Tacoma mulls ban on malt liquor, fortified wine in West End

TACOMA, Wash. -- Some in Tacoma's West End blame the wide availability of cheap and highly potent beer and wine for ongoing problems in the neighborhood, and now they're trying to get the drinks banned.

Every sale is important to Jin Hwang, which is why he's against a proposal that would ban certain beers and wines from his Tacoma convenience store.

"That's not fair. Actually, you know, big market, they can sell hard liquor. We cannot sell beer? What the heck?" he said.

Drinks with high-alcohol content could disappear from 37 stores in Tacoma's West End if city leaders approve an Alcohol Impact Area.

The proposed ban would cover a section of town where neighbors have had ongoing problems with chronic drunks.

"There were some disconcerting experiences," said local Montessori school principal Paula Bond.

Bond said the people who buy the strong but inexpensive malt liquors and fortified wines have shown up at her school, left trash and scared the kids.

"(They are) hanging out in the bus stops, hanging out on our hillside, falling asleep in the shrubs, urinating in public when the kids were out in the field," Bond said.

Alcohol problems have also surfaced in city parks, and police say it has led to loitering, littering and people not feeling safe.

"The community is just up in arms. They do not want these products in our neighborhoods," said Lt. Dan Still with the Tacoma Police Department.

Police say alcohol-related calls in the West End shot up 42 percent in 2012 compared to the previous year. Firefighters saw a 30 percent jump.

Two other Tacoma neighborhoods adopted Alcohol Impact Areas in the past and saw improvements.

"I have seen first-hand what a dramatic impact it can have on a neighborhood in a really positive way, and I think this neighborhood deserves that too," Bond said.

Convenience store owners say the ban would hurt them financially because as much as 30 percent of their revenue is tied to drink sales.

The Tacoma City Council is set to vote on the ban Tuesday evening.