Club-closing City Attorney Mark Sidran is at it again, this time as a cheerleader for the state Liquor Control Board's newest regulatory scheme to pressure


Bad rules, good neighbors

Club-closing City Attorney Mark Sidran is at it again, this time as a cheerleader for the state Liquor Control Board's newest regulatory scheme to pressure unneighborly businesses by threatening their liquor licenses. The proposals the board is considering would let Washington cities identify "alcohol impact areas" and impose a special review process for new liquor licensees within these districts. The lucky licensees would also be subject to special conditions and could be prohibited from selling certain alcohol products.

A second set of proposed regulations would add a new standard to the liquor code—"neighborhood livability." Licensed establishments could be penalized for the effects of their customers' behavior, including such evils as 911 calls, excessive noise, fights, and litter.

This list of offenses sounds suspiciously like those cited in Sidran's proposed Seattle cabaret license ordinance (under state law, clubs must obtain city permission before offering live entertainment). At least the state liquor regulations would penalize actual behavior—Sidran's cabaret proposal would have allowed city officials to deny licenses based on the possibility that bad things might occur in the future.

A recent liquor board hearing in Seattle featured positive testimony on the proposals from a pack of public officials, punctuated by negative comments from Sidran's usual critics. But others also seemed nervous about putting more legal weapons in the hands of liquor regulators. Michael Transue of the Washington Restaurant Association said "neighborhood livability" seems an awfully vague standard. (It's also potentially all-inclusive.) He cited a Portland club targeted for closure because of "a loud parking lot." Seattle resident Scott Semans said the rules would require liquor licensees to play policeman on the streets outside their businesses. "I think it's bad public policy to turn over police powers to private business and hold them to a standard that even the police can't accomplish," he stated.

Supporters of the new regulations say they merely provide a framework for the board to consider neighborhood impacts related to licensees. One provision of the alcohol-impact-area regulations would formalize the Good Neighbor agreements under which stores agree not to carry low-cost/high-alcohol products, including fortified wines and malt liquor. Such agreements already have been signed by 62 merchants in the downtown Seattle area.

The liquor board is expected to vote on the proposed regulations early next month.

Hail to the chiefs

John Stanford was such a presence as Seattle Schools superintendent that it will take two people to replace him. That seems to be the option favored by the School Board, which discussed sharing the top job between an administrator (probably acting superintendent Joseph Olchefske) and an educator. Other school systems have had a chief executive officer and chief academic officer but didn't make them two equal positions; usually, the chief academic officer reports to the CEO/superintendent. The School Board plans a series of public hearings this month to gather public comment on the proposal.

Two more years!

A noon rally urging the US Senate to dismiss impeachment charges against President Bill Clinton will be held on Tuesday, January 19 at Sen. Slade Gorton's Bellevue office (10900 NE Fourth). This event is sponsored by the same folks who drew more than 2,000 anti-impeachment demonstrators to Westlake Park last month.

Communications Inc.

No, most consumers aren't turning handsprings over the proposed merger of communications giant AT&T and cable TV provider TCI. But Seattle city officials are considering joining Portland in trying to use the merger as leverage to foster competition in providing home Internet service.

Cities under contract with TCI (including Seattle) must approve the transfer of their agreements to AT&T and convey their decision to the Federal Communications Commission by mid-February. Portland has already granted its approval with the caveat that all Internet providers be offered access to the cable system. Predictably, the soon-to-be communications conglomerate is unenthused at the prospect.

"If we don't have open access, we're going to create one of the greatest monopolies in the country outside of Microsoft," says Seattle City Council member Nick Licata. Not so fast, Nick. The new TCI/AT&T wouldn't a be monopoly, according to the US Justice Department. And Microsoft isn't a monopoly because . . . well, Bill Gates says it isn't.

Actually, with an information pipeline into two-thirds of area homes, AT&T could bring competition to the local telephone service business, among other communications innovations. "All indications are that AT&T is not buying TCI to provide the Sci-Fi channel here," deadpans Steve Holmes, director of the city's office of cable communications.

Council member Tina Podlodowski argues that there is a major public policy benefit to divorcing the cable and Internet industries, and that universal access to the Internet would keep society from being divided into information haves and have-nots. Licata wants Seattle to emulate Portland's position and recruit other cities to demand open access to cable systems. "I think it's critical that Seattle take a strong stand," he says.

Those crazy kids

Congratulations to Charlie Chong and longtime partner Mary Pearson, who got married last Saturday at West Seattle's Holy Rosary Church. The ceremony started an especially eventful week for the 72-year-old council vet—he is also scheduled to undergo heart bypass surgery.

Good ideas wanted

The Civic Foundation, a group of neighborhood activists that endorses candidates for citywide office, wants to know which issues should be considered in the 1999 election debate. Citizens are invited to submit potential questions for office seekers at a January 27 public forum at the Center for Urban Horticulture (the 7pm forum is preceded by a fund-raising dinner; information at 378-1200). Potential candidates are especially welcome to participate. Stake out those issues early, folks.

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