The question up for debate among the 80 people assembled at a March 12 hearing at City Hall was this: "Should the state's liquor board consider requests from cities to allow later bar hours?"
But that wasn't the question that neighborhood activists wanted to answer. Instead, residents spent two hours opposing later bar hours in Seattle—even though such a proposal doesn't currently exist—while bar owners and city officials tried to set the record straight.
"I have heard nothing said that convinces me that there's going to be more enforcement or less enforcement," said David Levinson, a Belltown resident, who equated later bar hours to a sleight-of-hand trick to make it appear that the city is addressing 2 a.m. binge drinkers. "But like all magic, it's deceptive," he continued. "People get into their cars and drive drunk at 2 a.m. Now they'll be driving drunk at three, four, and five o'clock."
Like Levinson, other neighborhood residents testified that later bar hours in Seattle would basically plunge the city into the third circle of hell: Loud bars would get louder (later), binge drinking would increase, young people would suddenly be planted on bar stools, and, eventually, the city itself would collapse. "People are going to move out," testified Hal Colombo. "Children are going to move out. And property values are going to drop."
Neighbors failed to acknowledge that if this petition were approved, cities would still be required to fulfill conditions—such as setting geographic boundaries for bars that qualify and approving the change by city ordinance—before submitting their proposals to the state for later bar hours. As Washington State Liquor Control Board member Chris Marr gently pointed out, "We're considering the broader rules in which to engage these requests," not a Seattle-based plan. Meanwhile, city officials stressed that, despite the outcry about the risks, the Seattle Police Department recently endorsed later bar hours as a way to strengthen public safety.
The hearing stemmed from a petition filed by the City of Seattle last fall asking the state to consider breaking its uniform 2 a.m. liquor cutoff rule.
City officials say their plan will mitigate the chaos of the 2 a.m. bar push-out—when police report a 135 percent spike in response calls. City officials estimate that if 100 businesses were allowed to extend their liquor service hours, the emergency calls would decrease while also generating "$26 million of economic activity," according to James Keblas, director of the city's Office of Film + Music.
Dave Meinert, owner of the 5 Point Cafe and Big Mario's, pointed out: "The 2 a.m. closing time is a problem, and it needs to be addressed. The opponents have no solution to address this problem. The thing that would be wrong here would be to promote the status quo."
While the neighborhood complaints are easy to dismiss, they do illustrate the challenges the city and state must overcome in actually approving later bar hours. The liquor board has scheduled hearings in Vancouver, the Tri-Cities, and Spokane, and is slated to make its decision on May 7.