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

COMMENTARY by BRAD ROLLINS

By now, I hope it is clear to my friends on the San Marcos City Council that a ban on display and consumption of alcohol in city parks is bad policy and worse politics.

Word is that the city attorney has been drafting an alternative version that would ban the display of alcohol — but not the consumption of it — in the city’s 1,800 acres of parks and natural areas.

This is a step in the right direction but may be too little, too late for many of the people who have awaken to the very rude news of a forthcoming alcohol ban. Had the council not let its staff rope it into giving preliminary approval last week to the most extreme proposal on the table — a total ban of all alcohol in all parks — the council likely could have avoided the public outrage that has been percolating for nearly two weeks now.

At one point in their March 20 meeting, council member Shane Scott, with a second by Ryan Thomason, moved to strip the consumption ban while leaving the display ban in place. The idea seems to be that if you discourage the exhibition of alcohol, by requiring it to be poured into a red Solo cup or other descrete container, you can still allow the non-troublemakers to responsibly enjoy alcohol. Scott withdrew the motion after City Marshal Ken Bell said it would make prosecution more difficult in court.

Another way that city staff has steered the council away from finding reasonable middle ground is by arguing against designating an alcohol-free zone where families with children who don’t want to be around drinking can go to enjoy the parks system. This is something that Thomason first suggested when the council discussed the ban on March 6. The rest of the parks would be left alone — no display ban, no consumption ban.

Both Bell and parks director Rodney Cobb say that would replicate existing problems. Both Childrens’ Park and the athletic fields at Ramon Lucio Park are already alcohol-free. But since the river parks all run contiguously along the San Marcos River, often with no obvious boundary between one park and the next, people don’t know where alcohol is allowed and where it isn’t. There is little to no signage to note when you’re in an alcohol-free park.

This shady stretch of Bicentennial Park would be part of an alcohol-free zone under the Derrick-Schwartz plan. PHOTO by BRAD ROLLINS

But what if the existing alcohol free area around Children’s Park was enlarged to include Bicentennial Park and Veramendi Plaza? That would create a large contiguous block of family friendly territory that includes one of the most beautiful urban stretches of the river.

I’m calling this the Derrick-Schwartz plan because it came out of a discussion between two blogging regulars on the San Marcos Mercury, Melissa Derrick and Cori Schwartz.

Derrick asked, Why not accommodate families by marking off an easy-to-describe area as a family friendly zone — no alcohol and no tobacco?

Schwartz replied, “I think you’ve hit on a great possible compromise regarding alcohol — keeping a long stretch of the river alcohol free, so that we don’t have the confusing patchwork of rules that was a problem previously. It was very confusing.”

This got to me looking at the maps, and it’s true. If you make those three parks alcohol/tobacco-free — Children’s, Bicentennial and Veramemdi — it creates a solid area from Hopkins Street down to the last railroad trestle. That is an easy-to-describe area that will soon become collective knowledge of all river-going locals. It is easy to communicate to visitors with visible, attractive signage at the alcohol-free zone and at City Park where many tubers start their float.

Even better, the city has already built an iron and stone fence along the railroad track separating Children’s Park from Rio Vista Park. I took a picture of it here. Far from a poorly defined patchwork of different alcohol rules, Hopkins Street and that railroad track/fence, create unmistakable demarcations.

I’ve made clear my distaste for this knee-jerk impulse to pass far-reaching, social-engineering legislation – to pay only glancing notice of personal freedoms and property rights — without a probing dialogue about the problems we are trying to solve and how much we’re willing to give up toward that end.

I also understand that no council member wants to sit on their hands when their staff and residents come to them and say: This is a problem we need your help on.

Adoption of the Derrick-Schwartz plan — while leaving the alcohol rules unchanged in all other parks — is a thoughtful, decisive way of addressing misbehavior in the parks and giving law enforcement the tools they need to make it work.

Let’s increase littering fines, prohibit Styrofoam and create a significantly sized alcohol-free zone while leaving alcohol rules unchanged elsewhere in the parks system.

