After ‘inadvertent’ repeal, St. George City Council reimplements alcohol ordinance

St. George City Council members Bette Arial (left), (center) Jimmie Hughes and Mayor Jon Pike convene for Thursday's meeting, where they approved an alcohol ordinance, St. George, Utah, July 11, 2019 | Photo by Frank Forza, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Mentioning “alcohol” and “Utah” in the same sentence tends to get a lot of people’s attention and can create endless back and forth discussion.

But at Thursday night’s St. George City Council meeting, a proposed law involving alcohol — which was publicly advertised beforehand — featured not a single protest and won unanimous approval by elected officials.

Basically, the ordinance prohibits consumption of alcohol in public areas such as parks, sidewalks and parking lots.

Now, you might be thinking, “‘Open container laws?’ I thought that was already on the books?”

Yes, such a law does exist. Under state law, it is a class B misdemeanor to consume liquor in a public building, park, stadium or on a public bus.

But the state of Utah allows each municipality to further restrict alcohol consumption, and St. George officials went a step further and more deeply defined what constitutes a “public place” or area.

“State law is similar to our law, but it didn’t go as far,” St. George Police Chief Richard Farnsworth said.

St. George’s much broader ordinance explicitly prohibits an open container of alcohol in:

  • “A public square, a public transport facility, a public railway, public sidewalk, public parking lot or bus stop;
  • an outdoor area open to the public on the premises of a commercial or manufacturing building (except with the permission of the owner or lawful possessor of the property);
  • a vacant lot in areas zoned for commercial or manufacturing uses (except with the permission of the owner or lawful possessor of the property).”

The exception to the rule: Special events such as festivals where organizers have been granted an alcohol license or permit.

Interestingly, council members passed into law an ordinance quite similar to one that had been on St. George’s books for years — city officials say these new rules are merely old rules that had been “inadvertently” and accidentally wiped off the books.

“The city had a similar ordinance in the business license provisions for alcohol establishments. It was repealed when the city changed the licensing laws to make them more uniform with the state laws,” Deputy City Attorney Paula Houston wrote when presenting the action item to the council.

St. George Police Capt. Gordon McCracken found that the ordinance had inadvertently been eliminated and brought it to light.

“We were asked by the Police Department to (reimplement) this,” City Attorney Shawn Guzman said.

The regulation’s justification reads as follows:

The consumption of alcohol in public places can lead to driving while intoxicated, public drunkenness, underage consumption of alcohol and disorderly behavior. The City Council has determined that enacting this ordinance is in the best interest of the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of St. George and is justified at this time.

While specific data and statistics were unavailable, police say they do occasionally get reports of alcoholic beverage containers in trash cans near softball fields and pickleball courts.

There is also concern about underage drinking, with some veteran officers saying they still vividly recall back in the 1990s and early 2000s when high school spring-breakers would dominate St. George streets, and 16- and 17-year-olds drinking alcohol was fairly common.

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