Why does the City of Philadelphia want phone numbers of the bands, DJs and entertainers who play here?
The measure, buried in the highly controversial ‘Special Assembly License’ bill introduced by Councilman Mark Squilla, was drafted over a period of months in concert with other city departments including Licenses and Inspections, the Philadelphia Police Department, and Law Department, Billy Penn has learned.
“Updates to the Special Assembly Occupancy ordinance had been stuck in the review process for 9 months to a year,” said L&I Commissioner David Perri. “So when I came in, I said, OK, let’s get this moving.”
But the initial intent of the requirement for club and music venue operators to hand over performers’ contact information — creating essentially a registry of artists — was not for tracking or taxes, Perri said.
The new L&I chief’s statement adds a twist to Squilla’s initial remarks to Billy Penn – namely that the bill is designed to improve public safety.
“Giving performers’ information to police when requested enables them to review past performances to see if there were any public safety issues during their events,” Squilla said earlier this week.
And Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, who also supports the bill and will be reviewing it in committee, was even more specific about the measure’s public safety nexus: She said there have been artists who “have been known to have created incidents and violence at their previous acts.”
Whether or not the new measure could help reduce violent incidents, the wording was originally inserted to help cut down on the temporary signage that shows up prior to a show, Perri said.
“Some promoters and acts completely plaster neighborhoods with posters,” he explained. “We receive a lot of complaints about the posters and in many cases the City is left removing them. We can issue tickets to the clubs for the illegal advertising but in some cases a simple phone call to the promoter or act is all that is needed to change the behavior.”
Hence, the department asked for additional language to be added that provided the city with the ability to make that “simple phone call.” The posters are visual blight and also cost the city money to remove after each show, he said.
“It’s all about the signs, ’bout the signs, ’bout the signs, NO TAXES!” he wrote in an email.
Like Councilman Squilla, Perri was caught unaware by the uproar over the proposed language of the bill, introduced this month and first reported on Wednesday by Billy Penn.
“My son is a guitar player,” Perri said, “and when I got home from work [around 9:30 pm], the first thing he said to me was, ‘Dad, did you hear about that artists registry bill? I just signed a petition against it.’
“I’m a persona non grata around my house tonight,” he continued.
Squilla says he is now “working to remove” the clause in the bill that would require entertainment venue owners to collect and turn over to police, the names, addresses, and phone numbers of artists that perform in businesses hosting 50 or more patrons. As for co-approval (or veto) power between police and L&I over performance licenses for venues, Squilla has eased a bit on that too — though not entirely.
“One of the amendments being contemplated would make L&I the final approval of license applications, as in the past,” he said.
Squilla is also considering altering the bill’s proposed fee hike, acknowledging that “some people feel the fee is unreasonable, and we’re looking at other options for a reduced fee.” The current application fee for so-called ‘Special Assembly Occupancy’ licenses is $100; Squilla’s bill would raise it to $500 every two years. The increase stoked fear in many because it could cripple smaller, already struggling venues.
Squilla’s rapid shift in policy comes after Billy Penn’s story revealed the bill’s particulars, which unleashed heavy and ongoing public outcry. The bill drew intense online criticism, including the Change.org petition signed by Perri’s son and more than 14,000 other people. A protest “March for Musicians” at City Hall has been organized for Thursday, Feb. 4.
Perri echoed the statements of Squilla and Councilman David Oh in saying that the language regarding providing contact info would and could be amended, even without a protest.
“It’s easily fixed,” he said.