San Rafael Police Chief Diana Bishop and city officials are hoping to expand the city’s open container ordinance to allow police officers to cite anyone with an open alcoholic beverage on private property.
By expanding the existing ordinance regarding open containers, Bishop hopes to prevent more incidents of public intoxication and improve San Rafael’s downtown area, where many public intoxication arrests occur.
“There are places to drink and we want to do what we can to stop incidents before they get worse and become a public intoxication arrest,” she said.
City officials are still drafting the ordinance and a preliminary copy has not been released to the public.
Under the current municipal code, anyone can be cited for possession of an open container in front of a liquor store or in a public park, and for consuming alcohol in private parking lots and on public property, like sidewalks (unless at a temporary event).
“As it is right now, an officer can see someone with an open container on the street, but he can’t cite them until he sees them take a drink,” Bishop said.
The new ordinance would allow officers to issue citations for anyone with an open container on city-owned or leased property, such as the Court Street Plaza on Fourth Street, according to Deputy City Attorney Eric Davis, who has been working with Bishop on the law. It would also allow private property owners to voluntarily put up signs that discourage open containers, not just alcohol consumption, in their parking lots.
Davis and Bishop used ordinances from Santa Clara, Davis, San Mateo and Sunnyvale as blueprints for the new ordinance. “We’re really just expanding the scope of what we already have,” Davis said.
People transporting unsealed alcoholic beverages to and from their cars for parties or barbecues could also be cited under the new ordinance. Bishop said to prevent those who are drinking responsibly (not in public or a private parking lot) from being cited, police officers will determine incidents on a case-by-case basis.
“Police officers get a lot of discretion,” she said. “Letter of the law, [people transporting unsealed alcoholic containers] could be cited. But spirit of the law, they would not if they are not intending of drinking on public property.”
The ordinance is expected to go before the City Council this summer, where there will be a public hearing before the Council votes.
In January, after being hit by a car when crossing the street against a red light. Police found that the man has a blood alcohol level was at 0.28 at the time of the collision.
“He was highly intoxicated, and that was an example of something that could’ve been prevented,” Bishop said.