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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.
Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.
Public Safety Legislation
The City Council met today in Full Council for the last time this calendar year. At the meeting they passed three pieces of significant legislation. Below is a description of each.
The Council unanimously passed Council bill 115453 which adds negligent driving causing serious injury or death as a category of assault. This allows prosecution with a punishment of up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Previously these types of infractions only carried a fine of $101. I sponsored the bill and it was proposed jointly by City Attorney Tom Carr and Mayor Greg Nickels.
On nearly a daily basis in downtown and on Aurora Avenue I observe near misses at crosswalks, where an impatient driver is trying to turn across a crosswalk, or even drivers breezing through red lights. I know from talking to constituents that the examples I witness downtown and on Aurora happen all over the city. If we intend to encourage strong urban centers within our neighborhoods, their vitality will depend on residents feeling safe as pedestrians. Hopefully this legislation will accomplish a safer pedestrian environment throughout the city and put impatient and inattentive drivers on notice that should they seriously harm someone they could face more than a $100 fine.
Auto Theft Tools
The Council unanimously passed Council bill 115454, which makes it a gross misdemeanor to manufacture or possess tools used for burglary or auto theft. Like the above bill I sponsored this one as well, and it was also proposed jointly by City Attorney Tom Carr and Mayor Greg Nickels.
Last year 9,253 vehicles were stolen and only 600 cases were cleared. This legislation is an important step to ensure that the police have all possible tools to apprehend those involved in auto theft rings. As it is now, the police have no basis to arrest passengers in a stolen vehicle who are in possession of auto theft tools. A person will only be charged if the facts and circumstances strongly indicate that the theft tools were intended to be used in a vehicle theft.
There are also safeguards in the legislation to protect vehicles owners who have locked themselves out of their car and may be in possession of a lock pull or other device to assist in opening a locked door. Similarly the law protects people who have these tools because they are a locksmith or a AAA employee.
This legislation follows in the footsteps of Auburn and Tacoma, where similar legislation has been enacted with successful results.
Alcohol Impact Areas
The Council voted (8 to 1) to pass Council Bill 115442, which requests the State Liquor Control Board to impose restrictions on alcohol sales in the Downtown, parts of Capitol Hill, Lower Queen Anne, First Hill, Chinatown/International District, the Central Area and the University District. These are to be all designated as Alcohol Impact Areas (AIAs). This action follows previous legislation which asked retail outlets to voluntarily restrict the sale of low-cost high-alcohol products in these neighborhoods which have contributed to chronic public inebriation. The Mayor’s office determined that these voluntary efforts failed and thus requested this legislation.
This strategy follows Tacoma’s positive experience with the same legislation over a large area, where alcohol-related Emergency Medical Service cases declined by more than one-third in these Alcohol Impact Areas. There is a current an AIA in the Pioneer Square community but it has been determined to have only limited success because the area is so small.
There are some arguments against establishing AIAs. Some have said that they may simply disperse the alcoholics to other neighborhoods. I have received communication from those living in neighborhoods adjacent to AIAs who believe that this is the case. Additionally, others have argued that AIAs discriminate against the poor and homeless since the wealthier can still buy liquor and get drunk in their homes.
While I believe that both of these criticisms have some merit, I do not believe that they outweigh the benefits received by the AIA neighborhoods and by those who are alcoholics. These neighborhoods should see less public disorderliness and there should be less opportunity for those addicted to alcohol to get a quick fix.
However, AIAs are not a solution to the problem of chronic public inebriates. They need social services to help them secure housing, detoxification and rehabilitation services, to allow them to stabilize their lives and eventually be employed. Unless these increased services are made available the AIAs will ultimately fail. For this reason I supported this legislation only after it was amended to state that the City will evaluate the public safety and health effects in the AIA neighborhoods and those adjacent to them. This will allow us to determine whether the AIA should continue.