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Proposal to extend bar hours gets cold reception

A request by Seattle city officials to allow bars and restaurants to serve liquor after the 2 a.m. cutoff got a cold reception at a Spokane public hearing Monday.

More than 70 people showed up at the fourth and final public hearing held statewide by Washington’s Liquor Control Board on a City of Seattle petition that could open the door to letting some businesses sell booze until 6 a.m.

At present, Washington allows “on-premise” businesses to sell liquor only until 2 a.m.

Seattle officials say they want the Liquor Control Board to give them the chance to set up some areas of the city where the hours would be extended.

The Seattle petition would not allow all other bars and restaurants to do the same; it only seeks to change the rules for that city. But if the board approved, it also would allow any other city to come forward with a similar request.

The request riled more than 30 people who spoke out at Monday’s hearing at Spokane City Hall.

More than two dozen speakers told the three-member board that the impact in Spokane would include more police resources devoted to drunk drivers, more DUI fatalities and more instances of young people overdrinking because they could stay in bars later.

Interim Spokane Police Chief Scott Stephens said he and Mayor David Condon “strongly oppose” the Seattle petition.

“It’s not just an issue of an increase in driving under the influence problems,” Stephens said. “It’s going to lead to an increase in criminal activity, including more assaults and more domestic violence” at a time when local law enforcement agencies are strapped for resources.

Seattle officials say the change would be implemented gradually and not in all areas of the city, said Aaron Pickus, assistant communications director for the City of Seattle.

Seattle’s mayor and city council back the change as one way to eliminate bottlenecks and public safety concerns that arise in popular areas when customers are “pushed out” at 2 a.m., Pickus said. Seattle police now deploy patrol cars to areas where bar crowds pour into neighborhoods and create problems for drivers and nearby residents around closing time, he said.

Lt. Dean Sprague, the Spokane Police Department’s swing shift commander, disagreed with that logic, saying law enforcement here has benefitted from knowing that people who may drink and drive will hit the street at 2 a.m.

“If it’s stretched out another four hours or so, that means we’ll have to devote more of our resources focused on drunk drivers,” Sprague said.

Several speakers said the issue presented by the Seattle petition is mind-boggling in light of statewide cuts to treatment programs for addicts and alcoholics.

Pastor Danny Green of Family of Faith Community Church said the change would “create an incredible” burden on law enforcement and lead to an increase in alcohol consumption.

Martina Cordes, a drug and alcohol prevention specialist for Pend Oreille County, added that if the rule is eventually changed for Spokane businesses, it would lead to more social problems in rural areas.

“It’s only a 45-minute drive from Spokane to (Pend Oreille County),” Cordes said. “But it’s a really long drive for people who get out of a bar at 6 a.m. and are drunk.”

The board will decide May 3 whether to open the rule-making process to accommodate Seattle’s petition, chairwoman Sharon Foster said.

The next step would be drafting a new rule defining how Seattle or any city could change the serving hours for local businesses. That would lead to another round of public hearings before a final vote of the board, Foster said.