Gilroy will continue alcohol permits in parks

Beer and wine can be consumed at designated areas in Christmas Hill Park.

It might not be common knowledge, but you can legally drink alcohol in Gilroy parks. So long as you have a permit.

The Gilroy City Council voted Monday night to continue to allow consumption of alcohol in public parks on a permit basis at designated areas.

Beer and wine can be consumed at the Oaks and Lakeside picnic areas in Las Animas Park, as well as at East and West Mulberry, Walnut, and Sycamore picnic areas in Christmas Hill Park with a valid reservation through the Gilroy Parks and Recreation Department. Consumption can take place from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday and 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, and on holidays.

Residents have been able to consume alcohol, meaning beer and wine, in designated areas of the city parks since 2014. The Gilroy Police Department initially introduced the ordinance as a plan to address homeless issues in the community, as well as improve the quality of life of city residents.

“We had a lot of people in the park that were drinking, it affected quality of life for people trying to enjoy the day,” GPD Sergeant Jason Smith said by phone Tuesday. “It turned more into a meeting spot for homeless people who liked to spend all day drinking. That’s why we addressed it. Yes you can drink in certain designated parks, but you have to make a reservation. There’s a process behind it. We understand there are families who want to have a get together and have alcoholic beverages. It just needs to be done within reason and what the code allows.”

The ordinance was initially approved as a one-year trial period. At the end of 2014, council members chose to continue the ordinance for an additional three-year period that expired at the end of 2017.

During the initial trial period, the city placed signs at all parks to notify the public of the permit requirement. Instead of issuing citations, the police department used 2014 as a year to issue warnings and educate the public about the new permit process.

Police have issued a total of 16 citations for ordinance violation since 2015, with 11 citations issued in 2015, one in 2016, and four in 2017.

“It’s a misdemeanor, but often treated as a fine,” Smith said. “The court takes into consideration how many times someone has gotten that violation before.”

The staff report notes that the importance of the ordinance is not determined by how many citations are issued, but by the education and behavior changes. It goes into effect 30 days after adoption.