Council holds off on alcohol ban in parks

Council holds off on alcohol ban in parks
Encinitas City Council holds off on banning alcohol use at it community parks. Photo by Tony Cagala

ENCINITAS — People enjoying a cold one or a bottle of wine at one of the 15 Encinitas Parks where it is allowed will still be able to do so, as the City Council held off on asking staff to bring back a ban for their consideration.

The council voted unanimously to bring the issue back at a later date to allow the Sheriff’s Department to return with statistics and information on alcohol-related incidents at the city parks.

But at least three of the council members were skeptical about the need for a ban, arguing that the community doesn’t have a big problem with alcohol consumption at the parks where it is allowed.

“I hesitate when we get into legislative remedies for something we haven’t identified as a problem,” said Councilman Mark Muir, after Parks and Recreation Director Lisa Rudloff said that the department hadn’t received any complaints about drinking at the parks.

Muir was joined by Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who said she felt that the prohibition would penalize responsible drinkers in addition to those abusing the rules.

“My fear is that we are prohibiting a vast number of responsible drinkers from having a glass of wine and a beer at the park,” she said.

Councilmembers Tony Kranz and Lisa Shaffer were in favor of the prohibition’s passage, citing consistency of rules at all of the parks. Shaffer said her biggest concern was drinking at the new Encinitas Community Park, where hundreds of kids play both on playground equipment and organized sports, a venue she believes is inappropriate for drinking.

“Passive use parks are different than one that has organized sports and playground equipment,” Shaffer said.

The council’s discussion followed a brief public hearing during which three people spoke in favor of the ban and one man spoke against it, arguing that it would limit personal freedom.

Denis Puscas said he and a group of friends have met Friday evenings near sunset for a decade at Orpheus Park, where they drink wine out of plastic glasses without incident. He said the group prefers the serenity of the park over the downtown bar scene.

“I think harm of freedom is probably as much to do with the benefits or inequities of alcohol being exposed to children, they are exposed to it at the homes and they are exposed to it on television,” Puscas said. “It isn’t something that I am advocating for, but I am advocating for personal freedoms for the taxpaying people of our park.”

One woman who spoke in favor of the measure said that she, like Shaffer, was concerned with Encinitas Community Park, where she said the drinking is out of hand.

“It seemed like every person had a beer in their hand,” Katie Poponyak said.  “I think it is getting out of hand.”

Had the city council approved the measure, staff would have returned with an ordinance that would prohibit beer and wine at all of the city parks except for permits for moderate- or large-scale events.

Currently, Encinitas prohibits beer and wine at four of the city’s 19 parks — Viewpoint, Glen Park, Ecke Sports Park and Cardiff-by-the-Sea Sports Park — public city beaches and beach overlooks unless they have a permit. Hard liquor is prohibited at all locations.

According to a city staff report, staff revisited its current code in the wake of the opening of the Encinitas Community Park, which is not specifically mentioned in the current ordinance. City parks staff said they have received special-event permit requests to hold events at the park that would include alcohol sales.

City staff researched the ordinances of 11 other cities and found that 10 of them banned alcohol at all parks except if a party applied for a special events permit. The eleventh city banned alcohol outright.

Rudloff said at the council meeting that a blanket ban would allow for consistency for Sheriff’s deputies, who often work in multiple cities that contract with the department, as well as eliminate drinking at parks that are in close proximity to schools.

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