Vancouver park board looks to increase budget to control alcohol on beaches

The pilot program allowing drinking on Vancouver beaches will run for a second year to “determine the level of success and inform future decision-making.”

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Vancouver City Council staff have recommended council approve a one-time increase of $930,000 to the park board’s operating budget to carry out a second pilot project allowing drinking on beaches.

The request came from the board and the police department. The money would be reallocated within the city’s 2024 operating budget, which was approved in December.

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“The proposed beach alcohol pilot program responds to a growing public interest in consuming alcohol on Vancouver’s beaches safely and without recrimination,” the report reads. “However, there has been a significant increase in operational and law enforcement issues and challenges for those beach and city center pilot sites.”

Implemented in 2023, the pilot provided useful information to both the board and police, the report says, but “given the complexity and multi-departmental impacts, it has been determined that another year is required to test these measures and determine the level of success.” and inform future decision making.”

The city’s finance director and city manager have the power to increase departmental budgets up to $750,000 a year as long as the overall operating budget stays the same, but as the park board’s request is for more than that , appears before the council.

Last summer, seven beaches were part of the beach alcohol pilot project (beaches along the Fraser River, in Crab Park, and English Bay and Sunset beaches were excluded).

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All of the beaches that allow drinking alcohol are near one of the 48 parks that the city has designated as legal for drinking.

“In line with the pilot approach used with the parks, beach sites were selected based on their adjacent amenities, such as toilet facilities,” the report says. “Sites with known law enforcement issues or difficult to access from an operational perspective were excluded from the pilot.”

Last summer’s pilot project ran from June 1 to September 4.

Both the park board and police reported that while overall incidents of crime have slowly decreased since 2018, the number of violent incidents requiring police or ranger response has increased, particularly at two beaches.

“The reported number of violent incidents has tripled in Kitsilano Beach (from four in 2018 to 12 in 2023) and has quadrupled in English Bay (from six in 2018 to 28 in 2023),” the report states.

Violent incidents across the city also increased over the same six years, but much more slowly, according to police: from 2,539 to 3,170 last year.

“This implies that while there are no more calls for service to English Bay and Third Beach than before the pandemic, a greater number of those incidents are turning violent,” the report says. “We cannot determine if alcohol consumption was the cause of this increase… however, the increase in the number of violent incidents cannot be ignored on these two beaches.”

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Additionally, park board staff were surveyed about how public drinking on the beaches affected them.

“Responses showed that those most affected were lifeguards and park rangers…the main impacts were dealing with public outrage or disrespect, lack of staff on the beach, and impacts to physical safety.”

Broken glass and excess trash were also a concern, especially on the beaches of Kits, Jericho, Locarno and Spanish Banks.

“Overall, staff noticed that trash bins were rarely full, implying that the excess trash was due to people not taking their trash to available trash bins.”

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