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

March 20th, 2012
San Marcos council votes to ban alcohol in city parks

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

New rules on tap

An ordinance approved on the first of two votes Tuesday night creates these changes to rules for San Marcos parks and natural areas:

• Makes the consumption or display of alcoholic beverages on park land prohibited. Provides for access and egress to the river with a “no open container” rule;
• Includes refined definitions for the codes;
• Makes provisions of all park codes apply in Natural areas and Green Spaces owned by the city;
• Includes disruptive conduct provisions for programs approved by the department operating on city parks areas;
• Increases the minimum fine amount for littering in the San Marcos River;
• Prohibits smoking and tobacco products in play areas and athletic fields;
• Clears up miscellaneous provisions on posting of temporary restrictions;
• Authorizes the Park Director to establish rules for use of BBQ pits;
• Prohibits the use of Styrofoam materials in the parks and river;
• Adds the possession of certain fishing spears and gigs and allows parks programming exemptions;
• Prohibits the possession of alcohol on any dam owned by the city;
• Requires the securing of lids and covers to containers in the San Marcos River

STAFF REPORT

The San Marcos City Council voted tonight to ban alcohol in city parks, including the strand of public space alongside the San Marcos River.

Part of a larger package of new parks rules, the alcohol ban passed 6-1 with council member Jude Prather casting the sole vote against. He said he thinks the rule trespasses on residents’ personal freedom.

“I just can’t get behind saying you can’t have a beer by the river,” Prather said.

During more than an hour of discussion at their Tuesday meeting, council members Ryan Thomason and Kim Porterfield also voiced reservations but ended up voting for the law along with Mayor Daniel Guerrero and council members Shane Scott, John Thomaides and Wayne Becak.

“It’s a tool, essentially, to have the ability to ask someone to cease and desist” disruptive or dangerous behavior, said City Marshal Ken Bell who heads the river rangers force.

The ban is supported by the San Marcos River Foundation and the Lion’s Club, which operates a summertime tube rental business at City Park.

New rules also give the city’s parks director the authority to ban barbeque grills and Styrofoam cups. The ordinance must be approved on a second reading before it becomes law.

The city cannot ban alcohol possession and consumption on the river itself which belongs, under the Texas constitution, to the state, not the city.

Download

» New parks and natural areas ordinance [pdf]

NOTE: This is a breaking news story. Check back later for expanded coverage of this and other San Marcos City Council stories.

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37 thoughts on “San Marcos council votes to ban alcohol in city parks

  1. Yeah that was interesting, now why don’t report on the bigger issue of Hill side II being approved, or have you banned such reporting since you are now a writing staff of one and don’t like the issues that over 2,000 San Martians support.

    This is just a “red cup ordinance” on all accounts. If you conceal and don’t misbehave, no problem ~ you bring a case of beer to the river so it can be seen, only then do you have a problem ~ kind of a non issue unless you like to drink cases of booze at the river and start fights or disturbances.

  2. So, if you get in the river with an unopened beer, open it on the river, drink it, and get out of the river, with the empty, does that violate the open container law? I think the Texsa Penal Code defines open container as:

    (1) “Open container” means a bottle, can, or other receptacle that contains any amount of alcoholic beverage and that is open, that has been opened, that has a broken seal, or the contents of which are partially removed.

    Since an empty is not really empty, I suspect it is an open container. If so, I’d look for more empties floating down the river.

  3. You don’t have to get in the river to drink. Law enforcement flat out said last night that if you pour your alcohol into a cup they won’t bother you, they have bigger fish to fry. They want to nail the people who bring cases of beer to the river before they have the chance to get hammered and get in a fight or cause a disturbance.

    Council wanted to take the word “consumption” out of display and consumption, but for legal reasons that would limit law enforcement in ticketing or arresting people who are causing problems.

    The whole alcohol part of this package seems kind of ridiculous to me. The fact that council calls it the red cup ordinance says it all. The river is so low these days you can set your lawn chairs and coolers down in it at most parks, so I’m sure this will become more and more appealing and more cans will wind up in the river, as well as more red cups since they take flight when the wind picks up much more easily than cans.

    Hi Brad ~ looking forward to your coverage of Hillside II.

  4. Melissa,

    With all due respect, that is not what I heard at all. That was what I heard when the council first discussed this two weeks ago but not last night.

    Last night, I heard Kim Porterfield ask if you’re sitting on the bank, minding your own business, drinking a beer out of an unmarked cup, would you be subject to citation or arrest. The answer given by the city marshal was yes. They did say, as a practical matter, that they probably had bigger fish to fry but that you’d still be in violation.

    I also heard say Kim say she was worried it would be applied unfairly (read: more aggressively on Mexicans) and Ryan say he could support a ban on display but not on consumption. Then they both voted for the ban. Spineless. What gives?