I think this will address the problems noted by Bell, Cobb and the parks and recreation board and give this council some breathing room to focus on the significant economic and development challenges we face.

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29 thoughts on “Brad Rollins’ blog: A beautiful alternative to alcohol ban

  1. I’d still like to see stiffer fines, and people convicted of various offenses doing litter cleanup in the parks. Big spring break destinations have managed to do that, with their rowdy visitors. We ought to be able to do the same.

  2. great idea, thanks for putting the time and effort into this. i just hope the city council will use some common sense.

  3. I like the litter cleanup as part of community service but was trying to stick to things that wouldn’t have a year-to-year recurring cost.

    Signage to designate an alcohol-free zone would be a cost but not a recurring one, except for maintenance.

    I’m just guessing that someone to coordinate and supervise a community service litter pickup program would take staff but mayne I’m wrong.

    Maybe the city can track extra revenue from the increased litter fines and use it to fund such a program in a future budget year.

  4. Nice sloution, after spending historically large amounts of money to rebuild and establish a safer water park at Rio-Vista area, let it be the place no family wants to take their kids, and, are you suggesting that those that are not thrilled about drunken gangmembers shorten their river float, and exit before theyever reach the one place children enjoy the most, the shoot at the damn??? Just currious, was it not a park established for our entire community??? Or is it now to be allowed to be over-run with elements that are problematic, socially devisive, and often a danger to pulic safety??? Somewhere in between there surely will be an acceptable solution, remember, it is public lands, for both sides of the coin to use, within the constraints of the rules and regulations that protect us all when in public.Just a thought or two. 🙂 jlb

  5. No, you’re right. It would take staff, but there are ways to skin that cat, as well. Littering fines, for example. The “Adopt a Spot” program could be modified, to accomodate this effort.

    I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to potentially fund the effort, given the “green” nature of the work, the sensitivity of the river, etc.

  6. Oh, personally, I am primarily in favor of the stricter trash/ litter aspects of this whole proposal. I think that people should be allowed to drink , get wasted, and respectfully be removed from society when their actions dictate so. Aside from the danger to their children and others, let em “self cull” themselves right on out of the picture! Keep your camera and cell phone handy for documantations and law enforcement protection purposes. I will wait until winter to enjoy the park my taxdollars paid for, when the crowds are far far away.

  7. Let me clarify something here, since my name is now attached to this ;-).

    I do not necessarily support open alcohol laws in “all of the other 1800 acres of city parks and green space”. Those parks should be addressed on a case by case basis. The discussion with Melissa was about the river bank parks, only.

    I personally wouldn’t miss alcohol on the river – in fact, I really cringe thinking about the safety aspects of it, and the litter problems. But I am in the minority in San Marcos,and in the spirit of compromise, I do think this could address one tiny aspect of the alcohol issue – giving families and non drinkers a place that is alcohol free, should they choose it.

    What really worries me is that this intense focus on the proposed alcohol ban is obscuring far bigger issues. Due to drought and restrictions in New Braufels, the increasing numbers of river goers in San Marcos is putting serious pressure on our river. We’ve got overcrowding leading to safety issues at the dam in Rio Vista; increased trash and river bank erosion, and just basic problems with crowd control. This is not going to ease up; it promises to only get worse.

    I’d like to see far more discussion of these things, which are addressed in the recommendations from the parks department. Citizens have made many good suggestions in these blogs that should be presented to Council: a more constant visual presence of river rangers, more trash cans with far more frequent pick-up during the weekend days, nice grilling and picnic facilities away from the river banks.

    I completely agree with you, Jaimy, that Rio Vista should not be “abandoned” to out of control crowds. If San Marcos as a whole chooses to allow public drinking on the river, that is fine – but we are well within our rights as a community to demand that *anyone* recreating here respect some basic manners regarding public behavior and littering. Most people don’t create any problems, of course! But without some kind of guidelines, as suggested by the parks department, there is no way to enforce any of it.

    I hope that some kind of compromise can be reached regarding the alcohol ban so that work can continue on the other things that need to be done to protect the river this summer.

