CITY HALL — The city is out to make it easier to close problem bars and shift the burden of proof to get them reopened with a new ordinance submitted by the mayor and a Downtown alderman.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) introduced the ordinance last week, only days after two men were shot and killed and another wounded outside the Dolphin nightclub at Ashland and Webster avenues in Bucktown. It would allow the Police Department superintendent to close an establishment deemed a "public nuisance" for up to six months.
Violations that would cross the threshold of creating a public-safety issue and a "public nuisance" in or around an establishment include illegal discharge of a gun, aggravated assault or battery, criminal sexual assault or any conduct that causes someone severe bruising or bleeding, disability of disfigurement or the loss of consciousness.
Once closed, according to the Mayor's Office, the business would have to request a hearing to present a plan of action "that will ensure public safety." In the meantime, the establishment could be forced to stay shuttered, while the city potentially pursues revocation or suspension of its business license.
Currently, a business is closed following a violent incident while an investigation is ongoing. Yet once the investigation is concluded the business reopens, pending a license disciplinary hearing, which the Mayor's Office said can take up to six months.
"This will allow the city to immediately close businesses causing a public-safety threat and prohibit them from reopening unless and until the community's public safety is assured," Emanuel said in a statement. "We have heard from residents in our neighborhoods who want irresponsible business owners held accountable when they put public safety at risk, and this additional enforcement tool will help us accomplish that."
"I am pleased to co-sponsor this ordinance with Mayor Emanuel to crack down on the worst liquor establishments in the city," Reilly added. He blamed "bureaucracy, loopholes and an extensive appeals process" for keeping "the worst liquor establishments" open.
"Neighbors shouldn't have to sacrifice their quality of life while these nightclubs game the system and take advantage of legal loopholes to stay open and wreak further havoc on their community," Reilly said. "This ordinance will help us address a number of problem establishments Downtown, and I'm eager to get it passed as soon as possible."
The ordinance was submitted only days after the murders outside Dolphin in Bucktown. At the time, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) blamed city officials slow to react to repeated complaints, saying, "If Rahm and staff would do what they were asked several times they would have pulled their license."
Yet mayoral spokeswoman Libby Langsdorf said it had been in the works for months.
"This ordinance puts the safety of Chicago’s residents first and aims to improve quality of life in communities across the city," she said Monday. "We began drafting the ordinance last summer, working carefully to ensure that the draft introduced was effective and legally defensible.
"The ordinance gives the city the ability to immediately close a business that poses an issue to public safety," Langsdorf added. "The business owner can ask for a hearing from the license disciplinary commission or can choose to remain closed. Should the business request a hearing, the business and the city will both have to present evidence as to whether the business can reopen and if so what additional safety measures must be taken to protect the public."
The ordinance could potentially be moved ahead of the April City Council meeting.
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