City staffers are set to bring a proposal to Tacoma City Council in December or after the first of the year that could outlaw the sale of “high-octane” alcohol in Tacoma’s West End. The council’s Neighborhoods and Housing Committee has already endorsed the creation of what would be the city’s third, and largest Alcohol Impact Area (AIA). It would span about a third of the city, covering from Cedar Street (east) and South 19th Street (south) to Point Defiance Park (west and north). If approved, the ban would outlaw the sale of specific inexpensive beers and fortified wines in the 37 grocery and convenience stores located in the area as a way to control public drunkenness and associated crimes. Tacoma already has two AIAs, one covering downtown and Hilltop and one in Lincoln District. The downtown AIA, the first in the state, was formed in 2001. The Lincoln AIA formed in 2008. Both have seen large drops in emergency aid calls and police responses associated with public intoxication. Alcohol-related medical calls in downtown dropped by 35 percent after two years of the booze ban. Calls dropped by 30 percent in Lincoln after just a year and by 66 percent after that. But those drops created a rise in street drunks around the West End according to Ginny Eberhardt, West End Neighborhood Council member.
“We are seeing them from the early morning to around the clock,” she said, noting that the trend started climbing around 2007, with more calls of street drunks, drug dealing and prostitution in the area. Alcohol-related incidents in the West End prompted 408 police and fire calls a year ago and 540 this year. That compares to 402 calls downtown and just 166 in Lincoln, police records state. The proposed West End AIA would span one of the largest areas of Tacoma, with more than 28,000 residents. The area is predominately residential, although commercial areas can be found along Pearl Street, 6th Avenue and Mildred Street. The West End has several major landmarks including Tacoma Community College, Point Defiance Park, Titlow Park, Highlands Golf Course, Ruston Way and the Narrows Bridges. The plan has been endorsed by North End Neighborhood Council, Central Neighborhood Council, Old Town Business District, 6th Avenue Business District, Tacoma Community College, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma Public Schools, Bellarmine Preparatory School, Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic School, Pierce Transit, Metro Parks, The Sobering Center at Metropolitan Development Council, West End Puget Sound Kiwanis Club and Allenmore Ridge Condominium Association.
The creation of this third AIA would mean that inexpensive alcohol cumulatively would be banned in about half of Tacoma. State law does not allow an outright ban of such alcohol in an entire city through the AIA process. Tacoma City Council is not required to have a public hearing on the proposal, but the creation of the last two AIAs prompted citizen comments at the regular public comment portion of that meeting’s agenda. The creation of an AIA, even if it passes a council vote, will take time to show results, however. If a West End area is created, a six-month voluntary compliance period starts. If stores continue to sell Steel Reserve, Colt .45 Ice and King Cobra Malt Liquor or high-octane wine such as Thunderbird and Mad Dog 20/20, Olde English 800 and other designated labels, or alcohol in pocket-sized pint bottles or in individual “tall boy” cans favored by street drunks because of their high-alcohol content and inexpensive cost, the city could ask the Washington State Liquor Control Board to formalize the AIA and impose license restrictions on the stores that continue to sell the banned booze.