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Wednesday, June 2, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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City moves to tighten alcohol sales in 3 areas

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Buying a single can or bottle of beer may soon be difficult, if not impossible, in Seattle's University District, Belltown and Capitol Hill neighborhoods.

The City Council voted yesterday to restrict alcohol sales in a six-square-mile area in order to crack down on public drunkenness. Under the new program, merchants will be asked to voluntarily stop selling any alcohol from 6 to 9 a.m. and take fortified-alcohol products and single cans and bottles of beer off their shelves.

If the voluntary ban fails, the council could make the prohibitions mandatory. That's what the council did in Pioneer Square, where the city created its first "alcohol-impact area."

The Pioneer Square prohibitions have been in place for six months, and alcohol-related calls to the police and fire departments are down 14 percent, according to Councilman Tom Rasmussen, who sponsored the new restrictions.

But calls just outside Pioneer Square rose 3 percent, prompting concerns from Councilman Richard McIver that the new restrictions would merely move the problems to adjacent neighborhoods.

While casting the only dissenting vote yesterday, McIver said he expected chronic alcoholics to head to parts of Seattle such as Rainier Valley, "in turn worsening the situation in these disadvantaged communities and widening the gulf between disadvantaged and privileged communities in our city."

The boundaries of the new restricted areas were drawn to encompass the bulk of the city's drinking-related 911 calls. The ban on single beers affects all brands, including expensive microbrewed ales and "ultra-light" beers that have low alcohol content.

University District activist Matthew Fox was one of the few residents who spoke against the proposal, saying it would "not cure a single alcoholic" while "it would inconvenience thousands of regular working-class people."

Rasmussen noted that most business and neighborhood leaders favored curbs on alcohol sales. He and Council President Jan Drago also said they saw no evidence to support the possible spillover effect that McIver fears in southeast Seattle.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Greg Nickels applauded the council's action. Restrictions in Pioneer Square have helped improve the area, said Marianne Bichsel, and will lead to more "family activities," such as concerts, bingo games and bocce ball in Occidental Park before Mariners' games.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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