  5. Money bags, I’ll have to watch it online, but I swear I heard the Marshall say that they wouldn’t bother you unless you were obviously very intoxicated…I could be wrong, it was a LONG meeting and I was interested in a lot of it and have tons of facts swimming in my head this morning 🙂

  6. Melissa, Please do watch and let me know what you hear. John T and the council call it the red cup ordinance because they have an interest in downplaying how significant it is. But that red cup thing isn’t going to stand up in court. It’s the letter of the law that counts.

    I watched on TV last night and it was clear the council had no idea what was in the ordinance. They were going on Ken Bell’s representation. He’s a good guy but — good God — this council is about as dense as bedrock. Can’t y’all even be bothered to read these big laws before you pass them?

    (To his credit, Ken Bell said flat out that if you’re drinking in a city park, you’ll be breaking the law and in danger of getting a ticket or hauled to jail. But that seemed to go in one ear and out the other.)

  7. I think Rio Vista will be less popular and that will result in less litter. I also think sober people are less likely to litter. Hopefully Rio Vista will become more family friendly. I don’t see why they had to keep in the word consumption though.

  8. Brad, How bout a transcription of this discussion?

    This fall, we’re gonna be having a big talk on: What did the Council know and when did they know it?

    Hopefully, Thomason, Thomaides and Porterfield — who all showed signs of “getting it” and know how far-reaching this is — will search their hearts before this comes back up.

    I’m sure many good people support this for the right reasons but there is an ugly, ugly side to this that has everything to do with keeping the Mexicans in line. Having a mayor with a last name that ends in a vowel can’t cover up for this.

  9. I call BS on that Money Bags. It’s about keeping the drunken louts in line. I’m sure there are plenty of great Mexican families who are just as uncomfortable at Rio Vista as I (anglo) am.

  10. I’m sure you’re right SMsince95 that plenty of families of all races aren’t cool with some of the atmosphere. I’m not trying to start a race war but you’re flat wrong … there is a definite racial undertone to this whole thing. Maybe the Mercury can look at the number of citations and arrests made by River Rangers by race

  11. The Rangers would be hard pressed to arrest an anglo since they make up about 5% of the population down there on most days. You may not be TRYING to start a race war but you’re sure providing all the ingredients. You’ve basically called 4 of our council racist. I think you’re wrong. Do you think things are fine the way they are at Rio Vista? I don’t – litter, over-use and vulgarity were common-place. Hopefully it will better.

  12. I’m not calling anyone racist and especially not the council members. I just think these are kind of unspoken prejudices and cultural differences that come to the forefront when you get down to the nitty gritty of law enforcement.

  13. Just because race might play a role doesn’t give us grounds to ignore the situation altogether. Do you ever read the police blotter during the summer? There IS a problem. Sure there are many cultural differences between many folks in this town, but that doesn’t give people grounds to dump their charcoal, diapers, and trash on the banks, not does it give anyone the right to act like a fool and yell and fight in the presence of children and families. It needs to be dealt with and this, in my opinion, is a fair way to do so and it applies to all citizens, and all parks.

    Does anyone know if dog waste is considered in this new set of rules?

  14. You have to read what the law says and ignore Ken Bell’s assurances on how he will enforce it. It means no beer or alcohol in the parks or any green space, red cup or not. To point out that the law allows the enforcer to single out people who look different than him is not to say those who passed the law are racists. They just thought the government should be bigger to make us all safer at the river, and their benevolence paved the way for later tyranny.

  15. You’re right there is a problem. And you’re right that I don’t know what the solution is. I’m just thinking that giving sub-police force of river rangers the arsenal to haul anyone off isn’t the way to go. I thinking banning display but not consumption might be something to look at.

    I’m also not convinced that they can’t use PI and disorderly laws already in place to curb this behavior.

    I just know Ken Bell is always looking to expand his turf and authority. I don’t think its sinister; I just think its what ambitious bureaucrats do because they think if they have more authority, they can make the world a better place.

    The ideal situation would be for communities and families to be invested enough to police their own but that seems a little Polly Annish.

  16. I agree with you money bags, and was thinking that last night as I was listening to it all. Yes for sure once somone is drunk, PI laws would apply regardless. My understanding is that they want to stop situations before they lead to problems (i.e. if you have a ton of beer you get a ticket or arrested, and then you won’t be able to beat anyone up).

    But now that I am reading what skeptical has to say I’m thinking a little differently about it. Blind trust that an officer won’t arrest you if you are being low key and using a cup IS pretty silly. I guess I just NEVER see them doing ANYTHING on the river, and I’m there a lot, that I figured I never see them anyways and if they drive by and I have a cup they’ll won’t bother me.

  17. What was funny to me was that Police Chief Howard Williams was in the room and no one from the council ever asked him what he thought.

  18. I was actually amazed at the statistics quoted for arrests last year. Did I understand correctly that only 40 -odd people were arrested all season for disturbances and PI?

    Based on the behavior I’ve witnessed at the river, seems to me like it should be higher.

