City Council expands alcohol impact area - Move leaves some concerned that chronic street inebriates will migrate to Southeast Seattle

Chronic public inebriates will have a difficult time buying their favorite, high-octane beverages in the part of Rainier Valley north of I-90 under a plan approved in a 7-1 Seattle City Council vote on June 1.

The council vote established a so-called Alcohol Impact Area (AIA)in not only the northernmost part of South Seattle, but also in Lower Queen Anne, on Capitol Hill, in Belltown, the Central District and the University District.

The vote-which will ban the sales of certain alcohol products-was taken despite concerns among some council members that AIAs would just force street drunks into new neighborhoods.

Richard McIver, the lone dissenting vote, was one of them. He worried that inebriates would start hanging out in South Seattle as they did on Capitol Hill when Pioneer Square's AIA became mandatory.

"I want to make sure all neighborhoods are protected equally," he said.

Council member Tom Rasmussen, whose Housing, Human Services and Health Committee had earlier approved of the proposal, described alcoholism as tragic and destructive, not only to the alcoholic but to his or her family and to the community.

The neighborhoods targeted for the AIA proposal were chosen for good reasons, according to Rasmussen. "The primary reason is that, even though they comprise only about 8 or 9 percent of the city, they represent about 55 percent of the calls for alcohol-related incidents."

Council member Richard Conlin noted that it costs the city a bundle to deal with street alcoholics, but he also said the problem presented a health issue. According to him, dispersing the population and restricting access to cheap alcohol will prompt more of the inebriates to seek treatment.

Council member Peter Steinbrueck said he shared McIver's concern about simply moving the problem to other neighborhoods, something he worried about when an AIA was set up in Pioneer Square. "People don't just stop drinking," he said.

Rasmussen countered with statistics that showed a 14 percent decrease in alcohol-related calls for service in Pioneer Square after the AIA went into effect, while there was only a 2 percent increase in incidents in surrounding neighborhoods.

He also cited similar statistics in Tacoma, which also has set up an AIA in parts of the city. "So there is some dispersal, but the overall quality of life in Alcohol Impact Areas has improved significantly."

Council President Jan Drago, a longtime Pioneer Square resident, has seen a positive change in her neighborhood since the AIA went into effect. "I can tell you it does make a difference."

Still, while strongly supporting the expanded AIA, Drago said she recognized that the program is only part of a solution that should included housing and treatment.

Council member David Della said he was also concerned about simply forcing the problem into other areas, adding that it's not only an issue of public health but also public safety.

He also pointed out that the decision to institute the expanded AIA was not made in a vacuum. "The (targeted) neighborhoods have asked for this ... as an element in a comprehensive strategy."

Council member Jean Godden worried that the AIA would only treat symptoms not causes of alcoholism, adding that the program doesn't represent ideal legislation. "But it's the best we've got," she said.

Like an earlier effort in the Pioneer Square area, the expanded AIA will be set up on a voluntary basis for six months, according to Jordan Royer, who heads up the program for the Department of Neighborhoods.

The voluntary six-month effort has been mandated by the State Liquor Control Board, and as they did in Pioneer Square, the Liquor Board can make the restrictions mandatory if the voluntary approach fails, he said.

The first step will be to send out Good Neighbor Agreements to all stores in the AIA that sell alcohol to go. "We're still working out exactly how it will look," Royer said. Using the same list of products banned in Tacoma's AIA will be the most likely approach, he added

Banning sales of single containers of malt liquor and restricting hours of sales for all products only applied to Pioneer Square, Royer said. He also noted that banning sales of single containers is controversial.

"We don't think we need that," he said.

The AIA ordinance goes into effect 30 days after Mayor Greg Nickels signs the legislation, Royer said, adding there will be a series of meetings set up between the communities and the merchants about the issue.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]