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Editorial: Follow wish of residents on alcohol impact area

The Spokane City Council could vote Monday to dissolve an alcohol impact area encompassing the West Central neighborhood.

Better to wait, and first investigate just how the West Central Neighborhood Council has been conducting its affairs.

Owners of the seven stores subject to voluntary compliance with guidelines forbidding the sale of high-alcohol beer and cider allege they were not consulted when neighborhood representatives approached the council last year about forming an AIA. They claim the neighborhood council chairman, Kelly Cruz, lied to the City Council, saying they were on board.

Cruz claims those owners are trying to get the designation removed using “deceit and intimidation.”

The scene at a Sept. 12 neighborhood meeting mightily suggests bad blood that undermines one of the most important factors in maintaining a successful AIA: neighborhood support.

Spokane has two mandatory AIAs: one covering the downtown area, the second – which took effect Sept. 15 – the East Central area. Stores in those two areas cannot sell more than 40 beer and cider brands with all-too-telling names such as Hard Wired and Earthquake, the latter with a 12 percent alcohol content. The obvious intent is to curb public intoxication and its social consequences – higher crime and panhandling among them.

Annual reports of the downtown area showed some improvement in 2010, but regression last year as consumers found the forbidden brands readily available in stores just outside the zone in the East Central and West Central areas. The East Central AIA, originally voluntary, was upgraded to mandatory when stores refused to take the brands off their shelves.

The state Liquor Control Board makes the final call after a petition from the city.

West Central remains voluntary while the police monitor compliance, with the potential for imposing mandatory restrictions. The neighborhood’s store owners are calling the surveillance harassment and say they have undertaken their own measures to keep drunks off the streets.

They also argue, with some justification, that the change in Washington liquor laws that allows supermarkets to sell liquor gives consumers ready access to other sources of alcohol.

None of these arguments should sway city officials, who will get an earful more Monday night. For one thing, removing the voluntary designation rewinds the clock on potential conversion to a mandatory zone. The state requires cities go through a series of steps before the liquor board can act.

Most importantly, the City Council must determine what most West Central residents want. Are they prepared to live with neighborhood stores selling products that will attract consumers who do not live in the area, and may become a nuisance, or do they prefer the voluntary guidelines to remain in place for the time being?

Let the sober heads prevail.

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