December 13th, 2007 5:33 pm | by Jonah Sandford News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

OLCC Keeps Us In The Stone Age


This morning, the almighty Oregon Liquor Control Commission had a chance to do something good. With one vote, the five-person regulatory agency had the power to make us all forget the ways they've annoyed us: the four hours we were required as a wanna-be server to spend in a restaurant in Jantzen Beach learning how to recognize an intoxicated person; the frustration at not being able to buy liquor AT ANY STORE after 7 PM; and, of course, the agency's absurd rules regarding minors at live music venues.
It was this final absurdity that was on the agenda this morning. The OLCC commissioners had scheduled a vote to change the much-discussed "minors posting" rules that basically disallow anyone under the age of 21 from being at a music venue where alcohol is served. The new rules would allow minors into clubs that had provided a plan to OLCC for keeping alcohol out of underage hands (wristbands are one reasonable option for this).
The vote seemed like a no-brainer. It's hard to imagine anyone reading this cover story from Willamette Week or this article from the Mercury's Cary Clarke and not understanding how much sense these new rules make, and how great an impact these changes would have in teenager's lives and for the music industry as a whole. A lot of people have worked very hard to make this a possibility, and it felt like the energy was right.
So when I left the house this morning, I was feeling optimistic.
Something began to turn for me, however, as I neared OLCC headquarters way out on SE Mcloughlin. It was a dreary morning, and something was giving me the feeling as I drove past the Acropolis that the several advocates of the changes making the trip out today were entering hostile territory.
My first human interaction at the headquarters was a nasty look from a woman when I mistakenly pulled into a staff parking space. And then there was the fountain outside the building. I was going to take video of it, but this is all it does.
But in I went. Watching the commissioners come out, say hello to the people they knew in attendance, and take their seats didn't give the impression that it was a group who spends much time thinking about teenagers having access to rock and roll. It looked like a very chummy group.
The board's chair, Philip D. Lang, seemed like the perfect face for the unreasonable, unbending, out-of-touch OLCC we all imagine. He led the proceedings with a very no-nonsense, slightly crotchety, slightly impatient manner. I was a little afraid of him as things got underway, and thankful that I was sitting far enough back where his icy glare couldn't find me. Until...
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My god. Sheer terror. I went ahead and edited out my nervous, stammering response to this inquiry. I wanted to hide.
Anyway. The board dealt with some other business, and finally we got to the important stuff. They asked staff members some technical and legal questions about the rule changes, and it looked like their skepticism levels were pretty high. It's pretty depressing and disorienting watching people as they fish for reasons why teens shouldn't be able to enjoy live music.
But then the clouds opened up. Portland Mercury music writer/middle school teacher/all-ages advocate Cary Clarke stepped up during the public comment period, and again, I'm not sure how anyone could not be swayed by what he had to say. Here's some of his remarks (this is kind of long, but I feel like it's important to hear. Also: sorry about the weird camera angle--I was still freaked out from Lang, and didn't want to push my luck):
[youtube fGPA3ltbxJU]
Several others spoke in favor of the changes, but it wasn't looking good. At one point, when a speaker pointed out that other states had had success with similar rules, Lang snapped back "This isn't other states."
As the vote neared, Commissioner Lindy Fisker kept shaking her head and raising the question of how they would be able to afford enforcement of the new rules. Commissioner Christine Lewandowski declared she would not be supporting the changes. That was two votes against, with maybe one "yes" vote from Bob Rice, who praised the work that had been done putting the changes together. Then, Lang came out of nowhere: he said he would be supporting the changes, and challenged the all-ages proponents to help make the decision work.
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So it was time for the vote. The excitement over Lang's announcement didn't last long.
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Just like that, the decision had been made in a 3-2 vote.

There were a few gasps as the third "no" vote reverberated. It felt like there was a chance this morning to be present for a truly important decision that would actually have a tangible, positive effect on lots of people's lives. It was going to be a victory for the forces of good, the forces of reason, for the forces of youth!
So the decision was pretty disheartening. But all may not be lost: it sounds like the issue will be taken up again in February, so there might be time to change some minds.
Or maybe a good first step would be a new fountain.
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