You may very soon be able to crack a beer or sip some wine at a public park in Coquitlam.
On Monday (June 20), city council gave three readings to the proposed Responsible Consumption of Liquor in Public Places bylaw that, once formally approved, will start this summer. Final bylaw reading is expected on July 4.
If adopted, staff said the bylaw will apply to more than 100 city-owned recreational properties, including Spirit and Buchanan squares by city hall.
However, council heard in its 45-minute discussion, drinking will be banned on the 22 properties owned, leased or licensed to the city by School District 43 (SD43).
Some shared sites include Bramblewood, Smiling Creek and Nestor elementaries.
Coun. Trish Mandewo was the sole opponent, stating concerns about enforcement.
She said once the bylaw is on the books, it’ll be hard to change. And Mandewo said she would have preferred Coquitlam run a pilot program first like other Lower Mainland municipalities have done over the past two years to test their policies.
Port Coquitlam started its public consumption program in 2020 at seven parks; it now has 10 parks under its bylaw, but also a 10-metre no-go zone near playgrounds.
Coquitlam city staff plan to report back to council about its program in May 2023.
The move to allow public drinking in parks comes after Coun. Teri Towner raised the issue at an April 25 meeting.
At a townhall meeting last year, Mayor Richard Stewart said the city would have difficulties managing alcohol in parks.
But, Lanny Englund, Coquitlam’s general manager of parks, recreation, culture and facilities, wrote in his report that COVID-19 "highlighted the important role public spaces play in the community’s physical and mental health. These highly valued areas provide a safe and welcoming place for residents to gather and socialize."
He said city staff scanned what other municipalities did for public consumption in their parks, and are recommending open sites versus specific areas within parks.
If OK’d, staff will place signs around Coquitlam parks to ensure people know that drinking is permitted during regular daylight hours.
As well, city monitoring will be beefed up at parks and waste/recycling bins will be emptied more often, Englund said.
RCMP and the city have received few complaints about public drinking in the past.
"I appreciate where we’re going with this," Coun. Craig Hodge said. "I think the key is in the title, 'Responsible Consumption.' There are still going to be some parents concerned about people sitting and openly drinking at a tot lot while they watch their kids playing."
Hodge also raised concerns about outdoor sporting events where liquor will soon be allowed, believing "it only takes a few people to ruin it for everybody."
Still, other councillors said alcohol is served at games in community arenas and rinks.
Towner said, with the upcoming summer concerts, "people just want to have a glass of wine while they listen to the music. People don't want to break the rules. They don't want to feel like they're breaking the law. In my experience, it will still be discreet."
But, if the rules are bent too much, she said, "Coquitlam residents will lose the privilege."
Coun. Brent Asmundson said limitations on drinking in public places don't work.
In Europe, where he has travelled, "they don't have the restrictions on and they don’t have the problems…. Are there going to be stupid people with alcohol? Yeah, sure. It's going to be happen but let's not brand everybody and hurt everybody else."