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Council Approves Open Container Ordinance on First Reading

With council members Barbara Heller and Marc Levine absent, the San Rafael City Council approved the police department's expansion of the city's open container law.

The City Council approved the first reading of the 's proposal to expand the city's open container ordinance, allowing for police officers to cite anyone with an alcoholic beverage on city-owned, leased or controlled property. 

The ordinance amends several provisions of the current municipal code and hopes to improve conditions for downtown businesses, where people might congregate to drink in parking lots or on sidewalks. The law will also serve as a preventative measure for public intoxication. 

"We've tried to find something that will fit with our community," Lt. Ralph Pata said at the meeting. 

Before the Council approved the ordinance, police officers could cite anyone for possession of an open container if he is drinking 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).

The new amendments will prohibit the possession of open containers to all city-owned, leased or controlled public property, including , the Falkirk Mansion, any community center and any city street, sidewalk, pathway, lane, garage, parking structure or plaza. It will also prohibit possession of an open container in any private parking lot or landscaped areas where the property owner posts signs discouraging this behavior. 

City staff modeled the amendments after open container laws in nearby cities, such as Richmond, Concord, Santa Clara and Davis.  “We’re really just expanding the scope of what we already have,”

Mayor Gary Phillips supported the ordinance, but warned of some of the ambiguities, such as Fridays Art Walk where people might carry cups of wine or beer between galleries.  

Police Chief Diana Bishop, who as absent at the Monday's meeting,to prevent those who are drinking responsibly (not in public or a private parking lot) from being cited.

“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.”

Police officials also hope that the new ordinance will prevent the number of public intoxication arrests, most of which happens in the downtown San Rafael area, and where individuals suspected of drinking could become belligerent when confronted. 

"Jail doesn't solve problems," Pata said. "We're trying to curb the violence that goes along with [public intoxication]."

Mary July 21, 2012 at 08:43 PM
I don't know if this new law is the answer but after twenty years of living near downtown SR, there definitely has been a dramatic change in the area. This week, as I drove to 4th street through our residential neighborhood, I saw a man urinating on a tree right in front of someone's home, his duffel bag and other items scatted across the sidewalk; last week, a neighbor one street over, told of another man who had vomited on the front lawn. I support services for mentally challenged citizens and families who have fallen on hard times, but the increased vagrancy are making our downtown and residences a much less desirable and safe place.

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