    Also, some one needs to get the University on board with regulations concerning grills etc, because that little bit of property below the Saltgrass was *hammered* with traffic last summer. The trash and number of grills were ridiculous, and I can see it getting much much worse if there isn’t better enforcement of the University’s own littering, drinking and dog laws. Smack at the headwaters, and trash travels downstream!

  19. The thing that worries me is that while everyone was worrying about the booze, they also snuck in potential bans on styrofoam containers and BBQ grills. I don’t care too much whether I drink when I go to the park, but I do enjoy grilling a burger and having my cooler nearby stocked with sodas or something.

    I can’t help thinking that this is because our local law enforcement is either incapable or unwilling to enforce laws that are already on the books…..

  20. “Mwxicans?” There are mexicans in San Marcos ! Well lets send them back to “Mexico!” The Americans can stay !

  21. my understanding is that they are just banning additional grills and the ones that already exist will stay.

    I think the styrofoam rule is great. Time to invest in a more durable cooler!

  22. So 500 people will be lining up to use one of the 2 or 3 “pre-installed” grills that they have there? No thanks.

    Maybe this is a precursor to making people get “picnic permits” and PAY to use the grills like they do down in New Braunfels…..

  23. We are all gonna be illegals now standing in the middle of a river waiting for the cops to leave so we can get out of the water with a beer.

  24. As a drinker and non-disturber, I’m surprised that that this hasn’t come about sooner based on Rio Vista. The sad thing is though that you never see a Ranger or any law enforcemnt at Rio Vista trying to keep the peace. What makes me think that they will do their job now, even with the booze ban?

  25. @Ranch Hand, I agree I haven’t seen much supervision at Rio Vista. Maybe a ranger every now and then. But, to be honest, I used to go there a lot during busy weekends about a year ago and really never did see any major problems. Of course things may have changed since I’ve moved. If you’re going to enforce this, then you’re gonna have to budget some overtime for officers and rangers. But, if you’re gonna spend money on increased law enforcement, why not just use them to send the knuckleheads causing problems to the drunk tank and leave those who just want to relax by the river with beer and friends alone?

  26. I’m confused. How do current PI laws not cover what this new law supposedly is ‘only’ intended fix. 200,000 visitors a year with 40-70 something arrests a year? Sounds like a huge problem…not.

    Race has something to do with it. But how are desperate “this isn’t a party school anymore” politics playing into it too? The university has something to do with this.

    I drink every weekend at the river during summers. I don’t create a problem. If I’m publicly intoxicated and causing a scene, arrest me. If not, leave me alone. Why do we need a new vague rule to allow rangers and police to ‘use their discretion’ against me, when they haven’t been able to enforce rules well in the past?

    The vague promises of leniency are not promising.

  27. OK kids, here is the contest. You can guess over or under. Will somebody get tasered for cooking a hot dog in an unauthorized BBQ device before or after May 1st.

  28. It seems like a simple supply/demand equation to me. The supply of river front park land is limited, the demand is great so we get to raise the price. The price to get in is that now you must behave yourself. Seems fair to me.

  29. 40-70 ARRESTS. every time an officer is called out there doesn’t necessarily mean someone is arrested. those are only the extreme cases where the situation is out of hand or no resolution can be reached.

    i agree with Smsince95, it is supply and demand.
    would you rather there be a head count limit on who gets on the river, which was also once proposed to control traffic? no. so why are you complaining? people are acting as if this is going to disrupt their entire life. if you don’t cause a problem, the law is not aimed at you, so keep doing what your doing and be discrete and behave yourself and no one will care. worst case scenario, you get a warning. oh no.

    if you are that concerned about being able to drink your alcohol out of the can that it came in, there’s a place for people like that — called Don’s Fish Camp. Is that what we want our parks to look like? Don’s wasn’t always that bad…it got progressively worse.

    Plus, with the New Braunfels rules being applied, we have to balance it out with our own rules or else we will see the same thing the Comal does.

    i, for one, am excited about being able to take my children to the falls on a weekend afternoon!

  30. Allowing a group of 7 people to ban a citizen to a segregated area DOES disrupt my life Aquafresh.

    Worrying about getting a ticket for something you have a right to do and being forced to feel like you have to hide a beer is absurd.

    You think of it as a minor inconvenience imposed on your fellow citizen to force them to purchase a plastic cup.

    I think of it as a first step to controlling all behavior through bans without citizens voting.

    I am tired of having to worry about what other ideas to reduce Liberty and Freedom these so called leaders have up their sleeves.

  31. Solution (will take years to realize) -stop procreating. as sm95 pointed out- too many people, too little space.

    I agree with ranchhand- rangers/cops werent there to enforce PI or littering , etc laws before. how will this change? will rangers/cops all of a sudden find $/ manpower because of this law?

  32. There is one part of evolution that truly makes sense, survival of the fittest, playing in a world near you soon….. All people have rights…both sides of the coin here, no doubt.

  33. Spineless San Martians voted in Becak and deusheroni Thomades. City council is just getting started. Next no more free parking after 5.

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