Norwalk Forgos Ballot, Drafts Ban on Drinking in Parks

Times Staff Writer

The City Council has asked for an ordinance outlawing the drinking of beer and wine in open areas of the city's 13 parks.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to direct City Atty. Steven L. Dorsey to draft the ordinance for consideration at its Aug. 1 meeting.

The proposed law would allow drinking of beer and wine by permit in park buildings for events such as wedding receptions, but it would no longer be legal in open park areas. It is already illegal to drink hard liquor in parks, said Ernie Garcia, deputy city manager of community services.

The council members and other city officials said they hope the ban will drastically reduce incidents of rude behavior caused by drinking, behavior which reportedly has driven some families from Norwalk's parks. Residents also have complained about broken beer and wine bottles littering the parks.

"It's a pretty good-sized problem," said Councilman Mike Mendez, a strong supporter of the ban. "There are a lot of people drinking, a lot of under-age people drinking."

Sheriff's Department officials say they do not keep statistics on drinking-related crime in Norwalk parks. But Sgt. John Beaver said fights and vandalism are the most common crimes related to drinking in the parks.

Banned in Other Cities

Beaver said Southeast-area residents go to Norwalk when they want to drink at picnics or other park events. Bellflower, Cerritos, Downey, Lakewood, La Mirada, Santa Fe Springs and Whittier, for example, have banned drinking in open park areas. Some of those cities allow drinking by permit in park buildings.

Testimony at Tuesday night's meeting was divided on whether there should be a ban on drinking in Norwalk parks. Offenders will be subject to citations for misdemeanors, Garcia said.

The council initially considered putting an advisory measure on the November ballot to query voters about the ban.

Resident Kenneth Myers urged the council to move forward without the ballot measure. He said he was riding his bike with his son in Gerdes Park recently when he saw families leave because youths were drinking.

"I'd like to see the parks given back to us," said Myers, who Tuesday night was named to the city's Parks and Recreation Commission.

More than 180 residents signed petitions requesting the ban. The Southeast Chapter of the United Neighborhoods Organization and the Norwalk-La Mirada Council of PTAs also supported the ban.

But nearly 50 residents signed letters requesting the advisory vote.

Isabel Verver, a Norwalk resident who sits on the city's Rental Mediation Commission, told the council that social drinking in the parks would pose no problem if existing laws against public drunkenness and drinking by minors were more strictly enforced.

Sheriff's Commander Backs It

"As citizens we have a right to vote," Verver said.

But the council voted to draft the ordinance to impose the drinking ban after the proposal received the support of Capt. Ronald Black, commander of the sheriff's Norwalk substation.

Black said deputies have arrested minors for drinking in Norwalk parks, but that selective enforcement is difficult. It is easier for deputies to enforce a total ban rather than have to check whether a drinker may be underage, Black said.

"(The ordinance) would allow effective supervision in the parks," Black said.

The city's Parks and Recreation Commission recently held two public forums on the issue. The commission recommended a total ban of alcoholic beverages, even in park buildings. Councilman Robert E. White said he would support a total ban, but received no support from his council colleagues.

Garcia, the deputy city manager of community services, said drinking in park buildings does not pose much of a problem because park officials are present, permits are required and applicants must furnish security guards for large events.

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