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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Council will consider repeal of beer restrictions

The West Central Neighborhood Council wanted restrictions on the sale of high-octane beer and now it doesn’t.

But while council members used the council’s support as a reason to create a voluntary Alcohol Impact Area in West Central, the neighborhood’s change of heart won’t make an open-and-shut case when the Spokane City Council considers a repeal next month.

After creating the impact area, the first step was asking businesses to stop selling high-octane beer. Six months after borders are up, the city can ban the sale of the fortified beer if it can prove that chronic inebriation remains a problem.

Council members Steve Salvatori and Mike Fagan are pushing for the repeal mostly at the request of the neighborhood council, which voted overwhelmingly against the impact area this month in a heated monthly meeting, to reverse its position on the ban.

“This was here because of the neighborhood, and they’ve changed their mind,” Salvatori said.

But Councilman Jon Snyder and Council President Ben Stuckart argued that there is no harm in maintaining a voluntary alcohol impact area. The city isn’t obligated to make it mandatory and if West Central residents change their minds a third time, the process won’t have to repeat itself, they said.

Snyder said the neighborhood earlier made a convincing case that public drunkenness was a problem. It will take more than a new neighborhood council vote to change his position.

“I’ll be looking for evidence that chronic inebriation is not a problem in West Central,” Snyder said.

A strong majority of West Central Neighborhood Council members argue that the new state law allowing liquor sales in grocery stores increases the availability of alcohol, thus making a high-octane beer ban ineffective and punitive to owners of carry-outs.

West Central has taken the opposite position on impact areas compared to downtown and East Central Neighborhood leaders who have continued to support beer restrictions despite the change in the law.

Fagan compared the alcohol impact law to recent changes in New York City restricting the sales of soda and sweets, which he suggested is “social engineering.”

“I’m following through on the neighborhood council’s not only verbal, but written, request,” Fagan said.

Snyder said while he’ll listen to the neighborhood, he’s not obligated to follow its advice.

One-sided neighborhood council votes – and especially votes of the city’s Community Assembly, can make a big difference when council members are on the fence. But council members usually are willing to buck those recommendations when they feel strongly about an issue.

Salvatori, for instance, essentially took the stance Snyder is now in July when he cast the lone vote to allow red light camera money to be used to help open Community Oriented Policing offices. The Community Assembly voted overwhelming against recommending the change, fearing it would divert money from neighborhood traffic calming projects.

Repeal of West Central’s voluntary Alcohol Impact Area will be considered by the City Council on Oct. 8.

Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt joined The Spokesman-Review in 2004. He is the government editor. He previously was a reporter who covered Spokane City Hall, Spokane County government and public safety.

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