Opinion

Reduce the element of risk outside Oak Harbor night club | Sound Off

By Paul Newman

As long as what goes on in the Element stays in the Element, normal city and state government oversight is probably sufficient.

However, when what goes on in the Element spills into the parking lot, Bayshore Drive and the streets of Oak Harbor, it concerns us all. Under prodding from the City Council, the owner agreed to take measures to address the noise, loitering, and security risks his crowded parking area poses when the Element closes in the early morning hours. Sadly, no one has noticed a difference. The last meeting of the Oak Harbor Planning Commission saw nearby residents all but pleading for help. They were supported by the pastor of a nearby church, and even the owner of a nearby night club.

Unless the Planning Commission and City Council acts to prevent more mega-nightclub/gambling parlors like the Element from locating in the central business district, the problems we have now will be multiplied ... and who will want to spend good money to live in a place like that?

However, even if the city takes preventative action, the Element may be grandfathered in, and the problems under discussion will still be with us. Consequently, here is a modest proposal.

1. People behave better under bright lights. Install additional bright, eco-friendly lights in the Element’s parking area. Time them to go from 1:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Make sure they point downward, and away from the residences across the street. The city of Oak Harbor must use its bully pulpit to encourage the owner of the parking area to install the extra lighting, and pass the cost on to the owner of the Element. He already pays money to support the parking area, giving him a responsibility for what happens there. Plus, the owner of the Element insists he is ready to help keep parking area noise and crowds under control. Bright lights will be cheaper for him than hiring additional security personnel.

2. People behave better when law enforcement officers are visibly present. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, from 1:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m., an Oak Harbor patrol vehicle should be parked in plain view across the street from the Element. The threshold for loitering infractions in Oak Harbor is under 15 minutes. Plenty of time for responsible adults to walk or drive out of the parking area. A visible police presence will discourage loitering. An occasional police “reminder” will keep it to an absolute minimum. Can the Oak Harbor Police Department spare one patrol vehicle for one hour three days a week? Almost certainly. Even so, if emergencies sometimes require that unit to be elsewhere, everyone will understand.

3. People behave better when they know they are being televised. Install surveillance cameras focused specifically to monitor the Element’s parking area. There are already surveillance cameras on Bayshore Drive. A few more will not be costly. Spotting, discouraging, and prosecuting bad behavior will become much easier. Let us not require the Element to pay for, and to own these cameras. He is hardly a neutral party in the matter. This is a legitimate and rather small city expense, which can double as added security for what has become one of the busiest streets in Oak Harbor.

The challenges posed by the Element are more widely scoped than parking lot noise, loitering, and security risks. Oak Harbor spent tens of thousands of tax dollars developing an outstanding plan for Windjammer Park. Locating a large and raucous gambling parlor/nightclub within 200 feet of youth baseball fields and picnicking families borders on the ridiculous ... especially when park facilities are used quite late during our long summer evenings. Locating the Element within 100 feet of teens (and younger children) waiting at the bus station for Whidbey’s free transit is equally senseless. Having the Element within 10 feet of a church crosses the line to surrealism.

For the moment, let us concentrate on the Element’s parking area noise, loitering and security risks. Unless we act decisively, there is a tragic incident just waiting to happen.

 

Paul Newman lives in Oak Harbor.

 

 

Community Events, April 2014

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