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

February 6th, 2012
Recreation board asks city council to ban alcohol in parks

A typical summer day at Rio Vista Park in San Marcos. PHOTO 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..

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36 thoughts on “Recreation board asks city council to ban alcohol in parks

  1. so now we will just have a bunch of people standing out in the river dropping their empty cans in the water?
    and i have some trouble believing that 100% of the arrests in parks were involving alcohol…and if they did, I think that shows more of a problem with their focus because I see have witnessed people smoking crack in that park just after Rio Vista on multiple occasions

  2. On second thought if that’s the case does that mean all the rocks in the water will be fought over since that will be the only legal place to drink, talk about reducing the force….YEA RIGHT!

  3. Well there are already alcohol free parks along the San Marcos River from Spring Lake to Sewell Park. 100% of arrest involves alcohol?… besides Dave Newman’s arrest for attempting to save a man’s life.
    This prohibition of freedoms is getting ridicules. Bet now Marshal Ken Bell’s fiefdom will need more taxpayer money to enforce such a ban.

    Government prohibitions and the curtailing of freedoms stands against everything our Nation was built on and stands for across the world…Freedom.
    I hope Council recognizes the people’s freedoms, and that there are already parks along the River that are alcohol free.

  4. Really? its one of the best outlets the College kids have that’s safe and they are really well behaved that Ive seen through the years. compared to if they have to lock it up in bars or what do you want from this? We need to do everything to keep the college kids safe. If they knew we supported them and not trying to hide them.

  5. “Bell has said he could cut his ranger force in half if the display and use of alcohol were successfully banned.”

    Decrease tourism and increase unemployment in one action. Sounds like a win-win proposal.

  6. The Rivers are a huge part of tourism, city pride, and income for San Marcos and the surrounding areas. That being said, the more you ban things such as alcohol, the less appealing the river becomes to alot of the people it brings in. Restrict and regulate if the problem can be justified, but don’t ban. Besides, it’s a college town and summer vacation spot for many-if you really think it will dramatically change things, you underestimate people’s creativity.

  7. From a 2010 article: “[Parks & Recreation Assistant Director] Ford said two people were arrested for public intoxication in San Marcos city parks during Memorial Day weekend.”

    This is the “100 percent of arrests” Ken Bell is talking about. *Two* people over an entire major holiday weekend. It’s ridiculous to throw out statistics without putting them in context.

  8. WOW! I can already imagine the giant flotillas anchored in the middle of the river if this passes.

  9. Come on, we all know this isn’t going to stop people from bringing alcohol. They are just going to be sneaky about it. It will just encourage people to drink out of reusable containers instead of cans.

  10. It sounds interesting and I would like to hear the final proposal concerning banning along the river. There may be some merit to such a ban but I guess looking at the numbers from our neighbor to the south (N.B) would be a better predictor of what could happen here.

    Truth be told, I would rather have a ban of drinking in neighborhood parks over those parks along the river.

  11. I believe the biggest concern is the amount of trash in the river. And this problem is terrible and has been steadily becoming worse. And with what has happened in New Braunfels and their similar move toward alcohol, it is probably only going to get worse. Much worse I am afraid. I believe the logic here is probably that if someone can be forced to be responsible enough to keep their beer poured into a reusable cup they are less likely to drop it in the river. I’m not saying this is the solution to the problem, but the amount of litter in the river is getting unacceptably ridiculous and we need to do something about it. I wish people would just not be jackasses and throw their trash in the river but we see how well that is working…

  12. If trash is the problem, which I have my doubts, imagine how much easier it would be to simply pick up trash everytime one goes to the river, rather than spend time and money making laws. If we all just spent 5-10 minutes doing this when we go to the river, that problem is solved.


  13. Trash is an issue (for me) but the bigger issue is the behaviour and overcrowding at Rio Vista. Seems like groups come for the sole purpose of heavy drinking. Rio Vista is just too crowded. Maybe if you banned alcohol at RV and not further down by the ball fields it could shift some of the crowds away from RV. Better improvements are needed by the ballfields anyway – good stairs to get in and out, for example. This could be some big limestone blocks but on a more affordable scale. The homeless at Lion’s Club are also a blight and I’m ok to ban alcohol there as well. I don’t like take my kids to the river and have them exposed to dope smokers and over the top cussing.

