Beginning March 11, the City of Tacoma will ask 37 businesses in the North and West Ends to voluntarily stop selling Hurricane High Gravity, Night Train Express and 43 other cheap, high-alcohol drinks.
If those businesses don’t comply within six months, the city can then seek to make the voluntary ban mandatory.
By an 8-1 vote Tuesday, Tacoma’s City Council effectively imposed the latest targeted ban on alcohol sales by establishing the new “West End Alcohol Impact Area” – the city’s third zone with a special state designation that aims to curtail public drunkenness and its problems.
“Alcohol Impact Areas have been one of the most successful programs in our city,” Councilwoman Lauren Walker said before the body adopted the measure.
Councilman Joe Lonergan cast the lone vote against the measure, saying that creating the new zone will only serve to push chronic public inebriates into South Tacoma – the district he represents.
“I remain very concerned about that,” Lonergan said. “... I believe AIAs work; I know we’ve got the evidence for that. But I don’t think I can support this tonight.”
The newly created West End zone becomes the city’s largest AIA geographically. The area roughly stretches 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 at the north.
With the measure’s adoption, the city will begin asking and aiding businesses within the zone to stop selling fortified wines, malt liquor and other specified products.
The measure also tasks Tacoma police to study the ban’s impacts and report back to the council by Aug. 31. If data show the program isn’t working or businesses aren’t complying with the voluntary ban, the city could then seek a mandatory designation from the state’s liquor control board.
Studies have shown the city’s two other AIAs – the Urban Core AIA covering parts of the Hilltop and downtown, and the Lincoln District AIA in parts of the East Side and South End – have drastically decreased alcohol-related emergency calls, detoxification admissions and public drinking reports.
After those AIAs effectively pushed public street drunks into the West End, neighborhood, school and other groups asked the city to designate a new West End AIA.
Several council members echoed Lonergan’s concerns that the new AIA likely will displace drunks into South Tacoma and other parts of the city not covered by bans on alcohol sales. Councilman Marty Campbell also noted the newest zone is sprawling and far less targeted than Tacoma’s other two AIAs.
Nonetheless, the council adopted the measure – in part “to respect the work that citizens have done to date” to impose the new ban, Councilwoman Victoria Woodards said.
Michael Transue, executive director of the Washington Beer and Wine Distributors Association, asked the council to forego the vote while his group worked with retail businesses, the city and citizens on an alternative plan to voluntarily prohibit stores from selling three or fewer banned products to a customer between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m.
While the state prohibits citywide AIAs, the distributors’ proposal could be enacted across Tacoma and into other jurisdictions as a more regional solution that’s more effective than an outright ban in a defined AIA that “penalizes legitimate retailers and consumers,” Transue said.
But council supporters of the West End AIA said its approval won’t preclude the city from working with distributors on a better plan.
“Coming up with a comprehensive solution can still happen, even if the ban passes tonight,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said.Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542