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Thursday, August 31, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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State liquor board OKs expanding alcohol-impact zones in Seattle

Seattle Times staff reporter

Goodbye Colt 45, Steel Reserve and Cisco. Your days in much of Seattle are numbered.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board on Wednesday unanimously approved a ban on sale of 29 cheap fortified wines and strong beers as part of a city strategy to combat litter, panhandling and other nuisances associated with street alcoholics.

The ban will take effect Nov. 1.

The action came at the request of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and the City Council in response to neighborhood complaints about public drinking. The ban will cover more than 6 square miles of the city designated as alcohol-impact areas (AIAs). That includes downtown, Belltown, Capitol Hill, the Central Area, the Chinatown International District and the University District.

Merritt Long, chairman of the three-member liquor board, said the panel was persuaded by testimony from Seattle neighborhoods that have battled problems with street drinking for years.

"The liquor board is really the community's court of last resort. This is a local-level issue that needed state assistance to help local citizens to be safe and have a quality of life in their neighborhoods," Long said.

While neighborhood leaders had pleaded for the ban, it was opposed by owners of small, mostly immigrant-run convenience stores, who fear they'll be put out of business.

"Some people say it's not going to affect business, but it is going to drop sales, I know that," said James Lee, president of the Korean American Grocers Association of Washington. "If they [store owners] drop a few hundred dollars a day, it is going to be a big difference in their incomes."

Lee also said he doesn't believe the ban will solve the problem of homeless alcoholics. "It's going to come back later, the same," he said.

Long said store owners will get by. "There are 4,000 beers that one can sell in the state of Washington. So there is not going to be a lack of beer or wine available," he said.

Supporters of the ban hope it will discourage homeless alcoholics from hanging out and drinking in their usual haunts. The liquor board and the city will pay a researcher to examine the effectiveness of the AIAs, including whether problems with street alcoholics simply shift to new neighborhoods.

"The secret to good public policy is to analyze its effectiveness and alter it so it will become more effective," said Jordan Royer, public-safety adviser to Nickels.

The city tried a similar strategy beginning in 2003 in Pioneer Square. In that neighborhood, sales of fortified wine and single cans of beer are prohibited. City officials have admitted that the strategy has not been effective. They say the larger AIA, combined with a strict product ban, should work better.

The product ban will now apply to Pioneer Square in addition to those other restrictions.

A similar ban has been in effect in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood since 2002.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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