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What's the Matter With Chicago? and Seattle and New York and Boston...?
Yet Seattle has long had an unhealthy strain of nannyism as well. Washington was one of the first states to prohibit alcohol in the last century, and the city’s restrictions on strip clubs and card rooms are legendary. In the last five years, the nanny impulse has gone into hyperdrive.
In 2003 Seattle banned sales of high-alcohol beers and fortified wines in a part of town popular with the homeless and street drunks. Three years later, a city report found that the ban hadn’t reduced petty crime and street drinking. Yet Mayor Greg Nickels and the Seattle City Council slammed through another ordinance expanding the so-called “alcohol impact area” to several other neighborhoods. It’s a measure of just how contradictory paternalism gets in Seattle that you can still walk into a bar in these neighborhoods and buy locally crafted microbrews with even higher alcohol content, albeit at a much steeper price than a 40-ouncer.
In 2005 a state ballot initiative banned smoking in all public places. Unlike similar prohibitions in other cities, there are no exemptions for tobacco stores, cigar bars, or private clubs. As if that weren’t enough, the Washington State Clean Indoor Air Act bans smoking within 25 feet of the doors, windows (closed or open), and ventilation systems of any public building. In parts of Seattle, smokers literally have to stand in the middle of the street to comply with the law.
Ironically, many Seattleites who smoke pot voted for the smoking ban. Perhaps they didn’t look too closely at the language of the law, which prohibits “smoking,” not tobacco.
The city’s deep embrace of environmentalism and “sustainability” rhetoric also has a nanny odor to it. This year, for example, Mayor Nickels pushed the state legislature to enact an excise tax on cars based on their fuel efficiency. (For a change, the idea met with a significant public backlash and died.) But one enviro law did expand local freedom a bit. City Council Member Richard Conlin last year proposed that the city license pygmy goats as pets, partly so that residents can process their yard waste in a more eco-friendly manner. The proposal became law by a unanimous vote.
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