While White Rock council considers allowing alcohol consumption in Memorial Park plaza (at the waterfront), it has agreed to the installation of picnic benches in the park and other locations in the city – both as measures to help local businesses survive a pandemic-constricted summer.
At the June 1 special meeting, council asked staff for more specific details before approving either suggestion – partly at the urging of Coun. Dave Chesney, who expressed “very grave concerns” about how such moves could be properly policed.
Council ultimately approved preparation of a bylaw setting out conditions under which liquor consumption would be allowed at Memorial Park plaza, but also a motion from Chesney that called for a full staff report before endorsing the use of some $10,000 in city funds for picnic benches.
Council subsequently voted June 8 to buy picnic tables and place them in Memorial Park on the West Beach, on Marine Drive, near Ash Street, on the East Beach and in the Five Corners area.
The cedar picnic tables will cost $12,500 for 15 to 20 tables. The city is contributing $10,000 and the White Rock BIA, $2,500. The tables will be placed more than two metres apart with space to ensure physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The measures were submitted by staff for council direction in response to a letter from White Rock BIA executive director Alex Nixon requesting outdoor liquor consumption areas to augment existing patios in a period in which most businesses have transitioned to primarily take-out service.
“Designating public spaces where alcohol could be consumed would allow customers to enjoy an alcoholic beverage with their take-out, thus increasing the effective potential revenues of the restaurants,” Nixon wrote.
“Designating public spaces would in no way change the laws around public intoxication or the bylaws around noise and public space schedules,” he added.
“All it would do is make it legal for customers enjoy an alcoholic beverage in, say, Memorial Park in the same way that they would across the street on the patio of, say, Uli’s Restaurant or Charlie Don’t Surf.”
But while council members said they were generally in favour of the measures, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis, most shared concerns voiced by Chesney about drafting a bylaw to allow liquor consumption in Memorial Park.
“This has been a party destination since the beginning of time,” Chesney said. “There are so many ramifications…we need to have checks and balances, I don’t think we can put enough checks and balances in place.
“I, certainly, would advocate that the sensible consumption of alcohol, by adults, is fine. But looking at the history of White Rock, it’s a party town, it’s a party destination. Take a look at what happens on the weekend. If we tell anybody over 19 years of age just bring your case of Budweiser down, come on and party on the beach…oh, my God, the mess we’re going to have.”
Prior to the June 8 vote, council members echoed concerns from Chesney that a suggestion of authorizing a $10,000 contribution from the city to a joint project with the BIA to provide picnic benches at Memorial Park, on East Beach and at Five Corners had come prematurely, without details of cost, design or placement.
Coun. Helen Fathers noted that the measures had been submitted to council as ‘on the table’ additions to the agenda, without chance for prior reading.
She was among those who wanted more specifics, particularly after council heard from planning and development services director Carl Isaak and engineering and operations director Jim Gordon that staff were contemplating ordering heavy six-foot cedar benches with an expected life of two to three years.
“How long are they going to be there?” Fathers asked, noting that while the ‘hard-scape’ area of Memorial Park suggested for the benches may be underused at present, it is also “city programmable space” for future events.
Other discussion by council revolved around whether potential signage could legitimately suggest that benches were for restaurant patrons only, with most agreeing that, if provided, the seating would have to be open to use by all members of the public.