Asking politely didn't work, so Seattle may soon force groceries in much of the city to quit selling Night Train Express, Colt 45 Ice and...
Asking politely didn’t work, so Seattle may soon force groceries in much of the city to quit selling Night Train Express, Colt 45 Ice and other cheap, potent brews favored by street alcoholics.
Efforts over the past year in downtown, Capitol Hill and the University District ended with just 30 percent of 222 stores signing voluntary “good-neighbor” agreements to restrict sales of the beer and wines — an outcome city officials expected.
Today, the Seattle City Council will take the next step, and consider asking the state Liquor Control Board to ban the booze in more than six square miles in different areas of the city. The council’s Housing, Human Services and Health Committee will hold a morning public hearing on the proposal by Mayor Greg Nickels.
Seattle’s plan is modeled on Tacoma, which received the state’s first alcohol-impact area designation in 2002. A ban there is credited with easing problems in the city’s Hilltop neighborhood.
In Seattle, after much debate, a smaller alcohol-impact area was created in Pioneer Square two years ago.
Other neighborhoods, including Capitol Hill and the University District, soon complained that more street alcoholics were moving in to seek their drinks of choice. Even some supporters worry the rules merely shove the problem to new areas.
“I don’t really love the idea of just sending it to another neighborhood. That doesn’t seem like an answer,” said Teresa Lord Hugel, executive director of the University District Chamber of Commerce.
Rules on alcohol
The Seattle City Council’s Housing, Human Services and Health Committee today will hold a public hearing on a proposal to ban sales of cheap, high-alcohol beers and wines in a large part of the city. The hearing begins at 9:30 a.m. in council chambers, Seattle City Hall, 600 Fourth Ave., second floor. People unable to attend may submit comments via e-mail: Tom.Rasmussen@seattle.gov
Hugel said she backs the proposed ban, and hopes it will help, but added she’d like to see better enforcement of existing laws, especially against stores that sell alcohol to people who are falling-down drunk.
Alcohol-related police and fire-service calls have actually increased since Pioneer Square’s restrictions went into effect, both inside and outside the neighborhood, according to a recent city report.
But city officials argue that’s because the Pioneer Square alcohol-impact area (AIA) is too small, covering just a tenth of a square mile.
“I think that an AIA, to be effective, has to cover a larger area,” said Councilman Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the council panel considering the proposal today.
Jordan Royer, public-safety adviser to Nickels, said the alcohol rules are only part of a larger strategy to deal with the problem, including an apartment house set to open next year that will take 75 homeless alcoholics off the streets. The controversial facility will allow occupants to drink in their rooms, but encourage them to seek treatment.
The city’s plan comes as a relief to Bob Knudson, who said his Capitol Hill neighborhood has been afflicted by more street alcoholics since the Pioneer Square ban.
“I’m just kind of tired of having to clean up after these folks,” said Knudson, who frequently rousts men sleeping in his yard, and has had to pick up trash, and even human waste, left by homeless alcoholics.
Some merchants affected by the ban say they’re being unfairly targeted.
Ken Kim, who owns OK Grocery north of Pike Place Market, said yesterday he’ll abide by whatever rules are set, though he doubts it will make much of a difference.
Kim, who has owned the store for about six years, said he’s never sold many of the products on the city’s proposed list of banned products, such as cheap fortified wines. But the bottles and cans of Mickey’s Malt Liquor and Keystone Ice on his shelves would have to go if the new rules come to pass.
“They’ll just buy something else,” Kim said, referring to street alcoholics who congregate in the neighborhood.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org