  8. Cori, I think you are exactly right in saying that the bigger problem is over-crowding. The proposal here does nothing to address the problem at Rio Vista. Another poster proposed pushing drinking, grilling and tents away from the river at Rio Vista and I think that’s the best first step. Picnikers could have a “base-camp” back on the lawn and make soires down to the river edge to swim, watch kids, etc. Do that concurrent with stepped up enforcement and if all that doesn’t work you can take more extreme measures.

  9. I don’t hate the idea of allowing alcohol within the parks but pulling it back from the river but I’m afraid that doesn’t meet the standard of a rule that’s easy to communicate, understand and enforce. One of the rules in the current ordinance prohibits drinking on a dam, which covers people drinking on the rocks at Rio Vista.

    If you’re saying that the real problem is over-crowding and not bad behaviour caused by drinking, then we’re finally getting to the real motivation — to just flat discourage people from coming to the river.

  10. Moving the tents back would be easy to understand, and enforce. They do it at TXST tailgate, almost effortlessly. Not sure if it would solve anything, but it might. There would be less congestion right at the river.

  11. Another idea from TXST tailgate – they have their ranger equivalents driving around, passing out trash bags to all of the tents. Maybe we could do something like that. Are there dumpsters anywhere? I can’t say that I have ever looked for them.

  12. If the person passing out trash bags was driving some kind of utility vehicle with a flatbed, people could just toss their full bags on there, when s/he went by.

    That would increase ranger visibility, and help get the litter under control.

  13. Brad, perfect timing, I dropped the map you created off to CC just before the packet meeting ~ thanks for letting me use it. But to be clear it was my idea to use the strip of river frontage that you took a photo of as the alcohol free zone that would extend from Children’s Park to that area. You added Veramendi Plaza to the idea and viola ~ looks perfect.

    Hey If I’m getting credit….from you of all people…. I’ll take all that is due 😉

    I hear what you are saying Cori. We need MORE Ranger presence and not just scooting by on their four wheelers, they need to get out and take a look at people, # of cans in front of them etc.. and exercise their right to make them put litter in the cans or fine them, and give them a sobriety test if needed. This is a SURE way to deter the bad element, and it only has to happen a handful of time b/ you scare them off.

    A total ban, in my opinion would would lead to people carrying flasks of booze into the park instead of the much more benign 6 pack, and that could be really scary. Even if they drop the consumption and keep with the display of….this could be a real problem. I have friends who sneak flasks anywhere they aren’t allowed to drink, even concerts and OOYYY do they get hammered and dangerous much more quickly.

  14. How about a build day like when the playscape went in, maybe a dozen or two dozen more simple rough camping type structures, with in-ground grills, etc, make it a real community effort, and then, maybe if enough families participate, the problem oriented folks may just find their way out of the picture???? The behavior at the water is what I have heard the most complaints about, when families float up, etc, and are made uncomfortable by leering, catcalls, lude staring,drunken behavior, etc. This may not be a preventable issue, as many in society now cling to a secular, “I can do anything i want to because there are no rules/ consequences” mentality. Oh well, there is always the winter months, love it then, so peaceful:-) jlb

  15. As I said in an earlier post somewhere, I think bad behaviour and overcrowding go hand-in-hand. Heavy drinking is just gas on the fire. It’s a supply and demand issue – the supply of Rio Vista is limited and the demand is great. That means we as a city get to raise the price in the form of the behaviour and rules we enforce. If some choose not to come to Rio Vista because they can’t sit down there and drink all day then good. Imho.

  16. why is it that the same people that are hollering that we get people from all over that come here to enjoy the river, are the same people talking about over crowding and putting forth crowd control?

    Lets just make a law and ordinance that NO ONE is allowed to be there at all. No more tourism dollars, yeah for us!

    What I am now currently getting from all this (except Melissa) is there are some older adults who have decided to make San Marcos their home and that absolutely hate having to share it with teenagers and the university kids.

    Didn’t your parents teach you that nothing in life is fair, about compromise, and that you have to learn to share. If they did, then you should realize that Melissa’s plan is a great one. If you still don’t like the of sharing and compromise, then good luck finding some other city you can live in that won’t require you to.