  14. Ben: Trash is not a problem? I do not see how you can spend time in the river and not see all the trash in it. After a weekend during the summer the amount is ridiculous (and when my kid cuts himself on the trash someone was too lazy/irresponsible to dispose of properly I would say this is a problem that should concern more of us).

    It would not be a problem if everyone did actually pick up after themselves like you suggest but shamefully far too many arrogant cretins do not do so (sorry for the judgmental language, but people who trash our shared spaces really piss me off on many different levels, from the practical (my kid cutting his foot) to the philosophical (what, you think you’re allowed to impose yourself on someone else? Are you some sort of aristocrat? Screw you).

    Note, I am not saying that this is necessarily the solution to this issue, just guessing that this might be what they are looking at imposing a ban. And yes, I totally agree that self-policing is how a functional, healthy society works, when it does work. Would that we could see ourselves as part of a community where we should all do our part to work for common goals such as not trashing our river.

    Unfortunately people tend to act like asses too much of the time and do things like driving like a maniac while texting in school zones where our children are walking or throwing lit cigarettes out car window during droughts so we need laws to protect the rest of us from their foolishness…I believe this might be one of those cases…

  15. Perhaps the city should consider addressing the way that our community views and consumes alcohol in general rather than just in the city parks. People getting drunk and causing a problem at the park is not an isolated matter but is indicative of a greater social problem that exists. We should be encouraging people (if they choose to drink) to drink responsibly rather than making overly restrictive rules that infringe upon the freedom of those who have never caused harm with their alcohol consumption. Treating the symptoms rather than the disease will only leave us with new manifestations of the same old problems.

    PS: Mr. Moreland, a can assure that far more than two people have been arrested in the park from 1996 till now, which is the period of time in which 100% of arrests have been alcohol related. When we’re talking about 17-18 years of arrests that stat becomes pretty significant.

  16. “Perhaps the city should consider addressing the way that our community views and consumes alcohol in general rather than just in the city parks.” And how exactly does the city pull this rabbit out of its hat? Hopefully it would be more effective than our state and federal governments’ valiant attempt to encourage us to eat right and maybe put the remote down for a few minutes per day…

  17. I think the point is that the ban follows state laws that say its against the law to display alcohol in a public area. So if you are sitting and drinking out of cups, and not being disruptive, Im sure you will not have an issue. This will just give police a tool to make people leave legally.

  18. Keith, you misunderstood my point, i guess. I was suggesting that everyone pick up the trash that they see at the river, left by others, rather than waisting time getting upset and making laws.

    And yes, i go to the river everyday when its swimming weather, and yes, there’s always trash when i get there. But before i leave its cleaned within that spot. I said I have my doubts, because I think the push for this has allot more to do with the people at certain parks rather than the trash.

  19. Our Parks and Rec. folks do a great job keeping the parks clean and enjoyable. We, as a community, could do more to protect and preserve our parks and river, but I am against increasingly limiting personal rights. We have laws against public intoxication I support, but the efforts of the religious right “Christians”/Republicans to judge and eliminate or hide alcohol use is the “see no evil,” unworkable and lying approach to treating members and guests to our community.
    I came to a welcoming, open, loving, and accepting community almost 40 years ago, and if I have anything to do with it, we will remain that kind of community. We will not become an arm of the judgmental, “Christian”/Republican right wing fundamentalists, who wish to impose their beliefs and values on everyone else or put them in jail.
    I know that Ken Bell and the Park Rangers do much more than deal with alcohol related enforcement and are good people doing a difficult job, but Ken Bell and the Park Rangers are not moral judges, nor should they be expected to monitor and control what guests at the city parks drink.
    Why don’t they get the message after “three or four” times? Is that in the last five years? Could they be religious fanatics that don’t really care what San Marcos and the river means to the community and see an opportunity to judge and control personal behaviors?
    If I want to go to City Park, have a beer, and watch the river flow by, that should be my right. It is ridiculous to expect me to put it in a plastic cup or stand in the river.
    I wish more with could be done with awareness and education, when it comes to endangering and trashing our parks and river, but please leave the preaching to the preachers in the churches.

