Purpose of Practice

Local jurisdictions identify geographic areas within their boundaries where Chronic Public Inebriants (CPIs) congregate. The presence of this transient population group, in unacceptable numbers, typically results in substantial decline of the quality of life in the neighborhoods they occupy, and increase safety and health concerns for the neighborhood’s permanent population. Their presence also dramatically increases the incidence of emergency medical calls, and creates additional demand for social services. Alcohol Impact Areas provide local authorities, in partnership with the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB), a vital public safety tool; and the successful results contribute to neighborhood revitalization. The absence of panhandlers, intoxicated people wandering on the sidewalks and in parks, and a substantial reduction of objectionable litter encourages businesses and property owners to participate in neighborhood clean-up.

Description of Practice

Alcohol Impact Area Initiative Overview The authority for board-recognition of a Mandatory Alcohol Impact is vested in statute granting the board broad powers to protect public safety. Design of the alcohol impact area process resides in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC). Steps in the process: I. Local jurisdiction identifies a geographic area within their boundaries whose population is generating an inordinate number of public safety complaints, requiring a higher-than-average percent of emergency medical services, and excessive use of community social service resources. II. The local governing body passes an ordinance implementing a voluntary alcohol impact area. Local government drives the methods for attempting to gain voluntary compliance from the purveyors of high-alcohol-content low-cost malt beverages and wines. This action focuses on retailers who sell alcohol for off-premises consumption: A. The WACs recommend methods for reducing the incidence of Chronic Public Inebriation (CPI). These methods include initiatives such as banning single can/bottle sales, removal of high-alcohol-content low-cost beverages from licensees. B. The local jurisdiction is required to implement the voluntary compliance for a minimum of six months. During the voluntary compliance period they are collecting data to measure the effectiveness of the voluntary ban. III. If the local jurisdiction is unable to sufficiently reduce the incidents of public nuisance and improve the quality of life in the alcohol impact area they ask the local governing body to petition the Board for recognition of a mandatory alcohol impact area: A. The local jurisdiction submits a petition to the board for recognition of a mandatory alcohol impact area. Their petition provides information to the board that includes, but is not limited to: 1) Document history of voluntary efforts the jurisdiction and their community partners performed during the voluntary compliance period. 2) Outline of the plan to implement mandatory compliance including specific products that are to be banned. IV. The board will rule on the local jurisdiction’s request. Should the board agree to recognize the mandatory alcohol impact area the effective date is set out a minimum of 30 calendar days. A. Additional licensing review occurs for any off-premises licensed location. The most significant is an extended review period for local authorities to respond to renewal and/or new applications. B. This allows the distributors and retailers an opportunity to clear their existing inventory. V. Typically local law enforcement and liquor enforcement officers perform compliance checks on the effective date of the ban, and 2-3 weeks following to ensure that the banned products have been properly removed from the retailer’s inventory.

Success or Improvements

The WSLCB’s partnership with local jurisdictions has produced significant improvements in the board-recognized Alcohol Impact Areas. Communities have experienced noteworthy reductions in alcohol-related crime and social service events. Equally important is the improvement in the community/law enforcement relationship. Citizens are outwardly supportative of the significant efforts by local jurisdictions to improve the health, safety, and livability of their neighborhoods.

Evaluation of the Practice

The WSLCB and the city of Seattle jointly sponsored a study to measure the impact of the Seattle’s Central and North Alcohol Impact Areas. The study was conducted by Dr. John Tarnai of Washington State University’s Social & Economic Sciences Research Center. Phase 1 established a baseline of public attitudes and chronic public inebriation prior to the implementation of the Alcohol Impact Area. This phase of the study encompassed August 2006 through May 2007 data gathering and subsequent analysis. The report can be viewed in its entirety at http://www.liq.wa.gov/releases. Phase 2 of the study was designed to measure the impact of the changes in the community following a 2-year implementation period. This study used comparable qualitative information and statistical data to measure the community’s perceptions of the effectiveness of the Alcohol Impact Area. Overall 26% of the respondents rated their overall quality of life as excellent, compared to 20% in 2006. This report can be found below for your review. In addition, each of the local jurisdictions reports to the WSLCB the impacts of the mandatory alcohol impact areas in their communities. These reports document changes in demand for services, both law enforcement and social services. Each report has demonstrated noteworthy improvements in quality of life in the Alcohol Impact Areas. Local social service organizations are important partners with the local jurisdictions in the development of programs that seek to reduce the homeless/chronic public inebriant population. These reports are also available from the WSLCB.


Local jurisdictions continue to use this practice as a workable solution to enhance public safety and health in their communities.


Name: Alan Rathbun, Licensing and Regulatory Director 
Agency: Washington State Liquor Control Board 
Address: 3000 Pacific Avenue, SE, Olympia, WA 98504 
Tele: 360-664-1615 
Email: AR@liq.wa.gov