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Our Views: City of Janesville takes another reasonable step to ease alcohol limits

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June 28, 2014

It might seem like the Janesville City Council took another small step Monday in dropping the requirement that special events serving alcohol downtown be fenced in.

In the grand scheme of things, however, it’s another measured move toward fostering a fun, festive atmosphere that could boost Janesville’s culture.

For years critics have pointed to outdoor events at venues such as Beloit’s riverside pavilion and Madison’s Capitol Square that allow alcohol, draw crowds and run without trouble. Why can’t Janesville shed its teetotaler’s attitude and do the same?

Well, consider Janesville’s actions in recent years. Approving alcohol sales at Rotary Gardens was among the council’s first moves. In 2009, the council agreed to permit beer sales during Janesville Jets games at the ice arena. In 2012, the council OK’d liquor sales during events at which the Janesville Senior Center is rented out. It also backed sales of beer and wine coolers during tournaments at Dawson Ball Fields. Last year, it approved alcohol sales during Dawson’s adult league games. It also agreed to beer permits for people renting certain pavilions at Palmer, Riverside and Traxler parks.

Now, organizers of outdoor special events downtown no longer must erect 4-foot fences to designate where alcohol is permitted. A city ordinance required fencing to cork underage drinking and prohibit drinking-age adults from wandering off with cups in hand.

Credit Barry Badertscher with leading the charge to change. He’s on the city’s alcohol license committee and as vice president of the Janesville Downtown Development Alliance is leading efforts to plan a Rhythm on the River festival in August. The fencing, he says, is costly and time consuming. It discourages events and volunteers. He says some bartenders laughed when he suggested trying to convince the city to drop the rule.

Lest you think the change poses a policing nightmare, realize Police Chief Dave Moore supports the move.

“We want to be a good community partner,” he told us Wednesday.

During a meeting of administrators, “We pretty quickly came to the conclusion that this was a reasonable request and there are still some safeguards in place,” Moore said.

For example, organizers must get event permits, erect barricades and signs at festival boundaries and use wristbands to identify those of drinking age.

Moore notes police have cracked down on businesses and individuals when alcohol use warrants repeated attention. He cited the closing of Quotes Bar & Grill and his department’s “do-not serve list” of habitual drunks.

It will be left to organizers, residents who attend festivals and their out-of-town guests to police themselves and drink within event boundaries. Use this new freedom properly or risk having the privilege removed. Administrators, Moore said, agreed this change is experimental. A group or location that has a history of trouble might not get another permit. If problems persist, the city could reverse course.

Moore, however, says the city’s incremental steps to loosen alcohol restrictions haven’t caused problems.

“We have not had policing issues at any of these venues,” he said. “We’re not seeing disruptive behavior.”

Critics will argue that events serving alcohol aren’t family friendly and that this change only promotes a culture of alcohol that encourages abuse, intoxicated driving and underage drinking. Yet this is another in a wise progression of policies that makes better use of city facilities and fosters economic development in a community needing much more. This decision follows the city’s strategic plan to bring more people downtown.

Councilman Douglas Marklein suggested that, in 2015, the council might move to allow fence-free festivals citywide. Given the lack of problems resulting from previous moves to ease restrictions, that might be a logical next step.

Enjoy yourself and your beverage of choice, but please drink responsibly.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper’s editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.



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