Olympia wants to ban more alcoholic beverages downtown

Olympia wants to expand the list of banned alcoholic beverages in the downtown area in an effort to reduce litter and public intoxication.

Since Feb. 15, the city’s Alcohol Impact Area has prohibited the sale of nine brands of high-alcohol drinks including Mickey’s, Four Loko and Steel Reserve. Many of these drinks approach or exceed 8 percent alcohol, and typically cost $2 or less for a 24-ounce can.

However, the ban has fallen short of expectations.

“The Alcohol Impact Area, with such a limited banned list, basically just caused the retailers to get rid of the old brands and shelve new brands that are similar,” said Brian Wilson, the city’s downtown liaison.

In response, the Olympia City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to petition the Washington State Liquor Control Board for an amended list of banned beverages.

The new list names 64 specific brands, including everything from Colt 45 Malt Liquor and Ice House beer to fortified wines such as MD 20/20 and Night Train Express.

In June, city staff had conducted a four-week “litter survey” to examine the Alcohol Impact Area’s effectiveness. Staff found fewer containers for the banned drinks, but also found an increase in containers for non-banned high-alcohol drinks. In addition, nearly 54 percent of all discarded containers in the litter survey were for high-alcohol drinks, Wilson said.

“These cans are typically found in areas where this type of drinking is not allowed,” Wilson told the council Tuesday. “They’re kind of an indication of criminal activity and drinking in public.”

The city also reported no significant drop in arrests for drinking in public, Wilson said. Since the ban went active Feb. 15, police have arrested 69 people through July 31, according to the city. In 2013, there were 73 arrests for drinking in public during the same time period.

The Alcohol Impact Area’s approximate borders are Water Street and the isthmus to the west, Eastside Street to the east, Marine Drive and Olympia Avenue to the north, and 14th Avenue to the south. Olympia is among four cities in Washington – along with Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane – to enact an Alcohol Impact Area. Wilson told the council that Olympia’s amended list, if approved, would better resemble the banned lists in other cities.

Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones said the city has been on “new ground” with the Alcohol Impact Area while working with the Liquor Control Board to get it right.

“I think that we’re making progress on chronic public inebriation,” said Jones, adding that the litter survey statistics are an example of this progress.