Beer beach

Starting on Wednesday, it will be perfectly to legal to knock back an alcoholic beverage on a large part of the Okanagan Lake waterfront in downtown Penticton, which is now the second city in B.C. to loosen booze regulations.

The pilot project approved Tuesday by a 4-2 vote of council allows adults to drink in any of the beaches or parks on the lake, between Power Street and Marina Way, every day from noon to 8 p.m., through July 4.

“I think what we have right now is an opportunity to allow responsible adults to be responsible adults,” said Coun. Campbell Watt, who first pitched a scaled-down version of the idea just two weeks ago as a means to get people out and support local alcohol manufacturers.

“So many times as a city we look at everything (in the) worst-case scenario…. If we put proper procedures in place, I think this would be a really great opportunity for us to not say no to everything.”

The bylaw that allows the city to regulate consumption of alcohol in public places was signed by then-mayor Jake Kimberley in 1992 to cut off the flow of booze following a riot at an MC Hammer concert.

“That was back when things were a lot different than they are now,” Kimberley, who presently sits as a councillor, said Tuesday

“It may be a surprise to some people to say yes, I support this.”

Opposing votes were registered by Couns. Judy Sentes and Katie Robinson. Mayor John Vassilaki recused himself because his family owns a liquor store.

Robinson was in favour of running the pilot project, but wanted to postpone it for two weeks to allow more public consultation, while Sentes was opposed to the whole thing on principle.

“I just cannot support the concept of alcohol on the beach. I don’t think it has a place there," said Sentes, who also noted the city already has its hands full responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watt initially suggested limiting the trial run to a single park or beach one day a week, however, city staff determined that would have been akin to creating an event and therefore run afoul of provincial health orders regarding social distancing.

Instead, staff proposed allowing booze in public spaces along the entire Okanagan Lake waterfront from the SS Sicamous to the Penticton Yacht Club, plus Gyro Park.

The scaled-down area that was actually approved by council will be monitored by city bylaw officers, and the public will be consulted throughout the project period before the matter is brought back to local politicians for further consideration.

The project can be cancelled by council at a special meeting with 24 hours’ notice.

Several communities around B.C. are also considering a more liberal approach to alcohol consumption; the City of North Vancouver on Monday became the first to actually do so.