The Olympia City Council is asking the state Liquor Control Board to make the city’s voluntary ban on certain single-serve, high-alcohol products mandatory, after receiving a report that the voluntary ban had failed.
According to the city, only three out of eight businesses have been complying with the ban: the Hulbert 76 Station, Bayview Thriftway and T Brothers Liquor Lodge, the former state liquor store. Those that haven’t: Lucky Seven, Fourth Avenue Food Mart, the Shell station at State Avenue and Plum Street, Capitol Lake Grocery and Washington Street Market.
Four store owners spoke out against the ban in interviews this year.
Perry Park, owner of Capitol Lake Grocery, said the ban is discriminatory.
“It’s about their right to do business that’s being taken away,” he said, “because we happen to be doing business in this area.”
The Liquor Control Board requires that local governments try a voluntary ban for six months before applying to the state for a mandatory one. The City Council voted in March to ask retailers to voluntarily ban 70 brands of inexpensive, high-alcohol products to reduce public inebriation and related issues, such as fights and public urination. In April, the council voted to reduce the number of banned drinks after discovering that some drinks didn’t meet the criteria.
On Tuesday, the council voted to ask the state to make the ban mandatory.
“This is an issue that’s been — excuse the pun — brewing for a long time in the City of Olympia,” Councilman Steve Langer said.
He said it’s an issue for taxpayers, who pay whenever police or first responders are dispatched to an alcohol-related incident. And he said it helps people who can’t kick the alcohol habit.
“So I see this as something that is a humanitarian effort as well as an economic effort, as well as one that helps improve the safety of the downtown area,” he said.
Most of downtown is affected, from the isthmus to the west, Eastside Street to the east, Market Street to the north and 14th Avenue to the south. The ban affects “off-premises” sales — stores that sell alcohol to be consumed elsewhere, not bars.
There are 63 banned products on the list, such as Steel Reserve, Four Loko and Dog Bite.
Dog Bite is the city’s poster child for a banned beverage, because a 24-ounce can costs $1.29 and has the alcohol content of four average regular-sized beers. People can panhandle, take their change to the nearby convenience store and get drunk quickly and cheaply.
The city also scanned litter and confirmed that 80 percent of cans found were on the banned list.
In addition to the voluntary ban, the state required the city to make a case for a mandatory ban, so the city began collecting data on alcohol-related incidents. But the data are somewhat inconclusive.
The data show that such incidents downtown are running below last year’s levels. There have been 109 liquor violations this year, compared with 217 last year.
But the city claims in its report that the reduction is the result of the city diverting police to respond to a rash of residential burglaries.
Fire department medical calls are up 11 percent, to 368, compared with 333 in 2011. But the data do not break out alcohol-related incidents.
Similar alcohol impact areas have been enacted in Tacoma, Seattle and Spokane and have been touted as successes.
For example, the central Tacoma ban was responsible for a 35 percent drop in emergency medical services incidents, a 21 percent drop in detox admissions and a 61 percent drop in “liquor in the park” police service calls, according to a 2003 Washington State University study. People living in the area reported feeling safer, seeing fewer public drinkers, and seeing less trash and litter.
Councilwoman Julie Hankins said the alcohol ban is one piece of the puzzle in the city’s so-called downtown project. The project includes working with bars to prevent over-serving patrons.
“It’s another tool and it won’t be the magic bullet, but added up with all the other things, it will help us move in the direction we want to as a community for a safe and welcoming downtown for everyone,” she said.