Squilla bill not the music killer critics claim, but not a smart move either

     Philly's Back to the Future Tribute Band 'It's Marvin, Your Cousin Marvin Berry' performs at Burlesque to the Future. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Philly's Back to the Future Tribute Band 'It's Marvin, Your Cousin Marvin Berry' performs at Burlesque to the Future. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    I’ve always thought South Philly city councilmember Mark Squilla was a solid dude. A nice family guy. A smart, even-headed Mummer and a decent legislator. But then this bill happened. And I’m not as mad as I am bummed that he let this thing get passed in Council and moved to committee.

    Philadelphia has always seemed like an off-the-record gem of an east coast metropolis to me. Then again, maybe it’s because I’m not from here (even after eight years, natives see me as a noob) that I have such rose-colored optimism. Lifers have a much more nuanced and often pessimistic view.

    I’ve always thought South Philly city councilmember Mark Squilla was a solid dude. A nice family guy. A smart, even-headed Mummer and a decent legislator. But then this bill happened. And I’m not as mad as I am bummed that he let this thing get passed in Council and moved to committee.

    Of course, I mean Bill 160016, introduced by Squilla, which would, according to him, close some loopholes with regards to “Special Assembly Occupancies” licenses. The long version, the 12-page bill, is full of legalese that non-legal people are going a little nutzo trying to interpret. The short version is that the standing language of the bill asserts a few things:

    License & Inspection will cooperate with the Philadelphia Police Department to award licenses, therefore enabling L&I, with advice from the police, to crack down on “nuisance bars.”
    The fee for this license will go from $100 per year to $500 every two years.
    Venues and promoters will need to cooperate with the police to provide personal information for artists, “should the need arise” (Squilla’s words).

    Since news of the bill broke, things have only gotten worse for him — he’s backpedaling, and the PPD seems to be throwing him under the bus. It’s sad to watch.

    The internet has gone nuts. The story got picked up by Gawker, Impose magazine, Brooklyn Vegan, and more. A Change.org petition, called “Protect Philly’s Music!” has surpassed 12,000 e-signatures. Squilla’s Facebook page got hardcore trolled. I can only imagine how many times the phone has rung in his office.

    To me, it seems like business as usual for folks to cherry-pick and selectively perform their outrage. Either the realities of the bill are getting lost on folks who don’t quite get how city politics work, or they’re being told by their digital echo chamber that Mark Squilla is going to start a database of artists for the sake of plundering their livelihood and getting them arrested whenever something goes wrong at one of their shows.

    This won’t be happening. The police won’t be approving concerts. In fact, this bill will be gutted significantly if it passes at all. Yes, it passed on Jan. 22, but it has to go through a couple more barriers before it becomes law, and now that there’s an agitated artistic intelligentsia uproar, Squilla will be changing his tune if he knows what’s good for him.

    No, when Beyonce and Justin Bieber and Rihanna perform at Wells Fargo Center or Citizens Bank Park, they won’t give their cell phone numbers and home addresses to City Council. Venues are already obligated to give the police two weeks’ notice in terms of security, crowd estimates and booking schedules.

    The seedy underbelly of this whole controversy — this seems to be aimed specifically at African Americans. It was brought to the attention of Police Commissioner Richard Ross’s legal advisor, Captain Francis Healy, who told the Inquirer, “We’ve had some previous experience with fly-by-night individuals who come in and they disappear after mayhem happens. It’s nice to be able to identify who can be the responsible party. Those individuals operate with impunity and no one knows who they are, and then oftentimes the city is left to clean up the mess.”

    That’s an almost-certain reference to the shooting death, before a Lil Durk and Gunplay show at the TLA, of 25-year-old John Green. But, still, it’s wildly unclear how or why it would be Lil Durk’s fault that there’s a shooting outside of the venue where he’s set to perform.  

    Venues and promoters are well-versed in this process: They know about management teams, insurance, damage control, etc. It seems like Squilla didn’t do his homework. And though he’s said that there wasn’t much “pushback” from the creative class, well, there sure is now.

    R5 Productions head honcho and co-owner of joints like Union Transfer and Boot & Saddle, Sean Agnew, has been reportedly meeting with 20+ owners and operators of venues this week and they’ll bring their concerns to Squilla next week. And I’m sure they will be many. The idea of a registry is, essentially, gone. The PPD has straight-up told reporters that any language that makes it seem like the police will be approving performances is a “mistake” in the bill and will be fixed. That’s tough stuff — when a PPD spokesman is saying that City Council bills have chunks of language that are plain wrong and misleading, there’s certainly been a mistake.

    Anyone who’s been around Philly for the past six years knows that Bill Greenlee tried to do something like this in 2010 related to security. It was killed. Defeated by outrage. I’m fairly certain that’s the fate of 160016, too. And this time next year we’ll look back on this scandal, giggle, and say ‘Aww, that was cute.’ Philadelphia’s got way more important things to care about than L&I loopholes for clubs that entertain more than 50 people.

    Plus, we’ve got a good thing going with Philly’s robust live music community. We keep getting accolades and honors as, literally, the No. 1 music city in the country. Please, don’t mess that up, City Council, please.

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