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Originally published May 2, 2012 at 4:34 PM | Page modified May 3, 2012 at 3:34 PM

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No good reason to extend bar hours in Seattle

Closing times are much like the May Day protest, which police handled very well because they planned for it. Seattle's police and mayor pretty much know what to expect at a protest or, in this case, at last call. No need to change statewide 2 a.m. bar closing times.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

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You don't have to be in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union or the Anti-Saloon League to realize that Seattle's push for extended bar hours is tipsy politics.

Mayor Mike McGinn wants the state Liquor Control Board to approve a pilot project allowing some bars in Seattle to remain open after 2 a.m. partly as a way to reduce the crush of people who spill out of bars all at once, causing a six-pack of trouble and crime.

He is also, undoubtedly, cozying up to the music and nightclub industry.

The board does not need to change the statewide 2 a.m. closing times to help Seattle police better manage the 2 a.m. sidewalk mosh pit. This is a predictable, knowable, manageable police challenge.

Closing times are much like the May Day protest, which police handled very well because they planned for it.

The police department and mayor pretty much know what to expect at a protest, or, in this case, at last call.

The state Liquor Control Board has decided to wait a month before informing Seattle whether its proposal to extend bar hours can proceed. After Seattle asked for the change, board members held hearings around the state, in Seattle, Spokane, Kennewick and Vancouver.

Under current state law, bars cannot sell alcohol between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. The rule change would apply statewide if a jurisdiction took the next step and applied for an exemption to state law.

McGinn says other cities that don't want to change hours don't have to. If the board amends the rule, any jurisdiction that wants longer hours would have to ask.

Yes, of course. But in the end, the proposal is too Seattle-centric. What happens in one city affects other cities, as people flock to and from places with longer hours.

In fact, testimony at the hearings from other cities was less than enthusiastic.

"We heard from law enforcement in Spokane, they did not support the proposal. The police chief spoke on behalf of the city itself," said Brian Smith, liquor board spokesman.

Vancouver area folks worried about people migrating from cities with current drinking hours to cities with relaxed drinking hours and then getting on the road to return home.

Was anyone listening the past few decades as we worked to change the culture among young and old about drinking, especially binge drinking and drinking and driving?

Sprinkled throughout the comments at the hearings is a sense that more alcohol more of the time is not a winning formula.

Skip Priest, mayor of Federal Way, wrote a letter expressing concern about higher levels of intoxication associated with longer hours of operation, more drunken drivers on the road, especially during peak early morning commute times, greater demands on police for a longer period of time, greater service-related demands on already hammered city budgets.

Former City Attorney Mark Sidran wrote in a recent op-ed, "... It doesn't matter when the doors close if the city can't control the bad things that can happen when they do. Only city licensing can provide the regulatory control and revenue to prevent problems. Unless Seattle shows the liquor board it has what it takes to protect public safety, the board should reject extending hours."

The board should reject extended hours anyway. It's not like Seattle streets are too calm and welcoming most hours of the day.

Board members grappling with questions about the experience in other cities that extended hours are right to wonder, why ask for trouble?

McGinn's office argues that a proposal for a rule change will not come until fall, and he is merely arguing for local control.

Control is an interesting word. The police department demonstrated during Tuesday's raucous protest that it can plan ahead and manage. And it can do so without causing numerous problems that will arise from bars selling more cocktails more of the time.

Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her email address is jbalter@seattletimes.com


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