  20. Im completely suprised that the city council has not caved in and granted the river and the surrounding greenspaces to the university. then the university can own the headwaters, reduce the flow, and charge us to pump out of it by special contracts at a ‘special’ rate designed just for the city. give em time. the loss of revenue from alcohol related arrests should be the issue their are concerned with, thats lost revenue to a city with dollar signs in its eyes.

    san marcos is jumping on the band wagon as other cities have done to protect their waterways. they cannot vote to approve the building of apartments that may directly effect the river and say they are interested in whats best for the san marcos river. it cannot be both ways.

  21. I’d much prefer the police exercise their authority to arrest anyone seen littering or intoxicated in a public park.

    If these are the problems this ban is intended to address, and the community agrees they should be dealt with, then we should as a community stand behind the cops and let them bust folks for causing problems.

    A guy quietly laying on a blanket drinking a beer is a threat to no one but perhaps his liver. But someone who is loud or belligerent, or who can’t be bothered to dispose of his trash, should at the very least pay a fine that’s punitive enough to ensure those actions have unpleasant consequences — consequences that are at least as unpleasant as trying to enjoy the river next to a drunken fool.

  22. Yes Tarl, I agree. I also understood what you were trying to say Ben. I am at the river literally every day except Saturdays and holidays (too many foul-mouthed drunkards around for my taste then) during the summer and me and my kids clean up trash consistently. But, we are far too few since far too many do not have the same attitude as you and I do about keeping our shared spaces clean for everyone else. Its like reckless driving and speeding. We would not need laws if people would not do it, but because they do a law is justified. I was saying that perhaps this is the case here, that this is a law that might help alleviate what I, at least, think is a big problem that seems to be getting worse. From conversations I have had with people who know better than I what goes on with the city I get the impression that it is an attempt at addressing this problem that is pushing this concept, not a racist/classist attempt to get “those people” out of the river…not saying that there is not such prejudice alive in our community, but I’m not sure if it is valid in this case…I certainly hope not…

  23. I take ’em to Austin or Schlitterbahn. And then we buy a big steak dinner, do some shopping, fill the gas tank and otherwise spend our money.

  24. The problem isn’t alcohol. The problem is a general lack of consideration for others by river patrons. And since you can’t legislate manners, I doubt banning alcohol is going to solve anything. Until people start to act like they really give a darn about our town, our parks, and our river and stop crapping all over our parks and river with trash and trashy attitudes, things aren’t going to get any better.

    An alcohol ban will thin out the crowds somewhat, as it does seem that some people plan their lives around where they can and cannot get smashed, but to me alcohol use is just being scapegoated here.

  25. Sounds like an additional harrashment tool for Bell and his Rangers. Why punish all the responsible people who have a beer or so, because of a few idiots. You’d think there are enough laws (disturbing the peace, etc.) to take care of the bad characters without screwing everyone around.

  26. Those who like to have a beer while in the water just need to put the beer in a soda plastic bottle. That’s what we do. Nobody is offended this way.

  27. all sorts of beverage should be banned and not only alcohol. What about the pollution cased by that and the kids pissing all over the place. Additionally, food also should be banned as well.
    If you want to eat, go to a restaurant.
    If you want to drink, go to a bar.
    If you want to play with your kids, go to a playground.
    Let save our river !!!

  28. By the way, nobody should be exposed to the sun’s radiation. Remember your kids can get skin cancer.

  29. I am sorry Coppoletta,
    I was reading some of your comments and misspelled my own last name which is Capuletto. Sorry!I am fan and I have been voting for you.
    So, what do you think about this topic “Recreation board asks city council to ban alcohol in parks?”
    Don’t you think we need to save the river for all those folks polluting San Marcos?

  30. I agree with you Teri
    Those sinners have to be arrested arrest for littering or intoxicated in a public park. Jesus had never used a park to be intoxicated.
    By the way, this is a free country and I have the right to use any nick name I chose. OK!
    Lets save our river and keep the sinners away!

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