The City of Penticton will allow drinking in public spaces. The decision was made Tuesday, June 2, 2020 in a virtual city council meeting. (BC Ale Trail photo)

Pilot project approved: Penticton to allow alcohol in outdoor spaces

For almost two hours, council debated the proposed pilot project, before eventually passing it 4-2

Drinking alcohol in Penticton’s public spaces will be allowed starting, June 3.

During a June 2 meeting, City of Penticton councillors voted to allow the public to drink alcohol in designated areas only.

This one-month pilot project will serve as a test and includes several areas along the Okanagan Lake waterfront.

For almost two hours, council debated the proposed pilot project. The motion was finalized with a vote of 4-2, with Couns. Katie Robinson and Judy Sentes opposed.

The pilot project will take place from June 3 to July 4, noon to 8 p.m.

The originally proposed areas allowing consumption of alcohol included from the SS Sicamous, along Okanagan Beach (excluding the walkway) to Rotary Park, including Gyro Park, Okanagan Lake Park and Marina Way Park.

This was later amended to exclude Gyro Park and SS Sicamous Park, and start at Power St. Council also requested weekly updates from staff.

A proposal by Coun. Robinson to postpone the start of the pilot project for two weeks, to allow for more public consultation, was defeated. In debate Coun. Julius Bloomfield opposed to the delay and cited the need to start the pilot project now as well as obtain objective data.

If things go “sideways” and bylaw and RCMP receive more calls, the city’s director of development services Blake Laven explained the council can cancel the pilot.

Mayor of Penticton, John Vassilaki, who owns a local liquor store, excused himself from the discussion due to conflict of interest.

The idea to lift the restrictions on public drinking was first proposed by Coun. Campbell Watt in a previous council meeting.

Watt’s reasoning for the lift on restrictions is to support local breweries, wineries, distilleries and restaurants while also allowing people to enjoy food and drinks in an outdoor setting amid COVID-19 restrictions.

Before voting, councillors discussed the proposal extensively and were divided on the topic. Some highlighted concerns and others noted it as a positive addition to the town.

Some said there is a need to update “archaic” liquor laws and allow people to enjoy a drink on the beach.

Coun. Robinson had several concerns, including that this could result in increased strain on police and bylaw.

Coun. Bloomfield said there has been a generational shift in how people drink, and that the cultural atmosphere is much less problematic. He said he’s willing to give it a try.

Coun. Campbell Watt was in favour of the proposal.

“I think what we have right now is an opportunity to allow responsible adults to be responsible adults,” said Watt.

Coun. Frank Regehr was in favour but highlighted the need to divide the beach into designated drinking, and non-drinking areas.

Coun. Sentes said this is ‘not the time’ to bring this forward, as they already have enough on their plates.

“I don’t think it (alcohol) has a place there (beaches),” she said, suggesting people who want to drink should stick to places that serve it, like restaurants.

Gyro Park was eliminated without much debate as councillors noted it is a place where families gather.

The city received comments in support from residents and the business community but also concerns from the public health perspective by Interior Health, and Pathways, as well as concerns with minors, litter, and addictions.

Beginning June 10, for two weeks, the city will start to obtain public feedback on how the new project is working.

The findings of this public input will be presented to council for a decision on July 7.

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