More booze talk on tap at Vancouver council next week

New vote could see pilot program this summer on allowing legal drinking in public spaces

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Vancouver city council will be talking booze again next week.

More specifically, the 11-member council will decide whether adults living in or visiting this city will be able to legally enjoy an alcoholic beverage in select public spaces — at least for the summer, and perhaps into early fall.

If this seems like déjà vu all over again, it’s because it is.

Regular readers will recall that back on June 2, the council vote on this proposal ended in a 5-5 tie; Mayor Kennedy Stewart didn’t vote because he was on a scheduled leave of absence. 

That meant the vote failed, which disappointed the mover of the motion, Green Party Coun. Pete Fry, and the four other councillors who supported the idea. Fry wanted to give those people who don’t have access to private green space a place to legally enjoy a drink.

The fact that adults can act responsibly in public spaces, as evidenced by residents’ buy-in to physical distancing measures during the pandemic, was driving his argument. Five other councillors, led by the NPA, didn’t agree.

Since then, as I reported last week, NPA Coun. Lisa Dominato has had a change of heart. She has a motion going before council June 23 requesting reconsideration of that June 2 vote. She heard wide support from the public, she said, and it’s worth giving a pilot program a try.

That means a pilot could go ahead this summer, if the other councillors stick with their June 2 vote; the mayor’s vote, either way, would still give Fry and company a majority. 

To be clear, such a pilot wouldn’t include beaches or parks. That’s something the park board continues to work on, and could be in place before the end of the summer.

Meanwhile, in a head scratcher of a move, two of Dominato’s NPA colleagues who also opposed Fry’s motion, are now interested in allowing adults to legally drink booze in public. Yes, you read that right.

But here’s the catch — not until next year. 

And not without the democratic exercise that Vancouver apparently needs more of — good ole further consultation.

This council, you may have observed, doesn’t exactly move swiftly in making decisions.

Melissa De Genova and Sarah Kirby-Yung have drafted their own motion for next week’s meeting that reads, in part, that council direct staff to “explore and develop a strategy for public consumption of alcohol, in designated public spaces and places in the City of Vancouver, in collaboration and with input from Vancouver Coastal Health and the Vancouver Police Department, and to report back to council with recommendations no later than April 2021.”

That motion sort of falls in line with what both of them were saying during debate at the June 2 meeting that sunk Fry’s proposal. Before I get to their comments from that meeting, I should mention De Genova successfully moved a motion in June 2019 to have city staff work with the Italian community to explore the creation of “an age-friendly ‘piazza’ pilot space in Vancouver.”

That space would include local artisans, restaurateurs, proprietors and vendors and allow for community-led events in a designated outdoor space “that also would include the responsible enjoyment of beer, wine and ‘appertivos’ along with food, and if possible to be implemented before the end of June 2020.”

De Genova got hung up on that motion in her vote June 2, stating that she was satisfied that city staff was still working on the piazza plan, and that there was no need to support Fry’s motion.

She was worried, too, about the lack of consultation around Fry’s motion, even though Fry requested staff consult with the Vancouver Police Department and business improvement associations before anything went ahead.

It should be noted council heard from Howard Chow, one of the VPD’s deputy chiefs, a week before the June 2 decision. Council also heard from Dr. Patricia Daly, the chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health. 

Daly gave council an earful about her concerns related to increased alcoholism in B.C. Chow raised concerns about allowing more legal alcohol use in a city that already has its problems with impaired people.

What else De Genova and Kirby-Yung, who are both married to police officers, need to consult Daly and Chow about is unclear.

But here we are.

Here’s what De Genova said June 2: “There are certain ways that we can move forward with this in a responsible way. But we need to have that oversight with the Vancouver Police Department, with Vancouver Coastal Health. Also, I think there’s other organizations that don’t even know we’re talking about this. I think about Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, I think about other organizations and some implications that I haven’t maybe considered yet.”

Kirby-Yung: “Patty Daly was very clear when she said it couldn’t come at a worse time. We’re trying to support the restaurants and the businesses, we’re trying to really focus on what the core things are that the city needs to be doing [during the pandemic]. We’re asking a lot of our staff as it relates to COVID response and licensing, and I just think from a health perspective, it just goes against all the research we heard [from Daly].” 

Added Kirby-Yung: “I’m not against responsible drinking, and I support it on the parks and beaches, but just not everywhere. Alcohol is not the answer to the pandemic. It’s just not. Those harms are just too significant to ignore and I think it’s going to bring a number of associated issues and additional expenses.”

Next Tuesday’s council meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. 

But debate and decision around this issue will likely occur the next day. 

Which, I’m sure, will take no time at all.