No topic was discussed more at the forum on Mayor Mike McGinn's nightlife initiative, held on September 1 in front of a packed house at the HG Lodge, than the proposal to extend bar hours past 2:00 a.m. One part of the mayor's eight-point plan, the proposal would stagger closing times or even allow 24-hour alcohol service.
On board—at least tentatively—are the city attorney's office, the Seattle Police Department (SPD), and several Seattle bar owners. But the decision to change bar hours won't be made by city hall.
Alan Rathbun, licensing and policy director for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, identified the arguments that may compel the state to reject longer bar hours. "Does that [plan] actually encourage transportation by automobile when you don't want it?" he asked. "What you don't want to see is people who have drank too much get in their cars and drive to Seattle" because bars are still open. (He says it is possible to change service rules statewide or only in Seattle, but, he said, "the board would also have to answer the question, If it's safe enough for Seattle, is it safe enough for Kirkland?")
Ultimately, law enforcement agencies will have the liquor board's ear, Rathbun continued. "We have asked the city to have conversations with the King County Sheriff's office, with the state patrol, and with law enforcement outside the city."
How are the mayor's conversations with the sheriff and state patrol going so far?
McGinn said they haven't happened yet. "We will follow up and have those conversations," he said after stepping off the stage. He met with the liquor board only a week ago, when it gave him the directive to collaborate with the sheriff and state patrol. However, it bears mentioning that this is obvious outreach—to address an obvious obstacle to his plan—that McGinn hasn't undertaken since launching the initiative in July.
But support inside the city, at least, is strong. "I want to congratulate the mayor for being the first politician in the city to bring together the city attorney, the Seattle Police Department, and the city council to agree on nightlife regulations," said David Meinert, owner of the 5 Point Cafe and a nightlife advocate.
Meanwhile, SPD deputy chief Clark Kimerer said, "Our most difficult time is Friday- and Saturday-night bar closing... Fundamentally, the benefit of having strategic closing times is to avoid that." However, Kimerer added, "Any initiative that increases potential to use alcohol behind the wheel we will oppose."
Can the DUI concerns be addressed? "That is what we have to explore," McGinn said. "We may find out at the end that there are problems we can't address."
The public comment period (fill out an online survey here) for the mayor's eight-point proposal—which includes a noise ordinance for businesses, new security-training mandates for bars and clubs, and improved late-night transportation options around the city—ends September 15. In January, the mayor plans to submit a final proposal for staggering liquor-service hours in Seattle to the liquor control board, which will make the final call.