Jokes abounded in last week’s short debate over the prohibition of dancing in Main Street establishments that is proposed in the current draft of the Zoning Ordinance.

City Council discussed the ordinance, which will dictate land uses throughout the city for years to come, for seven hours last Wednesday. At around midnight, Councilmember Ted Winterer asked if there might be a way to loosen the dancing prohibition. Council largely agreed to have city attorneys and planners study a more permissive provision related to dancing.

“This is an issue for the merchants,” Winterer said, laughing.¬† “It’s very difficult for them to stop me ‚Äî when I’ve gone to the Library Ale House and had my beer and my favorite song comes on ‚Äî from me jumping up on my bar stool.”

Winterer wondered if council could simply prohibit restaurants from moving furniture around, creating dedicated space for a dance floor, or advertising dancing.

“I just think that, again, maybe we’re going a little too far,” he said.

“The problem now on Main Street is that, in order to allow dancing, that technically becomes a nightclub, and nightclubs are not allowed on Main Street,” Planning Director David Martin responded. “That’s the issue. We could look at it to see if there’s some way to carve out a provision where ‚Äî I don’t know what it would be ‚Äî but some limited amount of dancing is allowed in restaurants.”

Council has dealt with this issue in the past. Neighbors of Brick + Mortar, a Main Street restaurant, have complained in the past that it operates as a nightclub.

“I understand that one can look at these conditions and say that they’re onerous but they’ve been developed because of the long-term history of the morphing of restaurants into something that’s other than what they should be,” City Land Use Attorney Barry Rosenbaum explained.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie explained that the issue is particularly complicated in a city, like Santa Monica, where houses sit next to restaurants.

“The problem is, as part of your policies for permitting housing, you have housing and commercial uses adjacent all over the city,” she said, “and nightclubs tend to be very disruptive to the neighbors who live just across an alley so it’s more complicated than, ‚Äòdoes the city government get off on stifling spontaneous joy?‚Äô We don’t. But it’s quite a difficult set of issues so we’d like, at least, a chance to think about it and come back to you.”

The First Amendment, she said, protects spontaneous expressions of joy.

Council voted unanimously to have city officials explore, as Mayor Kevin McKeown put it, “the right to boogie.”

Councilmember Gleam Davis asked them to explore the definition of a nightclub in order to find a distinction that might be more enforceable.

Council voted on dozens of aspects of the ordinance last week but none of the decisions were definitive. City officials will make the roughly 50 changes requested by council and are scheduled to return for council’s final approval on May 6.

dave@smdp.com

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