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Sacramento's Nightlife Renaissance: A Safer, Livelier Scene

Tina Lee Vogt - Sacramento, CA

Sacramento is committed to enhancing its reputation as a nightlife leader and sociable city, offering world-class amenities for nighttime and daytime socializing. As trends in nightlife and entertainment evolve, we have developed and implemented new approaches to support and promote social businesses while ensuring public safety. The Sacramento City Council actively encourages arts and culture. Our venues offer diverse experiences and unique programming that appeals to all ages, life stages, and interests. Nighttime and social economy play a vital role in the city's culture and identity, supporting jobs and generating revenue. This economy is an important incubator of cultural movements and provides spaces for connection, creativity, and personal expression.

However, Sacramento had issues with out-of-area promoters who failed to manage patrons properly, resulting in excessive noise and violence. There were also problems with events in warehouses with large and unruly crowds. One operator noted that the nightclub scene was chaotic and dangerous. Lack of regulation threatened the health and public safety of the surrounding business and residential community. 

In 2003, the Sacramento City Council adopted an ordinance with the intent to regulate the operation of entertainment establishments and events for public health, safety, and welfare. Although the entertainment permit program successfully addressed issues with larger nightclubs, it failed to differentiate between small-scale, innocuous businesses (e.g., cafes and brewpubs), events, and larger impactful nightclubs and bars. Many have expressed concerns that this has placed an undue burden on businesses and events that want to provide entertainment that would have minimal public impact. 

As Sacramento’s Nighttime Economy Manager, I work closely with city staff, local businesses, residents, and communities to ensure a safe, vibrant, and well-managed nightlife in Sacramento. This effort includes large and small venues and events. Coordinating City services and programs, my office promotes responsible growth, diversity, creativity, inclusion, and quality of life for all Sacramento residents and visitors. The ongoing challenge is finding the balance between vibrancy and safety.

The Office of Nighttime Economy recently contracted with the Responsible Hospitality Institute and completed our Sociable City Assessment, an in-depth analysis of our social economy that identified our strengths, challenges, and opportunities. This assessment also provided recommendations for next steps. The city’s Office of Arts & Culture also commissioned a Sacramento Music Census, which included an assessment with recommendations related to regulations impacting our live music scene. Although these studies served different purposes, both identified similar recommendations to improve regulating nightlife and social activities. One of those key recommendations was the creation of multiple levels of entertainment permits.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg focused a State of the City forum on increasing live music in Sacramento. He expressed his support for a limited live music permit to provide more opportunities for performers. Based on the assessment and census findings and with support from the mayor and the city council, the Office of Nighttime Economy is collaborating with the Office of Arts Culture to amend the city code and create a new Limited Entertainment Permit (LEP). This new permit will be an alternative for smaller businesses to provide entertainment without complying with the same costs, application process, and requirements as nightclubs and larger establishments. The new permit will also increase opportunities for live music and other artists to perform. The criteria for an LEP may include:

  • Occupancy of 299 or less.

  • Entertainment as a secondary operation (e.g., a restaurant featuring live music).

  • Maximum performance space of 200 square feet.

  • Entertainment ends at 10 pm on weeknights and 11 pm on weekends.

Our office uses the Limited Live Performance (LLP) permit in San Francisco as a resource for our tiered licensing approach. This permit supports businesses that want to offer live performances without undergoing the extensive requirements of traditional entertainment permits. Its streamlined approach benefits businesses that want to enhance their ambiance with live performances but do not want to be a full-fledged entertainment venue. The key features of the LLP include limiting timing entertainment to address sound concerns and reducing inspections to simplify processes. San Francisco recently approved changes to expand the LLP to include more outdoor patios.

In Philadelphia, legislation has been introduced to better define different types of establishments so regulations can be more accurately tailored to businesses. The legislation provides more specific definitions so businesses such as restaurants can have a DJ or band play during dinner without being designated as a nightclub and having to abide by a different set of regulations. This legislation addresses the “one size fits all” approach that entertainment licensing and oversight has in many cities.

As the nighttime and social economy changes, the laws and regulations adopted to ensure public health and safety must evolve. Policies must keep pace with current trends. Implementing new license types allows more businesses to provide entertainment and increases opportunities for local musicians and performers. Improved and streamlined licensing processes support the nighttime and entertainment industry by cutting red tape and saving time. Nighttime leaders must continue developing innovative approaches to keep social spaces safe while supporting and encouraging arts, entertainment, and culture. 

~Tina Lee Vogt

Sacramento, CA

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