seattle: 24 hour city?

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has put forward an 8-point plan to revamp nightlife in the Emerald City, the most controversial point of which is allowing bars and restaurants to serve alcohol past 2AM, either through staggering closing, extending last call or possibly doing away with it all together. The idea is that pushing everyone out the door at the same time exacerbates problems associated with drunks in public: everyone is out on the streets at once, making noise in some neighborhoods, more likely to get into fights, and more likely to be driving when they shouldn't. Also, people tend ot compress their drinking in the last hour or so, which is exactly the wrong thing to be doing.

However, the mayor can't just snap his fingers and make this happen: he has to go through the Washington Liquor Control Board. And they want to see evidence of positive returns to public safety before they sign off on extending hours. This may be a difficult standard to meet.

In the absence of rigorous data, I think one can still make a pretty convincing case for extending hours just by considering the possible outcomes, of which there are essentially three.

1) Extending hours actually causes more total incidents of DUI/noise complaints/disorderly conduct. OK, so if this is the case, that's a pretty compelling argument against extending hours. However, this seems pretty unlikely: are that many people who are inclined to cause trouble really prevented from doing so by the 2AM closing? Is there really pent-up demand for irresponsible drunken behavior? I find this hard to believe. But even if it were true, it may be mitigated by other factors (see below).

2) Extending hours has no effect on the total number of incidents.
This is a very real possibility. Maybe even the most likely. However, even if this is the case, there may be a benefit to law enforcement in that these incidents will at least be spread out over the wee hours of the morning, instead of all occurring between 2 and 3. (This may even mitigate small upticks in incidents, in terms of the ability of SPD to adequately respond.)

3) Extending hours actually does reduce the total number of incidents. This is not unreasonable. Certainly noise complaints are a direct function of how many people are on the street at once. Fights also seem much more likely when there are more people around. But I think the most likely effect is that it takes away the "deadline mentality" of last call, and this may--at the margins--mean that BAL's are just a little bit lower as people head home. And the margin here might be the difference.


Dave said...

Or maybe the city government should just not regulate when private businesses operate. Just because something creates a problem doesn't necessarily justify the government's interference with private businesses.

Brian said...

Well, yeah, sure...but making an argument from libertarian first principles in Seattle is a bit like trying to order pizza in Mandarin.