Randall Benton rbenton@sacbee.com Revelers soaked up lots of suds and sun on July 14, when the Rafters Gone Wild event on the American River lived up to its name, resulting in fights and numerous arrests. Advance notice helped police rein it in.

Editorial: Wild rafters cross the line on drinking

Published: Sunday, Jul. 22, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 6E
Last Modified: Thursday, Jul. 11, 2013 - 9:03 am

After the drunken brawls on the American River last weekend, Sacramento County officials have little choice but to take another look at alcohol rules.

But a total ban on drinking, as some have suggested, would be going too far.

Fishermen, rafters and picnickers should be able to have a beer or cup of wine, as long as they don't endanger themselves or others and don't bother those around them. Besides, a complete prohibition would be very difficult, if not impossible, to enforce over such a large area.

County Executive Brad Hudson told The Bee's editorial board last week that he's inclined to favor a more limited approach. He's planning a workshop next month with county supervisors to start discussing what could be done and to gather community input.

In 2006, supervisors banned alcohol from the American River Parkway during the Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day holidays. A year later, the Legislature extended the holiday ban to the river itself, between Hazel and Watt avenues.

Also, it's already illegal to operate a boat with a motor while drunk (with the same 0.08 percent blood-alcohol limit as driving under the influence). Rafters can be cited for public intoxication.

Instead of a complete alcohol ban, either year-round or seasonal, county officials should consider reasonable restrictions that could be legally targeted at huge events, like the July 14 Rafters Gone Wild.

More than 3,000 people, mostly in their 20s, were lured largely through social media. While the vast majority just had a good time, some took "wild" to a new level. Some beat each other with paddles. Drunken rafters fell into dangerous rapids. Some even threw rocks and bottles at paramedics coming to the aid of the injured.

It's likely only because there was enough advance notice for law enforcement to call in reinforcements – about 60 officers and medical personnel, plus a helicopter – that no one drowned or was seriously hurt. There were two dozen arrests, though there would have been more if some hadn't been too drunk to be jailed.

John Havicon, ranger supervisor for county Regional Parks, called the event a "time bomb ready to go off."

It would be much better if rafters and others would defuse that bomb on their own. No one wants to throw cold water on a party, but rowdy boaters seem to have trouble recognizing that the American River Parkway is a natural treasure we all share. Is it too much to ask that we treat it – and the people who like to enjoy it – with a little respect?

The viral organizers of Rafters Gone Wild could easily head off new restrictions if they make a public pledge to clean up their act. If they don't, supervisors will have little choice but to pop the balloon on their party.

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