Tacoma is taking steps toward establishing its third Alcohol Impact Area – this time, targeting the city’s North and West ends for the special state designation that allows the city to ban sales of certain alcohol drinks to thwart problems tied to public drunkenness.
At the request of several neighborhood, school and park groups, the City Council introduced an ordinance Tuesday that would impose a voluntary ban of 45 alcohol products sold to-go in the neighborhood for six months – the initial step toward gaining a formal designation from the state’s Liquor Control Board.
“Alcohol Impact Areas have been one of the most popular programs in terms of citizen advocacy,” Councilwoman Lauren Walker said earlier Tuesday. “There’s proof in the pudding that it’s a program that really works.”
But several council members raised concerns Tuesday that a new designation – dubbed the “West End AIA” – could push chronic public inebriates to other Tacoma neighborhoods. Councilman Marty Campbell added he wants to weigh the prospects for a more regionalized strategy with beer and wine distributors.
By implementing the new West End ban, Campbell and others said South Tacoma – one of the few neighborhoods left not covered by an AIA – would become a prime target for drunks.
“In two years, we’ll be back again when the West End AIA pushes the problem (to South Tacoma),” Campbell said Tuesday.
Several distributors have come forward in recent days to seek a delay in council action so they can offer the city an alternative regional plan to address alcohol-related problems that extend beyond Tacoma.
“I think we owe it just to look at the idea,” said Campbell, a supporter of the city’s past two AIA initiatives.
Nonetheless, the council moved forward on the measure Tuesday, setting it over for a final vote scheduled for next week. Some members noted discussions for a regional plan can still occur.
“We don’t have to pass on this proposal to (have regional discussions),” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said Tuesday. “ The two (issues) are not mutually exclusive.”
Should the council ultimately enact the measure, the West End zone would become the city’s largest AIA geographically. The area would roughly stretch from Cedar and Alder streets and Commencement Bay on the east to The Narrows on the west; and from 19th and Center streets at the south to Point Defiance to the north.
If approved, the city would request 37 businesses that now sell alcohol to go within the area to voluntarily stop stocking and selling a list of 45 fortified wines, malt liquors and other drinks from the city’s “banned products” list. Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell would then be tasked with studying the voluntary ban’s impacts and reporting back to the council with crime statistics and other data by Aug. 31.
After six months, if the data show the voluntary program isn’t working to reduce alcohol-related problems, the city could then seek a mandatory designation from the state.
The proposed West End zone would be the city’s third such designation that aims to keep cheap, high-alcohol drinks out of the hands of chronic public inebriates. Tacoma’s Urban Core District – stretching across six square miles mostly in the Hilltop and downtown – became the state’s first Alcohol Impact Area in December 2001. Restrictions on sales took effect the following March.
Under that inaugural designation, the city banned sales of about 30 fortified wines and malt liquor products, including Thunderbird, Night Train and Colt 45.
After studies showed drastic decreases in alcohol-related emergency calls, detoxification admissions and public drinking reports, Tacoma’s new zone became a state model. Today, seven Alcohol Impact Areas exist in Washington. In 2008, Tacoma added its second AIA – the Lincoln District, which covers parts of the East Side and South End.
The proposed zone in the North and West ends was prompted in part due to the successes of Tacoma’s two other AIAs, city officials said. Public safety officials said police calls for alcohol-related activity in the proposed area are up 42 percent over the past year, while city fire medical services have risen 30 percent.
“When you put pressure in one area,” Ramsdell said, “you see upticks in other areas.”
While the state prohibits citywide AIAs, Scott DeMartine, an executive for Kent-based Columbia Distributing, told the council Tuesday that distributors are working in Seattle to implement a voluntary ban on “single sales” of banned products in risk-prone areas from 9 a.m-1 p.m. Such a voluntary approach can be enacted “over the whole city” and into other jurisdictions unlike the state’s approach, he said.
Tacoma Police Lt. Dan Still later told the council research shows that specific plan isn’t working as hoped, but he added his department hasn’t considered stricter variations of it.
Councilman Joe Lonergan noted that, unlike in Tacoma’s two other AIAs, the boundaries for the West End zone are “not drawn surgically,” and the area borders other jurisdictions, including University Place, Ruston and Fircrest.
Lonergan worried drunks would simply “be able to step across the street to buy whatever it is they want and then step back into our city.”
But Ramsdell noted all three neighboring towns support Tacoma’s measure. Tacoma Police Community Liaison Officer Don Stodola added that the only store selling alcohol in Ruston has voluntarily agreed not to sell any products banned in Tacoma.
Chronic drunks also “would have to travel eight city blocks” outside the new zone to find the next closest store in University Place, Stodola said.Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542