California proposes legalizing public drinking as public intox goes unprosecuted

(The Center Square) – A new California bill could allow for city and county-approved public drinking zones as some counties decline to enforce anti-public intoxication. State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, who introduced the bill, says these new “entertainment zones” could “give bars and restaurants and the surrounding businesses a much-needed boost.” In Los Angeles County the move would catch state law up with District Attorney George Gascon policy against prosecuting public drinking, influence under a controlled substance, and public intoxication announced in December 2020.

Getting people back out in the streets is key to the economic recovery of cities across California,” said Wiener in a statement. “By creating Entertainment Zones, we’re giving people a reason to go back to areas where recovery has been slow while creating a vital new revenue stream for bars and restaurants.”

California downtowns have faced some of the worst downtown post-lockdown recoveries of any cities in North America, with San Francisco reduced to just 32% of pre-pandemic business activity. Wiener passed an earlier “entertainment zone” bill targeted just at San Francisco in response to the city’s struggling business environment.

However, law enforcement experts say that introducing this bill to allow for locally-approved drinking zones statewide say this measure could erode public safety, especially with some district attorneys issuing memos stating they will decline to prosecute public intoxication charges.

“Consumption on private property out of public view should remain the standard for the entire state,” said former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva to The Center Square. “This proposal only further erodes the frayed fabric of a civil society.”

In December of 2020, Los Angeles District Attorney Gascon, who oversees prosecutions across Los Angeles County and formerly was San Francisco’s district attorney, adopted a decline-to-prosecute memo for the crimes of disturbing the peace, criminal threats, drinking in public, under the influence of controlled substances, public intoxication, loitering to commit prostitution, and resisting arrest.

Before Gascon’s successor in San Francisco, Chesa Boudin, was elected, he told the San Francisco Chronicle, “We will not prosecute cases involving quality-of-life crimes…Crimes such as public camping, offering or soliciting sex, public urination, blocking a sidewalk, etc., should not and will not be prosecuted.”

Across California, violent crime is skyrocketing as arrests plummet, compared to national decreases in crime over the prior year. In Oakland, one of the state’s largest cities, violent crime up 21%, robbery up 38%, burglary up 23%, and motor vehicle theft up 45% in 2023 compared to 2022.