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Mission council moves forward pilot project giving drinks in public parks a shot

Council vote passes 5-2 to create bylaw for 1-year pilot project
Port Coquitlam, Chilliwack, North Vancouver, and Penticton have chosen to continue with the practice after their trial runs. (Black Press file photo).

Following a fairly divided council vote on May 16, City of Mission staff will now prepare a pilot project allowing alcohol consumption in public parks.

By a vote of five to two, staff are to create a bylaw setting out the rules for a one-year experiment.

“I think it’s always best for us to put things like this in the hands of our community and let them decide by their own behavior,” said Mayor Paul Horn.

“Having faith in our neighbours is an important predicate for me.”

Staff studied four other B.C. municipalities that had started pilot projects allowing liquor in their parks: Port Coquitlam, Chilliwack, North Vancouver, and Penticton.

Those cities had tested it as a way to increase social interaction through COVID, and support the local business while seating capacity was reduced. They had also recognized that drinking was already happening in parks, regardless of any rules.

All four cities have chosen to continue with the practice after their trial runs, with public surveys showing high support.

PoCo had 86 per cent of survey respondents report a good experiences, and increased participating parks from 7 to 10; Chilliwack reported 81 per cent of respondents want a similar summer project to continue; North Vancouver reported “overwhelming support” and plan to allow drinks all year; Penticton’s survey had 71 per cent showing moderate to high support.

The topic was broached with the Mission Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee on April 12, whose members were divided on the subject “with some very adamantly opposed, others open to the idea or at least to the idea of a pilot project and others with no opinion.”

The report suggests three locations for the pilot project – Fraser River Heritage Park, Centennial Park, and Jack Poole Harbourside Plaza – due to their size, concessions, shelters, parking and tables and benches.

Coun. Daniel Plecas and Coun. Ken Herar both voted against the pilot project. Plecas said his concerns were with locations, impact on other park users, conduct of the drinkers, garbage, signage, policing, social messaging, legal implications and associated costs.

He noted that Penticton added nearly $90,000 to the city budget to install additional garbage and recycling bins.

“Each city had a different capacity to administer, supervise,” Plecas said. “I just think that this community isn’t ready for this kind of endeavor.

“We have to ask ourselves when it comes to costs, where else would we put our money?”

Coun. Carol Hamilton expressed concern that some of the suggested parks were “family parks,” and asked about buffer zones around areas like playgrounds.

Staff said a pilot project will draw from other cities’ bylaws which include designated areas, acceptable hours, a set trial period, bylaw and RCMP monitoring, public surveys and buffer zones.

Coun. Mark Davies said that he was surprised to see the success rate of these projects, adding if Penticton can get over the infamous 1991 park riot following an MC Hammer performance at Peachfest, they can give it a shot.