” should be able to have amplified music until the end of dance time at 1 a.m. — or whether it should be amps-off by midnight.  (Dance time for the establishments with the more-restrictive “nightclub permit” will end at 1:30 a.m.)

Council members seemed to agree that before making a decision on the amplification question, city staff should research the distinction between blaring and reasonable amplification.

“The difference between an amplified rock metal band and (an amplified) folk band with three guitars and a drum is a world apart,” said Council member Iya Falcone.

On the small-venue issue, City Attorney Steve Wiley suggested that the Council might be making a slam dance out of a toe-tap, so to speak.

“As a practical matter, if people are in a restaurant that has music, and they clear some tables away and they start dancing, I seriously doubt the police department is going to have anything to do with that, or that we will get any complaints about that, or that we even need to worry about that,” he said.

But Williams responded that a law is a law, and that the council should avoid making ones that border on the ridiculous.

“On Saturday night I had the temptation to go out to Muddy Waters and dance to a swing band,” he said. “I started and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to vote on Tuesday.’ I don’t want to formulate public policy that then I’m breaking every weekend.”

Rob Kuznia, Noozhawk Staff Writer

— Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at