Within a few weeks, the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) is expected to decide whether cities can petition the state for extended alcohol service hours—a proposal brought forth by an uncommon coalition of Seattle's mayor, police chief, city attorney, and united city council. They argue that the shift would improve public safety by avoiding a mass push-out from bars at 2 a.m. (If approved, Seattle could draft a plan for later drinking districts in select neighborhoods, which the WSLCB would then need to again approve.) But as city officials wait on the decision, citizen-led public safety groups are ramping up a campaign to block the entire proposal using inaccurate, divisive rhetoric.
"It serves the few in the private, special interest (nightclubs) category, not the many residents who would be impacted by noise, DUIs, and alcohol-fueled violence," warns an editorial posted November 15 at Central District News by the East Precinct Advisory Council (EastPAC).
EastPAC is now part of a countercoalition at odds with the officials at City Hall. The nebulous group of older, mostly white Central District and Capitol Hill neighbors who regularly meet with East Precinct officers to discuss crime joined the West Precinct Advisory Council, the Southeast Seattle Crime Prevention Council, and other neighborhood crime prevention groups in opposing the initiative.
"The extended hours plan will mainly increase liquor revenues to nightclubs—not improve public safety or create a socially responsible drinking environment—or 'a more vibrant nightlife,'" EastPAC president Stephanie Tschida wrote in the unbylined article (Central District News and the mayor's office confirmed Tschida as the author). However, Tschida refused to back up her claims when asked repeatedly for an interview.
Many debunk the group's knee-jerk advocacy.
"The advisory committee is reacting to a plan that doesn't yet exist," says local bar owner and longtime nightlife advocate Dave Meinert. "It's a bit hysterical and premature."
Law enforcement officials, too, aren't buying the neighbors' Chicken Little routine.
Seattle Police Department sergeant Sean Whitcomb says, "Staggering [closing hours] helps us because the streets are quieter at, say, 4 a.m., which means we could actually have more police resources monitoring bars."
In fact, most of Tschida's editorial stinks of dubious facts: For example, she states that Seattle has never to her knowledge issued a noise violation to a bar "despite numerous complaints by residents," when, in fact, the Department of Planning and Development issued two noise citations within just the previous week, DPD spokesman Alan Justad said on November 21.
Like Tschida, members from other community groups trying to stop extended bar hours did not return calls for comment by press time. Nevertheless, they are distributing flyers and drafting editorials that encourage residents in their neighborhoods to call the WSLCB and oppose the plan before the board's December vote.
The city is continuing its preparation for later bar hours. "We've already introduced the liquor sticker, which lets people prepay for two hours of morning parking before they start drinking," says mayoral spokesman Aaron Pickus. "Within a month, we'll be introducing late-night taxi stands around the city."
"People are resisting the change because they don't want to think through the complexity of the issue," speculates Pete Hanning, president of the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association and a member of the North Precinct Advisory Council, which is preparing to vote on the issue. "Young people are coming out later, and we need to give them a structure that's safer to do that."