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Wednesday, May 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Expanded 'alcohol-impact area' praised

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The city of Seattle's efforts to shut off the fortified fuel of street alcoholics may result in a ban on all single-serving cans or bottles of beer in the city's most densely packed neighborhoods.

The City Council held its second hearing last night on a hugely expanded "alcohol-impact area." As with the first hearing, the council heard strong praise for the plan from neighborhood groups.

Tom Rasmussen, chairman of the council's human-services committee, said the proposed ordinance could be up for a vote as soon as May 24.

If it's approved, merchants in a six-square-mile boundary could be asked to voluntarily stop selling any alcohol from 6 to 9 a.m. and take fortified-alcohol products and single cans of beer off their shelves. If the voluntary ban fails, the council could make the prohibitions mandatory.

The boundary includes a core central area — from Elliott Bay east to 29th Avenue East on Capitol Hill and from Interstate 90 in the south up to lower Queen Anne and north Capitol Hill — as well as the University District. The boundary was drawn to encompass the bulk of the city's drinking-related 911 calls.

Rasmussen acknowledged the proposed ban isn't a long-term solution to chronic alcoholism but said the city needs to help neighborhoods "bearing the brunt" of inadequate access to treatment.

The proposed ban would mirror an existing ordinance enacted last year in Pioneer Square. In the six months since it was imposed, alcohol-related calls to the Fire Department dropped 14 percent in Pioneer Square but rose 3 percent just outside its boundaries, according to city figures.

That data, combined with vivid complaints from surrounding neighborhoods, shows the larger boundary is needed, said Jordan Royer, director of the city's Neighborhood Action Team.

"It was such a small area, we realized we were just moving the problem right next door," he said.

Gary Snyder, owner of El Greco restaurant on Capitol Hill, said he recently opened patio seating, only to find his customers being harassed by inebriated passers-by.

Matthew Fox, a University District neighborhood activist, said the ban on single-serving containers would be unpopular with low-income people and microbrew aficionados. He predicted the council would run into a "buzz saw" of opposition when the plan is better understood.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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