Let’s make Local Option work for us

Vote YES to end alcohol sales in Bethel

by Sharon Chakuchin

This is true freedom, to have the streets and playgrounds, walkways and most neighborhoods free from those who have drunk too much and have found themselves either making fools of themselves or putting any of us in danger.
This is true freedom, that we as a community could take some time to plan and prepare for liquor laws that might work for our own community. It may be true that some of the “local option” options really seem arbitrary to those of us who actually want to live in a damp community. There ought to be a way to make local ordinances, and perhaps even change State statutes, to make a system that could work better for all of us.
But we should give ourselves time to do so. Perhaps our city council could work to decrease the negative aspects, namely hassles, of a dry community, without flooding all of us with the consequences of a wet community. The Alaska State Statutes seem to be built on laws that were created by people who don’t quite understand living in a damp community. But we should take the time that a YES vote will afford us.
Those who want to make a profit on the liquor sales should be willing to take a break so that our community can take a break as well. Didn’t everyone exclaim a sigh of relief because of the difference in the days the AC liquor store closed? The unexpectedness took a few days for the bootleggers to catch up and make their sales. It was so amazingly quiet, and a relief to walk and not encounter drunks.
The closure of the AC liquor store came about because of a huge protest from people and agencies in Bethel regarding issues surrounding alcohol and the dire effects that it has had on the people of this region. We are not living now without a liquor store because of third world policies in the USA or any movement to bring back bootlegging.
Let’s not forget where we came from. For several years after the community voted out of local option, our elected city council saw it fit to deny every liquor license application. Then, an entity that found itself in a position that making money seemed to be foremost in priorities and could not foresee any better alternative, brought a lawyer into the picture.
The then-ABC Board, being mostly in the interest of commercial liquor licenses, also said it was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable, for us, as a community, to choose to be wet, and then still want to deny alcohol being sold. There is possibly one other community in the state which is in that same position, but they were “grandfathered in”. As we also were until it was contested.
One thing that I find so frustrating at this point, is this: that those who pushed the hardest for the liquor store, namely by purchasing advertisements, were those who stood to gain the most financially. Or so they calculated. And again, this is the case. Who is asking you, asking us, to vote No on local option? Not caring neighbors who like the freedom of clean streets. But the one liquor licensed restaurant who actually is motivated not by your freedom or the thought of bootleggers, but: by their own desire to make money.
So let’s take a look at the bootlegger situation. A few years ago, most of us living in Bethel thought the problem of inebriates was pretty intolerable. There they always were, on one side of AC, for example. Always there at a few specific places in town. Certain buildings had basically a problem with those roaming town, and, managers probably knew most of them by name. It looked pretty bad, and with bootleggers making who-knows-how-much money, many people believed the slogan that a store would drive the bootleggers out of business.
But, soon after the store opened, we realized how much better it had been. As I testified to the AMCO (Alcohol Marijuana Control Office) board: drive around town. You could not find a neighborhood that is far enough away, or free, from the problems of inebriates.
Now that we’ve lived through the situation, we found that opening a local store did not slow down the problems of either inebriates or bootleggers, but basically multiplied both.
Not only did our local set of homeless increase, but the problems multiplied to the neighboring 56 villages as well. Now, instead of a few people investing both risk and money into ordering large amounts of alcohol to sell, anyone could in theory, step into the store, purchase items and turn around and sell it – or drive to a nearby dry village and sell it.
We don’t think that the village of Napaskiak called upon the governor to close the liquor store and declare a state of emergency for no reason. Everyone who testified at the AMCO meeting has personal experiences with the negative aspects of the situation we found ourselves in. Alcohol-related devastation that we can vote Yes to avoid.
In my experience with the AMCO board, a No vote against Local Option puts our city back in the hands of the AMCO board and gives us no say as to how to limit the sales. It puts our local voice in competition with those who are trying, legally, to make a profit.
Most of the testimony focused on the AC Liquor Store, but I cannot believe that any other store, operating in a profit motive, could do any differently. I have heard directly from sales clerks and managers that they do abide by the state statutes. Which means other full time stores will operate in much the same way.
Some people have voiced concerns about our city operating without the alcohol sales tax. In the time that we are under local option, we will again collect taxes on orders placed out of Anchorage. That hasn’t been collected since 2009. City sin tax on alcohol may have contributed to city coffers, but could not make a dent in the toll that others suffered. All the tax revenue in the world cannot help volunteer organizations like Bethel Search & Rescue and the Volunteer Fire Department.
Statistics available for different time periods show the devastating impact of a liquor store in Bethel. January 2018, we didn’t yet have a proposition for prohibiting liquor sales in Bethel, but many local agencies cried out to the city council to take action.
“The other item AVCP goes on record opposing any liquor license on behalf of our membership which is the 56 villages… It is really not only a Bethel problem, it is a village problem. AVCP has a lot of offices here, a lot of departments and pays taxes here. So we have an interest in this community, all of us. I’ve lived here for a long time, very long time and what I’ve seen prior is starting to happen again. We are experiencing the impacts to the native people. We see it almost every week something happens. We need to do something about it, thank you,” said Ray Watson when addressing the Bethel City Council during their January 9th, 2018 city council meeting.
We have a window of opportunity to vote Yes for local option. It may not be a perfect solution, but it can be a step in the right direction. Let’s enjoy the freedom of a community not drenched in the problems that alcohol causes in the lives of some people, and affects all of us. Vote Yes to keep liquor stores closed in Bethel. And let’s enjoy that freedom together.
Sharon Chakuchin is a resident of Bethel, AK.