Drinking in Isla Vista’s public parks dominated discussion at last night’s I.V. Recreation and Parks District meeting.
IVRPD board members, residents of I.V., and representatives from various local alcohol-related organizations shared thoughts on possible solutions to problems caused by the consumption of alcohol in parks. Although the opinion expressed by most speakers was in favor of a system eliminating drinking in all local parks without the purchase of a $10 drinking permit, four out of five IVRPD board members said they were reluctant to rush into passing an ordinance criminalizing all drinking.
Ariana Katovich, IVRPD board member, said she questioned whether banning all alcohol in parks would solve the problems associated with the homeless.
“If a homeless person keeps getting cited for having an open container, is that really going to stop them from drinking?” said Katovich.
Al Rodriguez, manager of the Santa Barbara Alcohol and Drug Program, said he supported a permit system because – despite cuts to the county budget – transients cited repeatedly for drinking could be placed in a county alcoholic rehabilitation program. Rodriguez also said just having an open discussion about the situation was beneficial.
“We think you’re moving in the right direction,” he said.
Michelle Obregon represented the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council, an organization the works within UCSB and I.V. to tackle substance-abuse problems. She said the problem caused by alcohol in the parks threatened students.
“Personally, I feel the problem is very relevant to students in I.V.,” she said. “As a female, I don’t feel safe…. A lot of the activity in the parks is not conducive to families or students.”
Jeff Banks, a commander at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept., also said restricting drinking would be a good preventative measure.
“We’re not opposed to alcohol, but we are opposed too irresponsible drinking,” Banks said. “If it’s not controlled, it could be a major problem…. Generally, with most cases of assault in a public area, there’s alcohol involved.”
UCSB student Loren Williams was one of the few attendees to speak against a change in the park district’s present system of allowing drinking in certain parks.
“I think the method of your solution is a dead end,” he said. “A lot of people want to use the parks, but they can’t because of crime…. There’s no clear correlation between crime [and alcohol]. A large percentage of crimes are related to alcohol, but a lot also have are related to being poor. Are you going to ban poor people from the parks, too? There’s an argument to some extent that if somebody wants to drink, they have a right to do that.”
IVRPD board member Pegeen Soutar said she has noticed no children playing in the parks near her home since transients began camping in them.
“Even when camping was banned, it didn’t go away,” she said. “My kids just can’t play back there.”
Soutar also said she had recently been told by former IVFP Lt. Russ Birchim that a transient man who had been frequenting the area near her home is a convicted child molester. She said the element of unknown transients – such as child molesters – worries her.
“A lot of the guys around I.V., I’ve known for years and have no problem with my kids around them,” she said. “But these guys are an attractive nuisance. There’s people coming through who I don’t know, and that’s what worries me.”
Unlike Soutar, Katovich said she was hesitant to pass another ordinance.
“I don’t know if slapping ordinance on top of ordinance is going to solve anything,” she said. “How do you solve a society issue with one ordinance?”
Drinking in the parks will be further discussed at the next IVRPD meeting.