At the Activity and Recreation Center, a single row of women waited to weigh in on the future of a policy they thought would alter the wholesome fabric of Columbia’s parks.
They shared their concerns with the Columbia Parks and Recreation Commission, which the City Council had asked to review the draft of a policy that might allow the sale of alcohol in eight of the larger city parks: Columbia Cosmopolitan, Lake of the Woods, Twin Lakes, Stephens Lake, Nifong Memorial, Flat Branch and, on nonschool days, Oakland and Cosmo-Bethel.
After hearing community objections and discussing its own reservations, the commission voted on Thursday unanimously to recommend disapproval of the policy.
Becky Markt, coalition coordinator for the Youth Community Coalition, said the policy, which would allow organizations to sell beer, wine and champagne, even in a complementary role to an event, works against her organization’s efforts to reduce alcohol use in 12- to 25-year-olds.
“Policies such as the one proposed to allow sales in public parks create an environment that encourages alcohol use and downplay its potential for harm to public health and safety,” Markt said. “Such policies make alcohol easily available and send messages that promote alcohol’s glamour and attractiveness.”
Heather Windham, who works with the YCC, agreed, saying that parks are a place where she shouldn’t have to explain intoxication to her 8-year-old son.
“It breaks my heart to even think about it,” Windham said. “I thought I was guaranteed living Columbia that it was just good old-fashioned family fun, where he could see grown-ups enjoying themselves and having a good time without having to use alcohol.”
As the policy is currently drafted, an event that is physical, social, cultural, artistic or environmental in its nature could sell alcohol as a secondary focus, with a permit approved by Columbia Parks and Recreation and the city Finance and Police departments.
Organizations would have to abide by state liquor laws, obtain $2 million of liability insurance, hire security if it is requested and pay a permit fee of $100 or 10 percent of the gross alcohol sales, whichever was greater.
These conditions still wouldn’t change the fact that parks are for families, not a place to get alcohol, said Betty Kidwell, who works with the mid-Missouri chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“Families can go out there and take their kids, play on the swings, have a nice family day at the park,” Kidwell said. “Alcohol comes into the picture and you say you will keep it in contained areas, but my question would be, when it becomes more prevalent, what are you going to do, and when, to keep it out of the hands of minors?”
The problem of minor consumption isn’t just in city parks, Markt said, but the city could help challenge the so-called status quo instead of reinforcing it.
“Underage alcohol use is a serious problem with roots deep in our culture,” Markt said. “It is time to stop looking the other way.”
Those serving alcohol would have to have State of Missouri Alcohol Responsibility Training, which focuses on the recognition of fake IDs, signs of intoxication and prevention of service to minors, according to smart.missouri.edu.
Windham said this alone isn’t enough.
“I love that in this policy there are parameters set aside for alcohol getting to minors and the SMART training,” Windham said. “At the same time, I don’t think that can guarantee that it doesn’t get in the hands of minors for one, and it doesn’t guarantee that people aren’t going to get drunk.”
Linda Frost, also of the coalition, said there are enough places for adults to get alcohol.
“There are 300 liquor license locations here in town,” Frost said. “I think that if the adults that go to these events want to have some alcohol, they can leave if they want and get it or they can stop by after and get it. I don’t think that we need to make another venue.”