"We are the Liquor Control Board," decried board member Sharon Foster in a statement echoed by fellow board member Ruthann Kurose. "Our paramount responsibility is public safety, and I believe control plays a major part of public safety."
Fellow board member Chris Marr, who was only appointed to the board in February 2011, cast the lone yes vote.
"This is a huge slap in the face for Seattle," says nightlife advocate and bar owner Dave Meinert. "It's also an old-school way of dealing with issues and making policy. Foster and Kurose have an old-school mentality on how to regulate liquor."
"I question whether we should even have a liquor board," Meinert added.
He's right. After all, we're talking about three people arbitrarily endowed by the governor (and confirmed by the legislature) with the authority to set liquor policies for the entire state. And it's a sweet deal. Washington State Liquor Control Board members receive $50,000-plus salaries for part-time work, no prior experience working in the nightlife industry* required. Which explains why it takes years and years and years of bitching to achieve any progressive policy change.
Consider this: Drinking onstage was illegal in Washington state until last October.
Beer and wine vendors were only granted temporary permission to dole out teaspoonfuls of their products at select farmer's markets last July (it's only a pilot project because too many teaspoonful-sized samples in public and lordy, people might go MAD!!!). And despite years of failed initiative attempts to privatize liquor sales, board members sat on their hands and refused to adjust the state's prohibition-era system until a new system was finally, flawfully forced on them by Costco and the voting public last November.
Foster and Kurose cited public safety concerns as their primary reason for vetoing the proposal. Yet in Seattle, the proposal received widespread support from the mayor, city council, police chief, city attorney, even the King County Executive as a way to curb the 135 percent spike in public disturbances that accompanies our 2:00 a.m. pushout. But instead of even considering a plan to pilot staggered bar hours—a solid compromise proposed by Marr—Foster and Kurose voted to kill the proposal, citing public safety concerns raised by a few small law enforcement agencies, teetotalers, and Vancouver and Spokane city officials. In other words, smaller jurisdictions that don't have the nightlife problems we face.
"This may be a decision requiring Seattle to engage the support of the State Legislature," Kurose said in a statement, willfully ignoring the fact that the state legislature hired her to make exactly those kinds of decisions. "Should the State determine that extending hours of alcohol service is appropriate in Washington, the Board will make it happen," she added.
In essence, we're paying three people good money to say "no," to progressive liquor laws at every available opportunity. It's no wonder that two of these three members think the same liquor laws that apply to, say, Lynden, Washington, population 12,000, can be applied with equal success to Seattle—a city with 608,00-plus residents and over 3,000 music-related businesses that support 8,700 jobs and generate $650 million annually to the economy.
"I'm disappointed the Liquor Control Board would not let Seattle make a formal application to extend liquor service hours in our city," said Mayor Mike McGinn in response to the board's decision. "Our request would not have extended hours anywhere in the state by one minute."
Saying no is always the easiest answer. But as only Marr seems to understand, the board shouldn't be paid to say no. They should be paid to say, "How can we safely make this happen? How?"
Or they should be fucking fired.
*Foster was once a lobbyist for the Restaurant Association, but calling that nightlife experience is like arguing that she's qualified to give me a pap smear because she also once lobbied for NARAL.