The Washington State Liquor Control Board will take testimony Monday morning about Seattle's request to let local jurisdictions in Washington set their own hours for liquor service. State law currently prohibits liquor sales between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
After 41 years in Rainier Valley, Mariana Quarnstrom can name the bars that have come and gone, some, she said, turning from friendly, neighborhood hangouts to unsavory havens for drug dealing, shootings, fights, public urination and other disorderly conduct.
She opposes Seattle’s request to let local jurisdictions in Washington set their own hours for liquor service.
“We can’t even control what we’ve got now. Why add fuel to the fire?” asked Quarnstrom, a past chairwoman of the Southeast Seattle Crime Prevention Council.
On the other side of the debate, Jessica Drenkel has worked in the music business for more than a decade. She’s seen riotous behavior on the streets when all the bars in a neighborhood close at 2 a.m. She supports Seattle’s efforts to extend liquor service hours.
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“I think there won’t be such a panic and a rush to get that last drink and get that cab. And it won’t stretch the police so much with every bar in every neighborhood closing all at once.”
The Washington State Liquor Control Board will take testimony Monday morning about Seattle’s request. State law currently prohibits liquor sales between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
The proposal was put forward by Mayor Mike McGinn as part of his Seattle Nightlife Initiative. He’s been joined by Police Chief John Diaz, City Attorney Pete Holmes and the Seattle City Council, which in July approved a resolution asking the state to allow for extended liquor hours.
The mayor has suggested that staggered closing times might ease the public-safety issues and allow clubs with good safety records to stay open longer.
If the Liquor Control Board agrees, cities would then create their own legal framework to license and monitor the late-night venues, subject to approval by the state.
The proposal has provoked strong emotions on both sides. The majority of the city’s five precinct advisory councils — neighborhood groups that work with the police on public-safety issues — oppose extending bar hours. The measure also is opposed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which says it would only increase the number of alcohol-related deaths.
But that opposition has been characterized as hysterical and alarmist by McGinn’s office and by leaders in the entertainment industry, both of whom support the extended bar hours as a chance to enliven Seattle’s music and club scene and reduce the problems associated with the current 2 a.m. bar pushout.
“You continue to characterize the issue in a way that seems alarmist and misleading,” Carl Marquardt, McGinn’s attorney, wrote in a March 2 email to Stephanie Tschida, East Precinct Advisory Council board president and chairwoman.
Tschida had sent an email to East Precinct residents urging them to attend the liquor board hearing as the only opportunity for Seattle residents to weigh in.
Monday’s hearing is the first of several the Liquor Control Board will hold around the state, but the only one scheduled for Seattle.
Tschida said she’s concerned that more people and those from outside of Seattle will concentrate around bars with extended hours, consuming more alcohol and creating an even greater public-safety issue.
She also argues that clubs and bars support the measure because they stand to benefit financially.
“There’s money to be made,” she said.
Dave Meinert, a music promoter and restaurant owner, said the city’s code-compliance team, in partnership with the Liquor Control Board, is doing a good job at shutting down problem nightclubs.
And he said the opponents have overstated the potential problems.
“There’s a couple of people out there that are the hysterical minority,” he said.
The Washington chapter of MADD opposes the proposal because it has the potential to create a patchwork of liquor regulations around the state, said Stacey Rhodes, spokeswoman for the Washington chapter. She also said Seattle could attract more late-night drinkers, which would result in more drunken driving.
“Where’s the common sense in this? Are you kidding me?” she asked.
Seattleite Rebecca Bowers, who said she has friends in the bar and nightlife industry, supports the measure. She said there will always be some people who “get drunk and act stupid.” But she said providing places were they can stay later and “get mellow” means they won’t be on the street.
“They won’t have to catch a cab. They won’t have to drive home. The cops won’t have to do everything all at once. I think this will help the city,” she said.
Lynn Thompson: 206-909-7580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.