    Grow up people, this is life.

  17. All except Melissa?

    All I suggested was some creative solutions to litter, and crowd, um, optimization. I’d love to see more people able to enjoy our parks. My ideas would facilitate that.

    I think there are some very good ideas to be gained from TXST tailgating, which, BTW, is probably 90% teenagers and university kids. I have a great time there, every time.

    Damn.

  18. Sorry J Horton, not the case AT ALL. I’m not saying keep people away, I’m saying let’s admit that there is an issue with overcrowding during the summer, and trash issues year round, and let’s be creative in how we deal with it. An alcohol ban doesn’t address that, for many reasons. Intelligent crowd control ie, making more picnic areas available, away from the banks; making it easier to throw away trash and recyclables; keeping the dangerous glass and styrafoam out of the river, etc,

    There is room at the river for ALL KINDS of people, and I wouldn’t have it any other way! It only works though if we all have to have some respect for each other and the environment….

  19. Jaimy I DO get out b/4 the falls if I have my dogs, I’m one of those that are very leery of a 100 lb college girl with an 85 lb pit bull’s leash around her ankle, while she pays attention to nothing but yapping with her friends. If I could I would ban pit bulls, loud mouths, jam boxes, and kids who insist on jumping into the falls right as your tube is getting sucked in ~ but we can’t ban everything we don’t like. Those same people might like to ban me and my kids and cow dogs b/c we annoy them. We all have to get along. Any day at the river you can find every segment of the population of San Marcos doing what it is THEY enjoy doing at the river. I would never want that to change, although some change is needed.

    I think Cori has some great ideas in regards to crowding and litter, and as some of us have said, MORE RANGER PRESENCE, and increased litter fines. I saw a girl nearly beaten to death a few years ago by a gang at Rio Vista while I tried to watch Joe Ely play at the River Pub~ EEEEECKKKK ~ MORE RANGERS.

  20. Is drinking and smoking really that big of a problem on the river? I really am asking, what are the statistics? Keep in mind you are never going to get rid of drinking and smoking, it will just happen somewhere else. I think the real question to ask is “is this a real problem”? or are we jumping on the NB band wagon.

  21. Lord let me stand for something, lest I fall for anything…. Humanity will always need some guidance, or they will self destruct, just the way it is. I imagine a young college kid, goiung to school here, maybe a freshman, has younger siblings, the family is all excited about coming to visit, spend the weekend, enjoy the most awesome river in the world, and, they float dowen to the Rio Vista area, and quickly realize that their optimism is quelled with the depravity of humanity, to some degree, what a picture. I can here the future plans now, why do that again, where would it be more family- friendly, where might we spend our hard earned money next time, free of offensive behaviors that are fueled by over indulgence in the bottle… hmmm, perhaps it is time for someone else Mr. Horton, to find another ‘ Anywhere USA” to pursue repeating the mistakes of past failed examples of humanity, such as the Romans perhaps, yes, maybe Italy would suit you better….Somewhere in the midle, we will find the answers. Yes, I like the idea of expanding the primtive day campsite areas, so more families and future families can peacefully, safely, and enthusiastically enjoy this great treasure we have in San Marcos. ( Hopefully all the condoms and poop, that the over developement of the watersheds above the river contribute to the picture, won’t destroy this forever!!! )

  22. So if I am floating the river with my alcohol, what do I do with it in the ban area? This solution does not address the drunks at Rio Vista or the trash. I think it is no solution at all but an answer to another question, protecting the playgrounds.

  23. The playgrounds are dangerous? I’ve been there a few times a week with my kids going on 7-8 years now and I’ve never seen a problem I can remember, other than the occasional teenager throwing out a cuss word to make themselves seem cool…

  24. With the exception of a couple of comments, I have to say that this thread has been one of the more productive I have seen in quite some time. I am in favor of a total ban but the suggestions offered here seem like a really good compromise. The only critique that I would suggest on the maps that you have provided is changing/adding Ramon Lucio Park to the ban since it is contiguous to the Athletic Fields which is alcohol free. I only suggest that to make it easier to know where the boundaries would be.

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