An agenda item at the Aug. 19 Oakdale City Council meeting on a proposal to prohibit city park drinking brought out public comments by several residents, some spirited, in support of the ban.
Alcohol use at the parks, combined with the city homeless situation, has raised the ire of several residents as well as been the feature of many Leader articles over the past few months.
Citizens complaining of harassment, public drunkenness, and conditions left by the street people have led to the city removing downtown benches, petition drives, and repeated calls to the police department – who state their hands are tied due to no city ordinance banning alcohol in the frequented areas or city parks.
Oakdale is one of the only cities in the Central Valley that does not ban alcohol in its parks.
Councilman Don Petersen proposed the possibility of an alcohol ban with a “fee-free” permit process allowing citizens to have a no charge one-day alcohol use permit for events hosted at the park.
Other council members had concerns about putting another law on the books.
“I think a lot of the community would like to see how this goes,” said Petersen.
Public comment was undisputed in support of an all-out alcohol ban, permit or not, citing frustration over the city’s inaction in the past.
“I just don’t see why you just don’t do it,” said Burchell Hill resident and neighborhood watch captain Mike Hancock. “Give the chief (of police) what he needs to do his job and enforce the laws and make parks safer.”
Hancock said he has been part of a petition effort to ban park drinking and said there has been very little resistance to the ban.
“You can be cited for drinking on the street, in front of the community center, but you can drink at the parks with children around,” said Hancock.
Kerry O’Donnell, owner of Diamond K Saddlery, offered some detail as she described harassment and the need to recently call the police due to an intoxicated subject who came to her store from nearby Wood Park.
O’Donnell claimed that the city was making itself attractive for the transient population by not banning park drinking and “chasing away the bums and hobos.”
Jeff Goeschen, owner of the Yogurt Station, expressed concern that by not dealing with an obvious behavior problem that it was giving a signal to kids in the park that the conduct was accepted.
“No way would other cities tolerate to the levels we have it now,” Goeschen said.
Other speakers told personal stories of their dealings with intoxicated and belligerent individuals at or near the parks. All supported an alcohol ban as a start to the increasing problem they wanted to see dealt with forcefully.
“These things happen because they have no place to go or no one telling them to go somewhere else,” said Greg Cobb, owner of Plaza 131.
Petersen asked Police Chief Lester Jenkins, who unsuccessfully went before the council last year asking for laws to be enacted banning the park drinking, if the ordinance would help him.
Jenkins said an ordinance would give him some resources to contact and remove the individuals.
“This is my problem now and after they will still be my problem,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said that despite the concern with enacting more laws, an ordinance was needed to make the parks safer and more “livable.”
“We have laws that keep people from doing things now that work,” said Jenkins, pointing to ordinances prohibiting shooting in the parks, driving on park grounds, and loud music. “The parks would be a lot worse without these laws we’re able to currently enforce.”
Despite overwhelming community demand and a police chief’s recommendation, some council members still expressed concern about the proposed ban.
Councilman Mike Brennan said he was concerned about the amount of overtime that would be needed in processing the arrests or jail transportation.
He described the problem as “Whack-a-mole” where the subjects move from location to location. Brennan said he would like to see the police have the capability to arbitrarily and remotely turn on park sprinklers to aggravate the individuals in an attempt to get them to relocate.
Councilman Farrell Jackson said banning alcohol would be a fix-all since much of the behavior described wasn’t alcohol related.
“Because of a few, this has the potential to make law-breakers out of law-abiders,” Jackson said, describing how someone on a Saturday afternoon may want to go the park and drink as part of a “spur-of-the-moment” get together.
Jackson suggested that if an ordinance was enacted it would include only the downtown parks of Dorada, Meyer, and Wood parks along with the museum grounds.
Mayor Pat Paul said her position was she was not willing to compromise and wanted an alcohol ban at parks city wide.
In a related item, Councilman Tom Dunlop proposed looking into Porta-Potties for some of the parks due to business owners and citizens complaining of the “homeless and drunkards” relieving themselves in public areas.
Citizens again spoke against the idea.
Paul also said she was against the idea as it was enabling the conduct and would be an attraction to those they were trying to sway from frequenting the area.
“It’s a behavior problem and I don’t want to encourage it,” Paul said.
The council decided to bring both the proposals to a committee for recommendation on further action.