City ready to issue voluntary ban on some alcohol downtown

Police stats show crimes associated with drinking ‘dramatically up’ in downtown versus rest of city.

The Renton Police Department is about to get another tool to help combat public drunkenness and some of the negative affects associated with drinking downtown as the City Council is expected to take up an Alcohol Impact Area Ordinance next month.

The ordinance would create a six-month voluntary prohibition on the selling of certain types of alcohol within the 0.6-square-mile impact area, which encompasses basically the downtown shopping core.

After six months, the police will re-assess the situation. If the voluntary ban is not working or the issues still persist, the police and city will be able to address the issue with the Liquor and Cannabis Board to make the restrictions mandatory.

According to Renton Police Commander Jon Schuldt, the idea behind the ordinance is to try and mitigate the impacts of chronic public inebriation and anti-social behavior often associated with the types of cheap, fortified alcohol and malt liquors the city is looking to ban.

Schuldt said the department has been working on the ordinance for several years, collecting data that shows that nuisance calls associated with drinking are “dramatically up” in the downtown area as compared to the rest of the city.

According to police statistics, calls for issues such as fights, trespassing, lewd behavior, drug arrests, welfare checks and unwanted individuals (loitering, for example) are well above those for the rest of the city combined. For example, from June to December 2015, there were 24 calls for drugs, 56 calls for fighting, 53 calls for drinking and 319 calls for unwanteds, compared to 12, 36, 20, 25 and 181 calls for each, respectively, in the rest of the city combined.

Additional statistics from the fire department indicated that 24 percent of all calls in which drugs or alcohol are found on the scene occur downtown, as do 28 percent of the calls in which the patient admits to drinking and 27 percent of the calls in which the patient has alcohol on their breath.

For reference, the department states the proposed Alcohol Impact Area makes up only 3 percent of the city’s population.

Councilman and Public Safety Committee Chair Armondo Pavone said the Impact Area is part of the city’s “holistic approach” to changing the face and perception of the downtown core and he said most of the businesses he has spoken with support the ordinance, though not all.

“I think this can have a positive effect in the downtown area,” he said this week.

Pavone said as a small business owner himself, he always tries to look at things through the lens of how it will affect businesses and said in this case he does not think it should affect business too much, though he admits that it may negatively affect some, even if he hopes the overall effect is positive.

“Hopefully by creating a safer environment, these businesses are going to flourish,” he said.

Renton Chamber of Commerce CEO Vicky Baxter said the Chamber has been in discussions with the police over the ordinance, but the Chamber board has not taken an official position because there is no consensus among members as to what the effects might be.

The voluntary prohibition is the next step process of creating an Alcohol Impact Area, as laid out by state law. During the voluntary ban, police will continue to collect data to see if the prohibition is having an effect. If not, the city will take up the issue again with the LCB, with potential mandatory restrictions to follow.

“We’re just doing it to clean up the area and improve the quality of life,” Schuldt said.

Reach editor Brian Beckley at 425-336-4959.