by BRAD ROLLINS
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.Email | Print