An experiment to allow booze on the beach in Penticton, B.C., bolstered the struggling tourism and hospitality sector during the pandemic, but caused garbage and safety issues, a staff report says.
After a successful one-month pilot program allowing the consumption of liquor in select parks and beaches along Okanagan Lake, city council passed a bylaw in June extending the pilot through the rest of the summer.
In July, a similar bylaw was passed for areas along Skaha Lake.
The program in both locations wrapped up on Oct. 15.
A staff report to council on Nov. 17 shows the city was ill-prepared for the influx of trash, noting parks staff said there was a large increase in scattered beverage containers in parks or discarded containers sitting at the base of overflowing garbage cans.
“Parks staff cited a need for additional recycling facilities stating garbage and recycling demands far exceeding the existing infrastructure and capacity,” staff wrote in the report.
Tourists were also confused about the liquor consumption boundaries and the hours when public drinking was allowed.
“Better signage and delineation of areas as well as enforcement is recommended by Parks staff,” the report said.
From a policing perspective, the Penticton RCMP detachment said allowing public drinking did not add “any significant strain” to police resources, but 80 police files were created over the course of the summer, none of which resulted in criminal charges.
There were 35 police files related to liquor consumption in public, including 11 incidents of causing a disturbance, two assault cases, five noise complaints, one impaired operation of a motor vehicle, six incidents of intoxication, two of mischief, and one each of uttering threats and weapons possession.
The majority of the safety issues occurred near Okanagan Lake, which is at the heart of the tourism district in Penticton. None of the files were in the Skaha lakefront area.
Bylaw officers took an education-and-complaint-based approach to enforcement, and also noted issues about overflowing garbage and public confusion about the boundary zones.
“Bylaw staff witnessed many people not observing the 8 p.m. deadline and acts of public urination,” the report said. “More public education and signage is recommended if this is to occur again next year and beyond.”
The tourism and alcohol production industries supported the program, stating the initiative “enhanced and elevated the overall Penticton experience.”
A letter from a consortium of Penticton craft breweries said the program promoted the local craft beer and wine industry.
“We appreciated that people could embrace the outdoor attractions we are so proud of in Penticton, all while being able to responsibly enjoy food and alcohol beverages as part of the experience,” the breweries wrote in the letter.
“We believe this initiative should be supported and extended into 2021.”
The city’s tourism marketing arm, Travel Penticton, also penned a letter in support of the program.
“The Travel Penticton board supports the continuation of this initiative along with policing of the consumption areas to ensure responsible use,” executive director Thom Tischik and chair Barb Verkerk said.
It appears city staff believes the positives outweigh the negatives and recommend that city council approves the crafting of a similar bylaw and program for the 2021 tourism season.
North Vancouver and Port Coquitlam were the only other B.C. municipalities to allow the consumption of alcohol in designated public spaces last summer.