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.”