By Miriam Raftery
October 28, 2009 (La Mesa) – At last night’s La Mesa City Council meeting, it came as a surprise to many in the audience to learn that alcohol consumption has been prohibited in City parks since 1991. Last night Council voted 5-0 to extend that ban to all public places including City streets, curbs, and sidewalks—drawing praise from some and criticism from others.
La Mesa Police supported the ban, which officials indicated is necessary to address a rise in alcohol-related calls and arrests in public places. Police have no authority to arrest individuals found drinking if they are not yet intoxicated, sometimes resulting in repeat calls for the same incident.
“This is not designed to be a revenue device or a gotcha device,” said Councilman Ernest Ewin.
Evelyn Hogan, who lives near La Mesita Park, supported the measure. She said a lot of drinking occurs on the sidewalk adjacent to the park. “On Sunday mornings I go and and pick up beer cans on my lawn,” she testified.
Dexter Levy, a La Mesa resident, said law enforcement officers need the ban as a “tool” but that it will only be effective if enforced.
The current ban on alcohol in parks is enforced only selectively; it is common to spot coolers of beer at family picnics and other events – even fundraisers for some local candidates on both sides of the political aisle. Authorities at last night’s Council meeting indicated enforcement is apt to be similarly selective for the alcohol ban on public streets . “The Police Department is not going to go around looking for people with an open bottle of beer,” one officer testified.
Harshest criticism was leveled by Craig Maxwell, who ran against Mayor Art Madrid in the last election. “I would have hoped that repeal of Prohibition would have settled this,” he told Council. Maxwell urged that members consider the impression of hypocrisy a ban could leave with the public given the City’s support of Oktoberfest and the highly publicized case of an elected La Mesa official involving an alcohol-related incident on a public street (an apparent reference to Madrid). “I will suggest a double standard and a covert agenda to raise revenues for the City,” he concluded.
Groups that wish to serve alcohol at events in public places may apply for a permit--for a $150 fee--as in the past. Individuals found guilty of drinking on a public street or other public place could face fines or jail time.
Mayor Madrid spoke in support of the ban, noting, “We’re dealing with a population of repeaters. The average citizen won’t be affected one bit.”
Councilwoman Sterling observed, “The average person does not walk down La Mesa Blvd. with a bottle of wine in a paper bag.”
Ewin concluded that the City is not looking to single out people drinking in front of their homes who may step back onto the sidewalk. He said the ban is needed to prevent officers from making repeat calls and dealing with intoxicated individuals who may be out of control. He defended the ban as necessary “if it saves one life.”
You'd a thought the press might have known the laws in place
It kind of changes the entire picture when now, everyone knows drinking was legal, with permit only, in the parks; but we all could walk down La Mesa Blvd in the Village with an open bottle of booze.
I think what the council did was clean up an old, poorly written law.
It is much less a money grab, Eh?
How would anyone know this law existed?
I've been to many, many events at La Mesa parks in recent months where alcohol was brought by individuals at large events--and the permits are only for groups to provide the liquor, not for people to bring their own cans and bottles. I've seen at least two Councilmembers and a candidate for Council at multiple events where alcohol was clearly present that wasn't permitted. Sometimes law enforcement was even present providing security, but apparently chose to look the other way. What conclusion would you have drawn?
The editorial published previously was an opinion piece from a reader, not our editorial staff. While I regret not fact-checking the law in editing that piece, I had every reason to believe drinking in public parks was legal given the presence of city officials at events where people brought their own alcohol.
That said, my personal view is that the City has it backwards! If it were up to me, I'd be more concerned about people walking down a street getting snokkered or boozing it up in a back alley than I would over ordinary citizens socializing at a picnic during daytime hours--speaking as someone who finds an occasional glass of wine the best way to relieve back spasms. If an adult is not posing a problem to others or drinking to excess, why should cities intrude?
I actually suspect the City is losing money with its strict policies on booze; now that people know about this many are likely to take their picnics to Santee, where alcohol is legal in all but one public park (Mast), as Santee's Mayor told folks at a Council meeting this evening.
Your response to my response
I agree they had this one backwards.
I agree that there seem to be parties with booze in our public parks all the time.
If we all did not know that permits were needed, then we would not have wondered if they had been secured by those political types we have seem at public park parties. Perhaps they were.
I do not remember who wrote the original article, but I believe that you should have checked and commented to its author when you discovered his or her lack of knowledge of the ordinance.
Just this AM, a certain Village inhabitant lettered to the U-T, his usual pretend-to-speak-for-all-but-only-speaks-for=himself unsubstantiated tripe regarding this topic. Just as usual, he was late for the train while holding an airline ticket.