Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

Rafters chill out on the American River during last year's Rafting Gone Wild event. Raucous behavior by some participants prompted Sacramento County to toughen its anti-alcohol rules.

Sacramento County expands parkway alcohol ban

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Jul. 11, 2013 - 9:03 am

Sacramento County supervisors have expanded a ban on alcohol consumption along the American River Parkway following last month's drunken fracas at an event called Rafting Gone Wild.

Tuesday's vote gives the county parks director the authority to ban alcoholic consumption on the parkway between Hazel and Watt avenues when he anticipates such events could threaten public safety.

Yet some supervisors and supporters of the increased restrictions said they expect to revisit the problem of drinking on the river in the future.

"They've declared war on you," said John Barris, a retired county Juvenile Court administrator, of the young people involved in Rafting Gone Wild.

This was the second year public safety officials struggled to contain fights and other questionable activity at Rafting Gone Wild, an event that has been promoted through social media without any support by a known organization.

More than 3,000 people showed up at the July 14 event, with 23 people arrested.

Witnesses described deputies, rangers and other safety employees as having a hard time keeping up with the large and chaotic crowd. Fights erupted on the riverbanks and rocks were thrown at rafters, they said.

Tuesday's action extends the county's previous drinking ban on the parkway, which covered three holidays – Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day. The previous ban was approved because of similar raucous activity, although on a smaller scale than at Rafting Gone Wild.

Besides the overwhelming reaction against Rafting Gone Wild, supervisors said they were persuaded to act by two parents who lost children in a drunken driving accident that was caused by a 19-year-old man who had been drinking on the river.

Kendall Lui, 18, and Brian Haight, 19, were killed in 2006.

If there had been a complete ban on alcohol on the river, "our children would be alive today," their parents wrote to supervisors.

Supervisors also directed county staff to draw up legislation that would allow the county to recoup costs of responding to such incidents. Staff estimated that the county spent about $35,000 responding to Rafting Gone Wild this year.

County Executive Brad Hudson said similar legislation has been approved in communities that have sought to recoup public safety expenses from landlords that allow excessive criminal activity.

Several supporters spoke in favor of the expanded alcohol ban, and some suggested an outright ban on liquor on the American River.

But supervisors said they want to strike a balance between events such as Rafting Gone Wild and others where people drink responsibly.

No one spoke against the proposal at the board meeting, even though a notice about it was posted on the Rafting Gone Wild Facebook page.

"I don't see anyone speaking up for drunken and disorderly behavior," said Alan Wade, past president of the Save the American River Association, which supported the increased ban.

On the Rafting Gone Wild Facebook page, though, some posters complained.

"Another sad commentary was a lady that said it's everyone's right to use the river, but she fails to understand that everyone includes those of us that want to be able to have a drink in our hands," the poster wrote.

County officials said they monitor social media to find out if events are coming up. They said they will use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to warn people of bans approved under Tuesday's vote.

But some supporters of outright alcohol bans on the parkway suggested that young people will find a way to avoid detection and rally crowds to the river.

Supervisors expressed interest in a ban on parkway drinking between May and October. They directed their legislative advocate to bring such a proposal to state lawmakers next year.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Brad Branan

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