San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

A tuber descends the first drop at Rio Vista Falls. SAN MARCOS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE PHOTO


Reacting to efforts by New Braunfels to tamp down on rowdy river revelers, the San Marcos City Council is poised to consider changes to park rules including a prohibition on public consumption of alcohol.

The proposal is among a handful of changes recommended by the city’s Parks & Recreation board in January, a list that also includes increased fines for littering and a a ban on Styrofoam cups and barbecue grills. During a preview of the proposed changes at their regular meeting last week, a majority of council members said they want to consider the revised ordinances.

The proposed alcohol ban, called the “red cup rule” by some council members, drew the most scrutiny of the parks board’s recommendations with council member Jude Prather saying outright he wasn’t interested in passing such a law and council member Kim Porterfield also sounding skeptical about the need for it.

City Marshal Ken Bell, who oversees the force of “river rangers” who patrol the string of parks alongside the San Marcos River within the city limits, said current ordinances prohibit the consumption of alcohol within 500 feet of any baseball or softball fields and also in Childrens’ Park, between Bicentennial Park and Rio Vista Park on the river’s western bank. The athletic field buffer stretches to the third drop of Rio Vista Falls, but not the first two, making boundaries confusing to casual park users; the boundaries of Childrens’ Park is likewise not well marked.

“What we have now is almost impossible for us to enforce because the public doesn’t know what it means or what it is,” Bell said. “We’re trying to manage alcohol. We’re not trying to eliminate it. That’s basically what it boils down to.”

Under questioning from Porterfield and council member John Thomaides, Bell said the proposed rule would give rangers and police officers the discretion to weed out troublemakers before they fall under existing statutes for public intoxication or disturbing the peace. Council members have taken to calling it the “red cup rule” because, theoretically, people drinking alcohol inconspicuously from unmarked plastic cups would not be subject to arrest or citation, although Bell noted that someone seen pouring alcohol from cans or bottles into red cups at the park would be in violation.

“How can someone un-publicly consume alcohol?” Porterfield asked.

“When we don’t know about it,” Bell replied, saying the proposed ban was patterned after the law in most state parks.

Porterfield said later in the meeting, “I’m concerned about the discretion that it gives police officers and the implications of it.”

The re-creation of the former Rio Vista Dam into Rio Vista Falls has fostered a boom in river-goers to San Marcos with the parks department estimating that 200,000 people use the river during the 2007 and 2008 summer season; more recent estimates are not immediately available. Park rangers arrested 77 people for public intoxication and other offenses in the parks during the last two last summer, Bell said, and have issued 796 citations related to alcohol during the same period.

Coupled with New Braunfels’ high-profile, and controversial, moves to discourage hard partying tubers, local officials say they are concerned problems here will intensify.

“The key is that most people, if they’re going to take the opportunity to put it in a red cup, typically aren’t the people who create the issues that Ken [Bell] and his group have to deal with. It’s the ones that come down and sit on the rock with their 24-packs of beer” that the law targets, parks board chair Steve Santos said.

Mayor Daniel Guerrero and council members Ryan Thomason and Wayne Becak indicated they were in favor of some form of restriction on alcohol with Thomason seeming to prefer the creation of alcohol-free zones to a more sweeping ban.

“There is virtually no place that a family can go and not have any concerns about alcohol consumption around them. I think it’s fine for there to be alcohol consumption but I think there should be areas where the rules do change,” Thomason said.

Said Becak, “I like this red cup rule. It works in the state parks. It’s going to discourage a lot of the people who are the problems.”

Thomaides said he was willing to consider the proposed public alcohol ban but was worried that its implementation could be botched if rushed through. He said, “You say everybody knows about it because we’ve been talking about it for years. Trust me: Not everybody knows about it.”

CORRECTION 03/21/12: The story previously said River Rangers had issued 196 citations in the past two summers for various offenses; the actual number is 796.

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9 thoughts on “Council poised to consider banning public alcohol consumption in parks

  1. This ban would create 2 problems:
    1. Think of all the people who will just stay in the water just because they are safe to drink there. I can just picture the article in the paper saying “Joe College-Student drowned in the San
    Marcos River because he was drinking and too afraid to get out of the river due to law enforcement patrolling the parks.”
    2. The red cup policy will only lead to an increase in the amount of trash we see along the river. Everyone knows how windy San Marcos can be…and unless everyone keeps their beverage full at all times i can see the wind dumping countless plastic cups into our beautiful river.

    In my opinion the only change that needs to be made is an increase in the fee for those who choose to litter and pollute our river.

    **I fully agree there are parks (like the children’s park) where alcohol should not be allowed, but a city-wide ban would just be ridiculous and a waste of time/money.

  2. Sounds like more trash IN the river rather than beside it. Bad idea.

    I’d also note NB is in a very different situation. Their ordinance has nothing to do with protecting the river. They’ve built a lot of expensive homes along the river with residents (voters) who don’t like the floaters, AND they make a lot of their tourist income off schlitterbahn rather than floaters. They passed a paradigm changing ordinance that effectively stops all floating on their rivers. That pushes the demand elsewhere. SM should be reaching out to grab that income rather than pushing it away.

  3. I would like to see a law forcing the covering of knees. We can’t go out to the river without seeing knees. Cover up those knees folks.

  4. Yeah why not change from recyclable aluminum that the city and clean up crews can sell at a profit to crappy plastic cups littered everywhere that can’t be sold for anything. You council folk so smart. Thomaides must have a deal with SOLO cups through his water filtering buisness.

  5. It doesn’t matter what you do. With NB banning everything you are going to have a mass of people in the water drinking. No one was floating the river in NB. They sat in the water on tubes with floating radios and drank. There will be a mass of bodies from city park to rio vista this summer. Red cups and beer cans will both be sinking to the bottom and when they are finished drinking at the river they will be downtown drinking till 2am.

  6. I think the council should look very hard at this proposal. As it is a good idea, to keep our parks safe, but to give the Marshals a vague law to enforce that is like a moving target that could be missed is just waiting for trouble.
    The idea that the Rangers will just use their personal discretion to or not to enforce a vague law puts them and the people in a bad situation.

    “The key is that most people, if they’re going to take the opportunity to put it in a red cup, typically aren’t the people who create the issues that Ken [Bell] and his group have to deal with. It’s the ones that come down and sit on the rock with their 24-packs of beer” that the law targets, parks board chair Steve Santos said.

    It sounds like, as Santos states,that the Rangers have figured out the specific problem. So they should get the wasted guys sitting around with the 24 packs out of the parks and give citations to those that are littering, problem solved.

  7. I see what they mean. They guy with the 24 pack of beer will be a promble in about 2.5 hours when he finishes them all. I have been around the Comal River and believe me we dont want that party scene here. Oh but wait it goes on every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights in the apartment complexes around town.

  8. Sammy, while recognizing the irony in your statement, this was a college town before any of us were born and will be long after we’re dead. That party scene aspect will always be predominant. Fighting it is just like trying to will the river to flow upstream. It can’t happen. We’re better off making lots of money off it like Austin or New Orleans do.

    We need reasonable rules laws that’ll keep people from getting hurt. The only thing this law would do is push the activity a couple miles downstream. That means more drunk driving through our city & more litter in the rivers. There are plenty of laws to address public intoxication, disturbing the piece, and fighting. Why don’t we focus on the very narrow group of troublemakers and their behavior rather than creating new laws that hurt everyone?

  9. Here we go again! Just make some zones alcohol free, not all the parks! They are there for us to enjoy as long as we keep them clean and respect them. And don’t take away the bbq grills either. They are already there! Put shoes on if you are worried about hot coals, jeez!

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