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Originally published Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 7:53 PM

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Liquor board rejects Seattle's proposal to extend bar closing times

The state Liquor Control Board on Wednesday rejected Seattle's request to allow local jurisdictions to extend liquor service hours. On a 2-1 vote, a majority of the board cited the potential public-safety impacts from longer alcohol hours and the opposition of law enforcement.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Seattle won't be keeping bars and nightclubs open past 2 a.m. — at least not anytime soon.

The state Liquor Control Board on Wednesday rejected Seattle's request to allow local jurisdictions to extend liquor-service hours.

On a 2-1 vote, a majority of the board cited the potential public-safety impacts from longer alcohol hours and the opposition of law enforcement, including the Washington State Patrol and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

"Our paramount responsibility is public safety, and I believe control plays a major part of public safety," said board Chairwoman Sharon Foster. She said she was also concerned that Seattle's petition for extended hours was coming at the same time the state is about to gauge the effects of a nearly fivefold increase in liquor-sales outlets with the implementation of Initiative 1183.

Board member Chris Marr cast the only vote in favor of Seattle's petition and noted that the city's request was to begin the rule-making process, which would have addressed later bar hours, public safety and neighborhood impacts. Those rules then would have been subject to Liquor Control Board approval and review.

"This represents a huge opportunity lost," Marr said. "We are not the Liquor Prevention Board, we are the Liquor Control Board. Our job is to determine if we can establish rules which adequately mitigate the clearly identified risks of expanded hours."

Mayor Mike McGinn said he was disappointed the city would not have an opportunity to apply for an extension of liquor-service hours: "Our request would not have extended hours anywhere in the state by one minute. Instead, it would have given us the opportunity to make a detailed proposal for extended hours in Seattle alone to the Liquor Control Board and address concerns that have been raised."

In rejecting the Seattle petition, Foster and board member Ruthann Kurose said they were not persuaded that the impacts of extended hours would only be within one city's borders, but would extend to anyone traveling to take advantage of later bar hours.

Kurose said the Liquor Control Board doesn't have additional resources for enforcement. There is about one enforcement officer for every 400 licensed liquor establishments.

Kurose cited the experience of Vancouver, B.C., which extended liquor hours in 2004. Police calls, fights and assaults all increased, she said.

This year, Vancouver police are requesting an additional $900,000 for liquor and firearm enforcement patrols.

Seattle petitioned the board in July to allow local jurisdictions to create a regulatory framework for licensing clubs and bars that wanted to stay open, potentially all night.

McGinn, with the support of Police Chief John Diaz, City Attorney Pete Holmes and the City Council, said the current 2 a.m. bar "push-out" created mayhem on the streets and taxed the ability of police to control the crowds.

The mayor also said later club hours could increase city tax revenues by as much as $5 million per year.

The proposal was part of McGinn's Nightlife Initiative. The proposal seeks to create a more vibrant club scene while addressing noise, neighborhood impacts and safe ways home for bar patrons, such as more taxi stands around entertainment districts.

Club owners who supported McGinn's election said the new rules could allow clubs with good public-safety records to stay open later. They said it was also in the spirit of I-1183, which expanded access to liquor sales.

The Liquor Control Board held hearings on Seattle's proposal around the state in March and April, including Seattle, Spokane, Kennewick and Vancouver. The board also received more than 300 written comments, about equally divided between supporters and opponents.

Police chiefs, including those in Spokane and Vancouver, and many alcohol-treatment organizations were among the opponents. The Seattle petition also was challenged in letters from residents and business owners in neighborhoods already impacted by nightlife, including Pioneer Square and Belltown, as well as the city's police precinct advisory councils.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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