Alcohol Impact Area helps the city

Only three of eight downtown Olympia businesses have complied with a voluntary request by city officials to stop selling single-serve cans and bottles of cheap, high-alcohol content drinks.

The voluntary ban went into effect in March when the City Council voted to ban the sale of 70 brands of high-octane malt liquor and wines in a bid to curb public drunkenness in a downtown area plagued by alcohol-related problems. The list was later reduced to 62.

Unfortunately, only Hulbert Shell, Bayview Thriftway and the former state liquor store now known as T Brothers Liquor Lodge complied with the voluntary ban.

Five other outlets for the high-alcohol content drinks have ignored the request, suggesting it represents too much government intrusion in their business operations.

With all due respect, there is a greater public good to be served by pulling these products from the shelves. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that communities with state-sanctioned Alcohol Impact Areas on the books have seen a significant drop in alcohol-related responses by police officers and fire department crews, which frees up public safety workers to focus on other, more serious crimes.

In November, the City Council could vote to seek a mandatory Alcohol Impact Area designation from the state for the targeted downtown area. Barring a change of attitude by the recalcitrant store owners, the City Council shouldn’t hesitate to go that route.

If the city chooses to act, it would take the state about three months to rule on the request. The state process includes a public hearing.

In the end the city should join the ranks of Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane and Vancouver. All these cities have mandatory Alcohol Impact Areas. All these cities are seeing results.

For instance, a ban covering six acres in the Tacoma downtown area led to a 35 percent decrease in emergency medical calls, a 21 percent decline in the number of detox admissions to hospitals and a 61 percent drop in police calls responding to drinking in downtown public parks.

The Alcohol Impact Area ordinance alone won’t solve all the problems in downtown Olympia. But it’s part of a multi-pronged effort to make downtown streets, public spaces and the business environment safer and more attractive to visitors.