Tacoma City Council opposes I-1100, I-1105

Tacoma City Council yesterday came out in opposition to Initiative Measure No. 1100 and Initiative Measure No. 1105, two statewide ballot measures that would close state liquor stores, authorize the sale, distribution, and importation of liquor by private parties, repeal certain requirements that govern the business operations of beer and wine distributors and producers, and revise laws concerning regulation, taxation and government revenues from distribution and sale of liquor.

Council took action by adopting Resolution 38124 and Resolution 38125, which “expressed concerns related to the impacts to the City of Tacoma” should I-1100 and I1-1105 be approved in the Nov. 2 General Election.

Several councilmembers were concerned the measures would hamper what they have seen as progress in implementing Alcohol Impact Areas in parts of the city, including downtown (implemented in 2003) and the Lincoln District (implemented in 2008). The so-called AIAs are created when the Washington State Liquor Control Board imposes restrictions on sales of fortified wine and alcohol within these areas.

Before votes were taken during the council meeting Oct. 12, several councilmembers commented on the issue and their decision.

I. Deputy Mayor Jake Fey

We discussed this topic last Tuesday at our council meeting, at our committee of the whole meeting in particular, and we, I think, got some level of interest on the part of councilmembers to take this matter up. And I want to speak a little bit to this, and I want to speak to it in two different ways — two, three different aspects.

One is, I guess my first issue with this initiative is that it is an initiative. And so, by virtue of the initiative, it is written from a certain perspective, and that perspective is that of the supporters and initiators of the petition to bring it forward. And what we see a lot of advertisements about — about the — these initiatives, and what gets lost is the impacts. And I’m not even going — other than just say one sentence that this does have an impact on city revenues, county revenues, and state revenues. That alone would not be a reason to be concerned with this measure.

What concerns me is that we have spent a great deal of time in Tacoma dealing with a very big issue that has affected neighborhoods in our community related to the availability of fortified alcohol. And we have worked hard with the liquor board, who is the governing board we have to work through in this regard. And we have established two Alcohol Impact Areas. And that effort has been successful in reducing the problem of crime and other associated issues with that. So that is certainly of interest to us, because we’re responsible for the safety and welfare of our community.

The other thing is, for me it leaves in question our ability, and the ability of the liquor control board, to — if this passes — to enforce the new law, and that will potentially exacerbate our problem. There’s different estimates about how many establishments would be created by this. But just leave it to say, a whole lot more than what we have now in areas that are very sensitive to this issue, as I indicated with respect to alcohol impact and the use of fortified alcohols and having that available.

So for that reason, I felt it was important that we have a conversation here today and express our concerns about this.

There’s ample information about it. But a lot of it in the political campaign kind of gets lost. And we deal with the residue of an initiative like this. And so, I think it’s appropriate for us to express our concerns. Maybe other councilmembers want to speak to that. But that’s where I’m coming from in this regard.

I just would conclude by saying this is an issue that’s been out there, and I think it’s best handled in the state legislature and not by an initiative. And certainly, there are points to be made by the proponents of the problem they have and related to price and those types of things. And those need to be addressed. But I don’t believe that we should stand here and say, it’s fine to go ahead and pass this knowing what the consequences for our community and for other communities will be.

II. Mayor Marilyn Strickland

I guess my comment on this is this is it is a public safety issue for me. And as Councilmember Campbell said earlier, we have worked so hard to establish Alcohol Impact Areas in Tacoma and really deal with the problem of chronic alcohol and having access to high-octane beer and wine. Adding cheap liquor to the mix isn’t going to help our city and it will make it more accessible to younger people, as well.

So I am going to support this. This is not an anti-business move. And it’s not government trying to clutch desperately to something it doesn’t have. So I will be supporting this.

III. Councilmember Marty Campbell

I want to talk specifically about the concern over the Alcohol Impact Area. Our neighborhoods and our communities, our police department, the city, came together to say, ‘We are having a serious issue with chronic inebriates in our neighborhoods, and a lot of this is through fortified wines, beers, and other issues in our neighborhood.’ The team that came to the table to help with this was the distributors. They came and they understood the impact this was having on our neighborhoods. And I think with us having a nationally recognized program, we would be remiss to say having measures that undermine what has been a key factor in our ability to reduce chronic inebriates, I think we need to stand up for that.

I have a couple of numbers here.

A study was conducted after the first year of the downtown Alcoholic Impact Area, it was conducted by Dr. John Y. Tarnai — forgive me if I got that wrong — Director of Washington State University Social and Economic Sciences Research Center. The report includes the following findings [regarding] the implementation of Tacoma’s Alcohol Impact Area: a 35 percent decrease in emergency medical service incidence; a 21 percent decrease in admissions to local detoxification centers; a 61 percent decrease in ‘liquor in the park’ police service calls. Fewer chronic public inebriates, and problems associated. Reduced intoxication. Less trash and litter, and community residents feel safer and better about their neighborhood.

What my fear is that 1100 and 1105 would do is while we still may be of the Alcohol Impact Area not have fortified wines in our neighborhood convenience stores, we will have cheap whiskey, cheap gin, cheap tequila. And I think we’re going to erode all of the gains we made on that. And for me, showing concern about this is making a stand for all the work that our neighborhood, our police department, and our city put behind this.