Third Tacoma AIA seems like anti-inebriation overkill

The News TribuneFebruary 22, 2013 

Tacoma’s two Alcohol Impact Areas – where merchants are prohibited from selling certain cheap, high-octane beverages – have had success in decreasing public drunkenness within their boundaries.

But the success is only partial if they’re just pushing that problem into other parts of the city.

That’s apparently what’s happened since formation of the Urban Core District in 2001 and the Lincoln District in 2008. Many of the chronic inebriates who can no longer buy their mind-numbing rotgut head north or west into neighborhoods that aren’t in either AIA. Alcohol-related police calls have risen there as have emergency medical calls – which often are for people who have passed out drunk.

The problem has residents in the North End and the West End now seeking approval for their own AIA.

Tough luck, South Tacoma and University Place. If the Tacoma City Council gives the go-ahead for its third and geographically largest AIA, and the state Liquor Control Board agrees to it, your neighborhoods will be next in line for the overflow – and the problems that go along with that, including increased panhandling, homeless camping and public intoxication.

Under state law, a city isn’t allowed to be one big AIA. But if the West End AIA is approved in Tacoma, that might as well be the case; the bulk of the city’s population would be within one of the three restricted zones.

Since hard liquor sales were privatized by a voter-approved initiative, many more outlets now are able to sell the hard stuff. Is easier, virtually around-the-clock access to high-alcohol-content beverages at virtually every drugstore and supermarket making the AIA concept somewhat obsolete?

Perhaps it’s time for the City Council to take another look at the designation to see if it’s working as originally designed. It should consider whether a citywide approach – perhaps along the lines of one suggested by liquor distributors – might be an alternative.

The AIA should be taking a drone-strike approach to public drunkenness, targeting the very worst areas. Instead it seems to have evolved into a carpet-bombing strategy, casting a wide net over much of the city and leaving non-AIA neighborhoods even more vulnerable.

A solution to public drunkenness that moves it to other neighborhoods isn’t a real solution. It just makes the problem someone else’s.

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