The city's call to expand an Alcohol Impact Area (AIA) to include most of downtown, Capitol Hill, Lower Queen Anne and the University District met with the approval of almost everyone who spoke at a public hearing last week.
The proposal, which targets chronic public inebriates, would ban the sales of malt liquor and fortified wine if voluntary efforts fail after a six-month trial period in those neighborhoods. It's something that has already happened in Pioneer Square.
But several South Seattle residents at the hearing worried that the restricted sales of high-octane alcohol will force chronic public inebriates out of their usual haunts.
"I think the problem will migrate to our area instead," said Grace Reamer, who lives in the Beacon Hill area just south of the proposed boundaries of the expanded AIA.
Speaking at the hearing, which was held by Seattle City Council member Margaret Pageler's Water and Health Committee, Reamer said she wanted her neighborhood to be included in the expanded AIA.
There are already problems with street drunks in her neighborhood, she said. "They've even come to my door to ask for money to buy beer when they're drunk," Reamer said, adding that there are six stores in her immediate neighborhood that sell fortified wine and malt liquor.
Reamer's daughter, 16-year-old Pat Carlson, also spoke at the city council hearing, and she's convinced the Pioneer Square AIA is forcing street drunks into her neighborhood.
Carlson said she was recently on the bus in her neighborhood when she heard a man talking about needing something to drink. The man also asked if anyone knew of a store where he could buy beer, said Carlson, who added that request was made at 7 in the morning.
Amie Patao, chair of the North Beacon Hill Community Council, is also concerned about the spillover effect. "We've already noticed an increase in public drinking since the Pioneer Square ban," she said, adding that neighborhood residents can't handle an increase in public drunkeness.
Patao charged that the city doesn't care what happens in her South Seattle neighborhood. "It's up to you to level the playing field," she said to Pageler.
Halsey Bell said she lives near Reamer and is also worried about a spillover effect from the Pioneer Square AIA. Families with young children are already worried about safety in the neighborhood, she said, also noting that there are two elementary schools in the area.
Bell said there are already problems with transients in the neighborhood. "Just last week, I came out of my house at 7 in the morning and found somebody going to the bathroom in my back yard," she said.
The proposal to expand the AIA was based on statistics dealing with police and medical responses to public inebriation, according to Jordan Royer, manager of the Neighborhood Action Team for the Department of Neighborhoods.
According to color-coded maps Royer displayed at the hearing, the Beacon Hill area doesn't have the same level of problems with public inebriation that the targeted neighborhoods do.
But Bell insisted that Royer's maps don't reflect the true picture, saying she hasn't been calling police about rowdy behavior of street drunks. "By the time police get there, the person is gone, the incident is over," she explained.
Spillover effect aside, not everyone thinks an expanded AIA is such a great idea in the first place. Matt Fox, a citizen activist from the University District, doubts an AIA will have much effect in his neighborhood.
"While the effort is certainly well-intended, it is destined to fail," he said. "It's not really going to reduce the impact."
According to Fox, the proposal to expand the AIA could lead to a wholesale ban on sales of the targeted products. "At some point, we will be calling our entire city an Alcohol Impact Area," he said.
That won't happen. An AIA can't encompass an entire city, said Liquor Control Board spokeswoman Tricia Currier.
Both the City Council and Mayor Greg Nickels have to sign off on expanding the AIA before the six-month trial period begins. The trial period begins with so-called "Good Neighbor Agreements" local merchants sign in a pledge not to sell the banned products.
Nothing will happen this year, however. Pageler, who lost her bid for reelection, said the new city council will take up the issue early next year.