Alcohol – a good conversation
Is there an epidemic of addiction to fermented grape juice in Wine Country?
Have we become a culture of highbrow alcoholics, hooked on pricey pinots and cabs and zins, separated from everyday drunks only by the price point of Thunderbird and Night Train?
We don’t honestly know because we haven’t seen any reliable statistics that can prove the point.
Anecdotally, it seems obvious that wine consumption has permeated almost every social gathering, that it lubricates more conversation and accompanies more meals than not.
But we haven’t seen the evidence to prove that our Valley has a proportionately higher incidence of DUIs than, say, Topeka or Atlanta or Wichita Falls, or that our residents turn in greater numbers to AA.
What we have seen – what almost all of us in Sonoma are aware of – is a resident population of compulsive and indolent drinkers who have taken up semi-permanent residence in the rose garden of our beloved Plaza, and in the slightly less conspicuous confines of Depot Park.
They are there for the same reasons all of us go there – beauty, tranquility and company – not to mention the fact that, in Sonoma, you can drink alcohol between 11:30 a.m. and dusk in virtually any public place.
That was not clear to us until Police Chief Bret Sackett recently – and reluctantly – informed the City Council that Sonoma’s alcohol ordinance actually allows us to carry drinks in hand while walking down any sidewalk, as long as we don’t take them into or out of an establishment serving alcohol.
The fact that most of us don’t take advantage of that opportunity should be comforting, but the unfortunate fact is that a few do, primarily in the confines of our favorite parks, where their pickled presence sometimes co-opts ours.
To be sure, once they’re drunk, these frequent flyers can be rousted and routed to jail, a stop-gap response that has taken on the characteristics of shoveling water. Remove them and they inevitably return, even when the terms of their probation prohibit both alcohol and their presence in the Plaza.
It is not a big population or a giant problem, but it is nonetheless disturbing because it casts a pall on the parks they inhabit and it diminishes the pleasure we find when we have to share their space.
The ordinance allowing public drinking is, of course, rooted in the spirit of hospitality and the purpose of commerce. This is wine country, we sell wine to people from all over the world, and we want them to have a comfortable place to drink it.
Fueling the habits of chronic drunks wasn’t intended to be part of the equation, but it came with the territory.
What’s the solution? We really don’t know. But we think it’s a good conversation to have, a good issue to examine in other communities that have encountered the same problem and perhaps have some creative solutions we haven’t yet discovered.
We don’t want to surrender the freedom to enjoy our beverage of choice in our public commons. Nor do we want to surrender whole parts of he Plaza to people who abuse the privilege.