British Columbia

Penticton, B.C., city council extends public drinking pilot project until October

You can keep cracking a cold one in designated Penticton parks and on certain beaches until after Thanksgiving.

City council approves plan after positive feedback from locals

Public drinking will be permitted in select Penticton locations until Oct. 15, 2020. (Shutterstock/BLACKDAY)

You can keep legally cracking a cold one on the shores of Okanagan Lake until Thanksgiving now that city council in Penticton, B.C., has extended a pilot project allowing alcohol consumption in designated public places.

On June 2, council approved the pilot, which allowed public drinking at the city's main beach on Okanagan Lake and some waterfront parks between noon and 8 p.m. until July 4. After consulting with the public, council decided Wednesday to extend the pilot until Oct. 15.

The approved locations are: Marina Way Park, Okanagan Lake Park, Rotary Park and Okanagan Beach east of Power Street.

"This is not, nor has it ever been the promotion of consuming alcohol," said Coun. Campbell Watt during deliberations in council. 

Watt, who supports the project, said the landscape of the city has changed in the last couple of decades and that now, with 30 wineries, six breweries and two distilleries within city limits, it makes sense for council to adjust.

"Certainly the mentality and awareness of alcoholic beverages has changed over the years, said Watt. "I think as that changes so does the responsible appreciation of it."

According to the city, the majority of citizens who participated in online public consultation supported the project and those who did not, expressed concern about enforcement, glass on the beach, underage drinking, and other forms of misconduct.

"I'm very excited that this pilot program has been so well received," said Watt. "The concerns we see are things we can certainly maintain: signage, more recycling ... additional garbage cans."

Beachgoers Tyler O'Hara and Maria Freire say they no longer have to worry about hiding their drinks when they enjoy a cold beer on the sand, now that Penticton has allowed alcohol consumption at the beach. (Brady Strachan)

But not everyone is on board.

The Interior Health Authority has indicated some concerns with public drinking on beaches and in parks, including the risk of normalizing public drinking for youth.

The RCMP also expressed concerns about not being able to increase patrols at the beaches and parks where drinking is allowed.

Coun. Judy Sentes said she had "significant reservations" about the pilot project in June and still does.

"I'm still not convinced this is a boon to our hurting restaurants and the like," said Sentes, adding she thought the project was green-lit too quickly.

To cheers or not to cheers

Penticton is not the only municipality to wrestle with allowing legal drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Vernon and Saanich have voted against it and on Monday, the Vancouver Park Board delayed making a decision on a similar pilot project.

But leaders in other Metro Vancouver municipalities that have approved public drinking pilot projects say feedback has been positive.

"It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out there is public support for it," said Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West.

Port Coquitlam council has approved drinking in seven local parks until the end of October.

The City of North Vancouver is also already permitting drinking in nine locations and Mayor Linda Buchanan said it is going very well.

'It's been really, really positively received both from residents, non-residents as well, and the business community," she said.

Buchanan, who is also a public health nurse, said 80 per cent of residents in the community live in multi-family housing without backyards and this is a way for people to socialize outside while also practicing physical distancing.

"We are going to treat adults like adults," said Buchanan, adding she has heard no complaints yet.

In all municipalities where public drinking is permitted, it's approved for adults only who must follow all other laws concerning alcohol consumption.

With files from Justin McElroy and Radio West