March 15, 2012 in Washington Voices

City eases liquor sign law

Exemption to state rule reinstates previous standard
By The Spokesman-Review
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The Spokane Valley City Council relaxed the rules on alcohol signs in a split vote Tuesday after several citizens testified against the ordinance.

The ordinance applies to the lighted signs that typically hang in the windows of restaurants and bars. In 2010, the state Liquor Control Board limited the number of signs to four and restricted the size of the signs, but also allowed cities and counties to exempt businesses from the new rules.

Several council members took pains to point out that by approving the change the city would simply be returning to the rules that were in effect before last year. “We’re not changing the prior law,” said Councilwoman Brenda Grassel. “This is basically the status quo.”

Many of the citizens who spoke against the ordinance talked about reducing the number of alcohol signs as a way to make drinking less attractive to teens and children. Lynda Fralich, a member of the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council, asked if the council was willing to sacrifice the safety of children so businesses could make more money.

“Is this the new image you want for the city of Spokane Valley?” she said. “The guidelines are there for a reason.”

A business with 11 alcohol signs in the windows seems “excessive,” said Hazel Hatcher. “I think we really need to think long and hard about it.”

Linda Thompson of the substance abuse council said limiting ads can help reduce teen alcohol abuse. “It really is based in research.”

Councilman Chuck Hafner said his long career in education and his early involvement in the substance abuse council have shown him the effect of alcohol on children.

“I can tell you horror stories,” he said. “I don’t think we need more than four signs. I may be spitting in the wind, but nevertheless, that’s my stand.”

“I guess I have a different take on this,” said Councilman Dean Grafos. “All it does is take us back prior to March 2010. I think it’s over the line. I think it’s a property rights issue.”

Councilman Arne Woodard said he was involved in an accident caused by a drunken driver when he was in high school and has family members who are alcoholics. Despite his history, Woodard said he believes people have the right to make their own decisions about alcohol.

“We each have a choice to make,” he said. “I think we have to give the ability to fail or succeed back to the individual.”

Grassel said her research showed that it is advertising on television and radio and in magazines that has the most impact on youth.

“I think maybe we have a misguided target here,” she said. “We’re going after local businesses. I do lean on the side of property rights.”

Mayor Tom Towey said he spent part of his day Tuesday visiting eight taverns “on the outside, not the inside.” He said six of them were in compliance with the new rules and he didn’t want to second-guess the state’s reason for setting the new sign limit.

Towey joined Hafner in voting against the exemption ordinance.

In other business, the council discussed changes to its governance manual. In light of recent discussions on conflict of interest, the council might want to include a statement on ethics, said Councilman Ben Wick.

“I’m not trying to ruffle any feathers,” he said. Such a statement would seem to fit in the manual, which sets out the rules and procedures the council will follow. “I didn’t know if anyone was interested,” he said.

Grassel suggested Wick write up a proposed statement.

“I wouldn’t mind hearing more about what you’re thinking,” she said.

Towey agreed.

“I think it would be beneficial to put it in black and white,” he said. “We just assume we’re going to be nice to each other and be ethical.”

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