On March 30, 2012, the Washington State Liquor Control Board voted 2-1 to deny Seattle’s request to create an opportunity for local governments to petition the WSLCB for an extension of legal alcohol serving times. That is good news. However, each of the three Liquor Control Board members, also suggested that this conversation started by Seattle’s Mayor and City Council could reasonably continue between Seattle and the Washington State Legislature. That is of genuine concern to me.
In 2011 the City of Seattle had asked the WSLCB for the opportunity to develop local regulation to extend the hours of legal alcohol consumption in bars and clubs to twenty-four hours, essentially removing the prohibition of sales from 2:00 am to 6:00 am. The stated reasons for wanting 24/7 alcohol sales were: 1.) Public safety – eliminating a closure time for all on-premise establishments would lessen the negative impact of intoxicated patrons leaving establishments at the same time and 2.) Economic opportunity and growth- Seattle would become a destination city for nighttime recreation, which would generate tax revenues, drive tourism and support local business.
In brief, the rationale offered by the two board members, who voted to deny Seattle’s request, was as follows:
Common Theme: A common theme in hearing testimonies by citizens, law enforcement and city officials outside of the city of Seattle was that a city’s ability to control public safety ends at its borders. The concern: “what happens when people migrate from neighboring cities to drive in and out of a city with extended hours or 24-hour alcohol service?”
Contrary to WSLCB Mission: The primary responsibility of the Liquor Control Board is public safety. Research reviewed by the Board showed that extending sales hours can have a negative impact on public safety. In fact, of the nineteen most reliable studies in the international literature, sixteen out of nineteen (84%) indicate adverse effects on public safety. In addition to DUI crashes, adverse effects include public inebriation, vandalism, robbery, and violence.
Additional Availability: Due to the recent implementation of I-1183 (privatized liquor sales), the availability of liquor has increased approximately five fold across Washington State. The research is clear that increasing alcohol outlets negatively affects public safety. At this point, on- and off-premises licensees have the same hours. If 24/7 access is granted for on-premise sales, it stands to reason, that off-premise locations, such as retailers, would soon ask for the same 24/7 privilege. As availability increases, public safety is compromised and more law enforcement is required.
Over-Service: The WSLCB Enforcement Division does not have the resources to deal with extended hours. The ratio of liquor enforcement officers to licensees statewide is 1:300. In Seattle, it is 1:400. Seattle did not indicate that they had additional money to fund necessary local law enforcement efforts. Additionally, if 2:00 a.m. is a dangerous “push-out time,” sending intoxicated people out into the streets, perhaps over-service, not the closing time, is the real problem.
Based on the concerns previously articulated by two of the three WSLCB members, the possibility of 24/7 sales of alcohol being revisited by the City of Seattle through proposed legislation raises the following concerns for me:
The municipalities in my own small, densely populated county would also have the option to develop regulations to sell alcohol 24/7 at on-premise establishments. As suggested by one of the WSLCB members, that would most likely eventually include off-premise sales venues as well. As availability increases, public safety is compromised and more law enforcement is required.
It has not been determined whether the business profits and increased tax revenues associated with extension of alcohol sales hours will, in fact, fiscally exceed the costs associated with increased crime, law enforcement activity and other support services.
There is no data that supports the notion that a city with a 24/7 alcohol sales policy will be safer because there will be fewer drunk drivers hitting the streets at the same time. On the contrary, it can be argued that a greater number of people will be drinking more alcohol in public and will be heading home when work day traffic is heavier.
As a taxpayer, the costs associated with increased crime and supporting adequate law enforcement to provide for public safety will ultimately be mine.
The increase in municipal economic activity will not outweigh the incalculable damage to my sense of public safety.