The use of “voluntary agreements” in the District amounts to nothing short of legalized extortion. As “Raising the Bar” (5/2) shows, the current system using these coercive contracts places an excessive amount of control into the hands of advisory neighborhood commissions or as few as five neighborhood residents. The application process for new and renewal licenses has corroded to a point where each and every application is protested regardless of any justifiable reason. The protesters need only claim that the establishment has an “adverse impact on peace, order and quiet,” thus shifting the burden of proof to every applicant to show the “appropriateness” of such a business. Thus, facing costly litigation and an appeals process stacked against them, new and renewal applicants have no choice but to enter into whatever “agreement” the protesters wish to command.

As the article shows, the outcomes of these coercive contracts range from silly to outright preposterous! From prohibitions on all dancing to whom they may hire and what types of drinks should be served, a hyper-minority of citizens maintains near absolute control over an essential part of commerce in the District—a part for which many moved here in the first place. Absurdly, 10 citizens’ associations recently signed a letter asking the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to grant them even more power in the licensing process.

This trend must stop. The D.C. Nightlife Coalition ( seeks reform to the process by which protesters must reasonably justify their complaints and can no longer force legitimate businesses into ridiculous “agreements.” The process must include a mechanism for patrons and consumers who would partake in these constitutionally protected activities, such as music and dancing, to participate fully in the process.

D.C. Nightlife Coalition