Phoenix drinking law perplexes officials

PHOENIX — Most residents probably don't realize it's legal — in bad form, certainly, but not illegal — to walk down Main Street sipping a bottle of whiskey. In fact, in the history of this small town, it has never been illegal to consume alcohol on most public property.

Phoenix Police Chief Derek Bowker told the City Council last week that the city was the only municipality in the region, and likely the state, without an ordinance to prohibit drinking in public places.

Bowker said the city has revamped old and outdated ordinances in past years — including one that required the police chief to "set up camp" for transients at a cost of 25 cents per night. But apparently nobody thought about an ordinance to address open containers of alcohol in public.

"We kind of have an ordinance that talks about drinking in public, but it's not real specific," Bowker said. "To sell alcohol, you need a permit. To drink in city parks, you need a permit. But there's nothing that says you can't walk down Main Street drinking a beer."

Terri Calvary, manager of Jack's Full Moon Saloon on Main Street, was surprised to learn about the lack of an ordinance about drinking in public. "I thought that was a nationwide thing. If you're in your front yard, that's one thing, but walking down the sidewalk?" Calvary said.

"I don't know that my clientele or my employees would ever guess that it wasn't illegal. And if I see someone drinking in my parking lot, I dump it out and tell them, 'There's beer inside. Don't you sit here in your car and drink.' As far as I'm concerned, drinking in public is illegal."

Matt Roberts, a Medford liquor inspector for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, said most cities have ordinances, including Medford, Talent and Ashland, and he said it was unusual to learn that Phoenix doesn't.

"I think a lot of people live in jurisdictions where it's prohibited, and most people assume it's not allowed," Roberts said.

Even without an open container law, the police could cite anyone drinking in public if they were disorderly or drunk, said Bowker, who hopes to get an ordinance in place soon.

Bowker said fines for violating city ordinances run "up to $500" but are at the discretion of officers and the court.

Bowker said the city isn't looking to write tickets.

"We just want compliance," he said. "It doesn't look good for the community as a whole if you drive through town and see people walking around drinking.

"Not that we've really had that many issues, but every once in a while we see it, and it doesn't make your community look like a nice place to be."

Bowker said he planned to present a proposed ordinance at one of the City Council's two meetings in September.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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