Lakewood is ending the reprieve it has given most businesses when city officials try to shut them down.
The City Council voted unanimously this week to stop allowing businesses to operate while owners appeal the city’s suspension or revocation of their business licenses. A business can still seek a court injunction to keep its doors open during an appeal.
The change was among several the council approved Monday night to update the city’s business license regulations. The vote was unanimous; Councilman Don Anderson was absent.
The $45 fee for a business license remains unchanged.
Officials say they want to make it harder for businesses that attract crime or jeopardize public health and safety to stay open.
They point to the recent example of the Rainier Inn, a run-down motel on South Tacoma Way that had a litany of health and safety violations. The city revoked its business license in April 2011, but the motel stayed open until January, when the owner finally exhausted his appeals.
Adult-oriented businesses will continue to receive an automatic time-out under the updated regulations. These businesses have free-speech protections under the U.S. Constitution, Community Development Director David Bugher told the council, so they have to be “treated differently.”
The city spent years trying to shut down the New Players Club, a nude dance club in Ponders, for criminal activity and building code violations. It succeeded in March 2004, using its building code rather than pulling the business license.
Lakewood has one remaining strip club, Deja Vu Showgirls, and three adult bookstores.
Another major change is that the term of a business license will no longer follow the calendar year. Once the updated regulations take effect, the license will expire 12 months from the date of issuance.
The change will eventually spread out the workload for city staff tasked with issuing and renewing licenses, Bugher said.
“It creates a considerable amount of work at the beginning part of the year,” he told the council of the current Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 schedule.
In addition, Lakewood will no longer treat every violation of its business license ordinance as a misdemeanor crime, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, up to a $1,000 fine or both.
The updated regulations will allow enforcement officers to punish infractions with $500 fines.
Officials say this will help in its efforts to prod business owners to address problems voluntarily.
“Rather than going for a criminal misdemeanor every time, this gives us some better flexibility,” Bugher told the council.
The city issues an average of 3,200 new and renewed business licenses each year.
City staff members sought input about the changes from the chamber of commerce, which was generally supportive, according to a staff report.christian.hill @thenewstribune.com 253-274-7390 @TNTchill