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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

City to Homeless Drunks: Move Along

Posted by on November 29 at 16:06 PM

About 18 months ago, the City Council vastly expanded the city’s “Alcohol Impact Area,” a swath of the central city where alcohol sales are restricted by type and time (no single bottles or cans, and no alcohol at all between 6 and 9 am), to a vast area that encompasses downtown, Capitol Hill, the International District, Lower Queen Anne, and the University District. The council also changed the rules for the AIA to focus on sales of specific products, rather than restricting sales by hours and product type, and made compliance voluntary, at least in the short term.

That plan, predictably, didn’t pan out: only 30 percent of merchants in the voluntary AIA signed “good neighbor agreements” consenting to follow the rules. Now the council is seeking a state liquor board rule making the AIA mandatory, banning low-cost, high-alcohol products (like MD 20/20, Cisco, Thunderbird, Mickey’s, and Olde English 800) from a zone that encompasses most of the central city.

AIAs like the one Seattle is proposing have been criticized because they simply move the problem - homeless public drinkers - to non-AIA neighborhoods without addressing the more serious (and challenging) problems of homelessness and addiction. And, critics say, AIAs infringe on homeless drinkers’ civil rights by singling out one group of alcoholics just because they’re poor. (Nobody’s suggesting that sales at wine shops be restricted, for example, just because they sell high-alcohol beverages.) Another criticism is that restricting specific brands simply doesn’t work: In neighborhoods that have restrictions, sales of non-restricted beers go up.

The council’s Human Services Committee, chaired by AIA champion Tom Rasmussen, will take up the legislation at a public hearing next Tuesday, December 6, in council chambers at 9:30 a.m.