Little support by Sonoma City Council for changing alcohol rules

Sonoma's City Council showed little support Monday night for reviewing the city's policies on consuming alcohol in public to deal with unruly behavior at city-sponsored events.

Mayor Joanne Sanders sparked the discussion by requesting that the city review police issues stemming from this year's Fourth of July celebration, which drew as many as 10,000 people to Sonoma and included problems with people drinking too much.

Police Chief Bret Sackett, in a memo to City Manager Linda Kelly, said the council may want to review the city's alcohol policies to curtail future problems.

Alcohol consumption is permitted in most of Sonoma's public places from 11:30 a.m. until dusk, unless extensions are granted.

Most council members said they saw no need to change the policy.

"I'm not in favor of having a few buttheads dictate how we go about our business," Councilman Ken Brown said.

Sackett reported that police made 13 arrests during this year's Fourth of July event and officers resorted to using force in four of them.

In his report, he attributed the unruly behavior to large crowds, warm weather and Sonoma's "liberal alcohol laws" and wrote that officers could have taken more people to jail on suspicion of public intoxication if the Police Department not been stretched so thin.

Several council members appeared surprised at Sackett telling them Monday night that people can possess and consume alcohol while walking Sonoma's streets, at least during hours when it is permitted.

People are not allowed to take alcohol out of bars or restaurants, however.

Sackett wrote in his report that he believed tighter regulations could help "mitigate" some of the problems on the Fourth and other major city events.

Councilwoman Laurie Gallian said the hours that alcohol can be served on the city's plaza on the Fourth -- 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- by volunteers is "important."

She said she doesn't "necessarily" favor new restrictions.

"I want to see responsibility" by those who drink, she said.

Council members mainly stayed clear of discussing alcohol changes and instead focused on how the city can do a better job of publicizing the city's rules on public drinking and its expectations of public behavior.

They also showed support for Sackett's other recommendations to add more officers, including three motorcycle officers, at next year's Fourth of July event and to bring in a van to take those arrested to the county jail.

Sackett estimated those resources would cost an additional $3,000.

As for how to pay for them, the council discussed the possibility of asking nonprofits to help cover those costs.

Sackett said the Police Department had an average of 10 officers working on the Fourth -- about triple the number normally on duty -- and the city spent $6,000 on overtime for the extra officers.

Sanders said she sought the Fourth of July review because people told her of concerns of pedestrians having to fight traffic after the fireworks show.

Sackett said police don't have the staffing or resources to direct all that traffic out of the city.

"It's just going to take time to flow people out of the funnel," he said. "We're just not designed to have 10,000 people on our streets."

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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