On the Alcohol Impact Area

The following is an except from Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata's Urban Politics, an e-mail newsletter containing his perspective about various council decisions.

In early December, the council voted (8 to 1) to pass Council Bill 115442, which requests the state Liquor Control Board to impose restrictions on alcohol sales in the Downtown Seattle, parts of Capitol Hill, Lower Queen Anne, First Hill, Chinatown/International District, the Central Area and the University District. These are to be all designated as Alcohol Impact Areas (AIAs).

This action follows previous legislation which asked retail outlets to voluntarily restrict the sale of low-cost, high-alcohol products in these neighborhoods which have contributed to chronic public inebriation. The mayor's office determined that these voluntary efforts failed and thus requested this legislation.

This strategy follows Tacoma's positive experience with the same legislation over a large area, where alcohol-related Emergency Medical Service cases declined by more than one-third in these Alcohol Impact Areas (AIA). There is a current AIA in the Pioneer Square community but it has been determined to have only limited success because the area is so small.

There are some arguments against establishing AIAs. Some have said that they may simply disperse the alcoholics to other neighborhoods. I have received communication from those living in neighborhoods adjacent to AIAs who believe that this is the case. Additionally, others have argued that AIAs discriminate against the poor and homeless since the wealthier can still buy liquor and get drunk in their homes.

While I believe that both of these criticisms have some merit, I do not believe that they outweigh the benefits received by the AIA neighborhoods and by those who are alcoholics. These neighborhoods should see less public disorderliness and there should be less opportunity for those addicted to alcohol to get a quick fix.

However, AIAs are not a solution to the problem of chronic, public inebriates. They need social services to help them secure housing, detoxification and rehabilitation services, to allow them to stabilize their lives and eventually be employed. Unless these increased services are made available the AIAs will ultimately fail. For this reason I supported this legislation only after it was amended to state that the city will evaluate the public safety and health effects in the AIA neighborhoods and those adjacent to them. This will allow us to determine whether the AIA should continue.

Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata can be reached at nick.licata@seattle.gov.

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