A short, not-so-sweet piece of civic legislation scooted through the Santa Fe City Council this month. Ordinance 2009-52 amended the law regarding the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages on city property: You can’t do either.
There are exceptions: Feel free to get tanked at the Community Convention Center, the airport or the city-owned golf course. Likewise, buildings situated on city property but owned by other entities (like most of the Railyard buildings) or city buildings and land leased to other entities for terms longer than six months (like the College of Santa Fe or the Santa Fe Art Institute) may host the liquored when they like.
However, some of the language in the half-page ordinance is murkier than an Irish Car Bomb. For example, it remains unclear whether or not people who own buildings that sit on city-owned property may indulge in a little porch sippin’ or stoop drinkin’. Where does one’s property end and the zone of idiotic ordinances begin? Also the Railyard’s Alameda and plaza are specifically singled out as alcohol-abstinence zones. That means, should one rent the lovely Santa Fe Farmers Market building for, say, a nonprofit fundraiser on a gorgeous summer’s eve, the oversize doors may be wide open to the night air and the beautiful Railyard, but woe betide anyone who steps between indoors and out with an adult beverage.
And “adult” is really the concept at the core of this awful ordinance. After all, there are really only three kinds of laws. There are laws that enable corporations and governments to stomp all over basic human rights; there are general purpose, sensible for the safety and the good of humanity laws; and then there are “nanny state” laws that treat members of the public as though they are helpless little babies unable to differentiate between good judgment and Jack Daniels.
So how did this come to pass?
When the 400th anniversary celebration for Santa Fe kicked off at Fort Marcy in September, the 400th committee wanted a biergarten in order to generate revenue. But, according to Santa Fe Public Information Administrator Carla Lopez, the Santa Fe Underage Drinking Prevention Alliance wanted the city council to prohibit the beer garden in order to send the message that alcohol ain’t required for a good time. Santa Fe suffered a terrible loss this summer when four teens where killed in an alcohol-related vehicular accident and tempers (especially activist tempers) were running hot. Santa Fe Mayor David Coss broke a tie vote, thus allowing the beer garden to exist. It didn’t help the financially challenged 400th much, but people had a good time.
Later, apparently riddled with guilt about failing to send a message from the moral high ground, the mayor joined with Councilor Ron Trujillo in sponsoring this bit up of make-up legislation. Now, I have no problem with the mayor or the council setting examples of what they presume to be good morality, but the thing is this: You cannot legislate morality. You can’t actually even legislate socially acceptable behavior.
Santa Fe did suffer an enormous tragedy in which alcohol played a role. It wasn’t the first time and, regrettably, it won’t be the last. Government can respond with effective treatment programs, well-targeted education and quality public transportation. But puritanical gestures made into law don’t do anything at all except fuel the self-righteousness of the few.
As one anonymous, youth-advocate source wrote to me: “What a brilliant way to pander to the vocal minority of people who want this town to be mothballed. Not to mention the irony of such an ordinance clearly tailored to crusty retired community ‘do-gooders’ in the face of all the recent talk about economic development and job creation. At least, I suppose, we may successfully run the last few young people out of town.”
The net effect of this new ordinance is to ban alcohol from any and all events taking place in public parks. But alcohol is already effectively banned—it takes a special permit to sell and consume it in the parks, and those are generally issued in support of good causes.
Several of our local restaurants and breweries are routinely contracted to provide responsible, law-abiding, state-approved alcohol vending for such events and the profit is considerable. At what cost to upstanding local businesses are we making an empty statement about our commitment to solving alcohol abuse, drunk driving and underage drinking? The city will never have effective economic development if it keeps confusing platitudes with action, and reflexively restricting adult choice. Unless, of course, we’re expecting the economic development to come from long-dead religious fanatics.
The bottom line: Our city thinks it’s OK to get drunk and then do brodies in a golf cart before using a metal club to launch tiny hard balls at 70 mph. But if you’d like to have a beer while you picnic or grill a hotdog in the park, you’re a stinking criminal.