Don't encourage alcohol sales

March 16, 2001 12:00 am

It is now easier to find a liquor store than a school in the Portland metropolitan area.

This, of course, is called progress.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission recently began distributing color maps that show all 43 liquor stores in the Portland area. Out of gin in Gresham? Not a problem. Been hankering for a shot of bourbon in Beaverton? Finding the fastest route is easier than ever.

Not only are these maps free, but the OLCC, the agency that controls the sale of distilled spirits in the state, is even sending supplies to public facilities throughout the metro area. The news release announcing the production of the map does not define public facilities, but were fairly certain the list does not include schools or hospitals.

We hope.

Were plummeting far into flippancy here, but the OLCC seems pretty excited about this new tri-folded map.

The headline in the news release proclaims: OLCCs new liquor store map to aid Portland area visitors.

Although in the text of the announcement the agency mentions residents as well as visitors, were a bit uncomfortable about that headline. Naturally visitors to an area are more likely to benefit from any kind of a map, but OLCC seems to be suggesting that the people who live in and around Portland know exactly where the liquor stores are. This could be true.

Of course, criticizing OLCC for striving to operate efficiently puts us in a prickly position. Like most taxpayers, we want government agencies to be thrifty with our money; and OLCC did pretty well with this new map. The agency spent about $600 on the design, and another $900 to have the state printing office produce 10,000 maps.

But were beginning to feel a bit queasy about the enthusiasm perhaps zealotry isnt too strong a term OLCC is demonstrating in its efforts to bring booze to the masses, or at least helping the latter find the former.

For example, in the same news release announcing the new map, OLCC reports that it replaced the conveyer system at its warehouse in Milwaukie. Workers there now handle 1,100 cases of liquor every hour, up from 1,000.

Again, we dont like to demean a government agency thats becoming more efficient. But apparently OLCC didnt replace its conveyor system so it could, say, trim its workforce. The purpose was to ship more liquor; yet, we dont believe the OLCCs previous rate of 1,000 cases per hour was making it unduly difficult for people to get a fifth of tequila when they came up short in the middle of a margarita party.

With none of these indictments do we intend to discourage OLCC officials from striving to streamline their operations. We think other agencies could learn from OLCCs example.

But we urge the state to confine its role in the booze business to distributing and regulating, and to drop the promoting part. Spending tax dollars to open new markets for Oregons farmers and ranchers is legitimate, the way we see it. But printing maps to help people find a liquor store isnt if youre old enough to legally drink, we figure you ought to be able to find the liquor store yourself.

The yellow pages may not be as fancy or colorful as the OLCC map, but theyll work.