by SEAN BATURA
The San Marcos Parks and Recreation Advisory Board voted unanimously Jan. 31 in favor of new parks rules that include a ban on the public consumption and display of alcohol in all city parks. The city council may consider the proposal sometime this spring.
The proposed ordinance would allow alcohol in parks during some city-sponsored events and for groups that rent city parks facilities.
The ordinance would allow the city to specify alcohol-friendly paths to the San Marcos River and access points in order for people to bring drinks into the water. The city cannot legally forbid alcohol in a state waterway. But drinking openly on the river bank and elsewhere in the city’s park system would not be allowed.
The parks board’s recommendation to the city council is not the first of its kind.
“I think this is the third or fourth time it’s been voted on,” said Fire Marshal Ken Bell, whose duties include overseeing the River Rangers. “We’ve been going over and over it over the last five years. It’s been well-publicized and there have been public hearings already on the matter and things like that. We’re pretty comfortable with just pushing forward with what we have. It’s going to go to the city council for ultimate review.”
Bell said the city council may vote one way or another on the issue sometime in March. If the council does implement the proposed alcohol ban, park users will receive advance notice before police and rangers begin enforcement with penalties.
Bell has told the city council that 100 percent of arrests at city parks patrolled by his rangers since 1996 have involved irresponsible alcohol consumption. Bell has said he could cut his ranger force in half if the display and use of alcohol were successfully banned.
Bell has said an across-the-board alcohol ban in all city parks would be easier to enforce than the current situation. There are eight city parks along the San Marcos River and 17 city neighborhood parks.
According current city law, it is illegal to possess an alcoholic beverage within 500 feet of any softball or baseball field in a city park; within the fenced area surrounding any city swimming pool; or within Children’s Park, which is one of the parks near the San Marcos River.
Bell has said the parks system along the river is several miles long and comprised of contiguous alcohol-free zones and alcohol-friendly areas in a “checkerboard fashion,” making enforcement of current law difficult.
In summer 2010, the parks board examined an alcohol ban ordinance proposed to take effect May 2011 or “as soon as the ordinance is proposed,” in the language of a June 15, 2010 memo from Bell to City of San Marcos Community Services Director Rodney Cobb. The parks board examined the matter again in summer 2011. In fall 2010, the San Marcos River Recreation Task Force recommended banning alcohol in the city’s river parks.
In June 2011, the parks board unanimously recommended increasing restrictions on alcohol users in city parks. The next month, the San Marcos Neighborhood Commission voted to support this general recommendation of the parks board.
Neighborhood commission chair Elena Duran said late last week it is likely she and her colleagues will discuss the parks board’s recent recommendation. Duran declined to indicate agreement or disagreement with the board’s recommendation or speculate about what the commission may do..Email | Print