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The Bums' Rush

Alcohol abuse is a serious public health problem that has no quick fix--one that requires patient, long-term policies with an emphasis on treatment and public education. But who the hell has time for that? That's why last August, the Seattle city council established Pioneer Square as the state's first Alcohol Impact Area. In an effort to curb "chronic public inebriation," the city forced shops in Pioneer Square to stop selling street drunks their preferred brands of highly potent and inexpensive booze. It was an innovative piece of public policy that has unfortunately been undermined by a citywide system of buses and sidewalks. Resourceful drunks have migrated out of Pioneer Square and up to Capitol Hill, where they can get just as bombed on Night Train Express as they did a half-mile away.

In other words, making Pioneer Square an Alcohol Impact Area didn't solve the problem, it only shoved the problem into another neighborhood. Merchants and residents on Capitol Hill are understandably upset, and are demanding that something be done. But declaring Capitol Hill an Alcohol Impact Area will only shove chronic public inebriates into yet another neighborhood, which will in turn demand that it, too, be declared an Alcohol Impact Area, and so on.

We here at The Stranger would like to suggest that the city's leaders and neighborhoods get real about chronic public inebriates. All big cities have their share of homeless drunks. Instead of pretending that the banning of certain kinds of booze in one neighborhood will somehow make the problem (i.e., the drunks) disappear, we need an approach that recognizes that the drunks will always be with us. To that end, we would like to advance three solutions to the pressing problem of chronic public inebriation:


Option #1: Rolling Blackouts

Under the Rolling Blackouts plan, the entire city of Seattle will share the burden. The idea is simple: The city shall be divided into 12 districts: Pioneer Square, Belltown, the Retail Core, Queen Anne, West Seattle, Magnolia, Ballard, Fremont, Wallingford, the U-District, Capitol Hill, and Lake City. On a rotating weekly basis, Cheap Booze Licenses will be issued to merchants in one of these 12 neighborhoods. Seattle Cheap Booze Licenses will be issued by the state Liquor Control Board, and they will require area merchants to sell fortified wine and malt liquor for one week. Participation is mandatory. For the plan to work, merchants must be compelled to sell fortified wine and 40-ouncers when their district takes its turn as Seattle's Fortified Wine and Malt Liquor Zone (FWAMLZ). Seattle's chronic public inebriates will be provided with maps of the city and schedules directing them to that week's FWAMLZ.


Option #2: The Malt Liquormobile

This option extends the city's ban on selling 40-ouncers and fortified wine to every convenience store in King County. The distribution of 40-ouncers and fortified wine would be limited to a single refrigerated van to be known as the King County Malt Liquormobile. Modeled on Good Humor ice-cream trucks and the public library's bookmobile, the King County Malt Liquormobile would make a stop in one neighborhood of the city each day. The King County Malt Liquormobile would attract street drunks (and other "undesirables") with its full-color pictures of fortified wines and malt beverages, along with a recording of Seattle City Council Member Jan Drago's voice chanting, "Is it time to bust a rhyme? Is it time to suck a lime? Nah, B! It's F'D-UP MALT LIQUOR TIME!" (at responsible volumes commensurate with local noise ordinances). The King County Malt Liquormobile would accomplish two important goals: Safer streets in "off-areas," and a predictable migratory pattern of the city's undesirable element, thus allowing plenty of advance warning for both communities and the city police.


Option #3: The Beer Barge

Anchored 100 yards from the shore of the South Lake Union Hooters, this 90-foot barge will be loaded daily with 80 cases of well-chilled St. Ides and 400 bags of ice. The beer will be free, but all takers must swim to the barge. There are two main benefits to this plan: Chronic public inebriates will unwittingly bathe as they swim to the barge, and their clothes will be washed. Unfortunately, some chronic public inebriates will surely drown in their attempt to reach the barge. It is for this reason that the Beer Barge is the plan favored by mayoral candidate Mark Sidran.

 

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