North Highline Unincorporated Area Council tonight: “Alcohol Impact Area” discussion, and what’s next

Several stories to report from tonight’s meeting of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council at NH Fire District HQ: We’ll start with a summary of the Alcohol Impact Area discussion (previewed here); council member Heidi Johnson has been researching this for about a year, it was noted tonight. The heart of the presentation/discussion was an informational briefing, with Karen McCall from the state Liquor Control Board explaining what an AIA is, how it works, and how to request one. Bottom line: If an area has problems caused by public drinking/drunkenness – from litter to people passed out in doorways and on bus benches – this is one way to go after the problem. It restricts businesspeople in the area from selling certain types of alcoholic beverages, sometimes specifying certain times of day for the restrictions. “There has to be a link from the products to the problem,” McCall stressed. And it requires a lot of documentation — once you’ve proposed an AIA, six months of work to see if you can get local businesses to comply voluntarily with whatever you want them to do (restrict certain products, certain hours, or both) — and you have to document the problem, with photos, notes, etc. After six months, if you “don’t get compliance” as McCall put it, you take it to your local jursidiction – a city council or county council, for example, and say you want to take it to the Liquor Control Board. That process may take another three to six months, but, she said, “The board hasn’t turned one down yet.” Make sure you really want it, though, because “once it’s in, it’s in” for at least two years. McCall also noted one more tool that communities have – when businesses’ liquor licenses come up for renewal, they can request restrictions on sale of certain products (fortified wine, for example) – though again, documentation of neighborhood problems is required. (Note: Liquor-license applications can be tracked online here.) One person who could certainly play a role in that was at tonight’s meeting: White Center-based King County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Hancock. In his year and a half in the area, he said, while he’s seen “a lot of violent crime,” he emphatically declared: “The behavior that stands out, and makes a negative impression, is public drunkenness — from Roxbury to 107th, between 14th and 18th, four or five businesses have single-sale alcohol to individuals, and there are 20 to 30 regulars, any day of the week, you can drive down 15th and 16th, see the cans everywhere, people passed out at bus stops … I personally responded to robberies, assaults between people who are intoxicated. It’s very bad for the image of White Center. What people say – they don’t really see the narcotics deals, or the violent crime you hear about on the news, but they see every day the people stumbling down the street, aggressive panhandlers … Alcohol is not the most serious crime in the area, but the most detrimental to the growth of the area.” He added that he feels if Seattle chooses the nearby Myers Way jail site, and releases people there, they would immediately head toward White Center to “get a beer,” if nothing is changed. McCall said some business owners traditionally protest the potential designation, but revenue reports show they usually increase their business in the year after restrictions are put into place. What’s next? More research, and a decision whether this is to be formally pursued; as mentioned in our preview coverage, area activists also would like to look at whether the Seattle side of the White Center area could be included – apparently that would involve separate requests from the separate jurisdictions. James Bush from the office of County Councilmember Dow Constantine also promised they would stay involved.

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