The city of Spokane tried a hands-off approach in dealing with chronic drunks stumbling around downtown streets, but it didn’t work. So city officials requested a liquor control ordinance, and the state on Wednesday signed off on it.
So beginning May 15, a bevy of cheap, high-alcohol products can no longer be sold downtown for off-premises consumption.
This is a reasonable decision for a problem that typically plagues downtowns.
The city tried to get voluntary buy-in, but only seven of 32 licensees complied. So it was justified in seeking the outright ban on the sale of fortified booze for the 15-block area bounded by Cannon and Scott streets, Fifth Avenue and Spokane Falls Boulevard.
The chronic inebriation issue affects all downtown merchants and dwellers and incurs law-enforcement and health care costs.
The hope is that the ban will help reduce incidents of public drunkenness, which can be a turn-off to people who are in the core to dine, shop and attend concerts, plays and other downtown events.
As Mayor Mary Verner said, “Having the sales of those fortified ales and beers in the large containers was a huge detriment to multiple efforts that we have going on downtown.”
The liquor control issue goes hand in hand with efforts to limit other behaviors that deter downtown commerce, such as people lying on sidewalks and begging for money. The city has been careful to promote a vibrant cultural scene without going overboard in limiting personal freedoms. The aim is to target conduct, not specific groups of people.
Downtowns can be difficult places to police because they contain a mixture of residences, businesses, social service agencies and lively entertainment venues. In Spokane, it is the central showcase for the entire city.
It needs busy sidewalks, music and the chatter of people to feel safe and inviting. It must leave a good first impression on visitors.
Spokane has done an admirable job of maintaining a vibrant downtown while other cities have witnessed the death of their cores. The new liquor-control zone is a logical step to ensure survival.