The El Paso City Council passed with a 7-1 vote an ordinance to broaden the areas in which open containers are prohibited near homeless shelters. According to El Paso Matters, city officials said the change went into effect immediately, but El Paso police officers will undergo training before any changes in enforcement occur. The new ordinance dictates that, according to the PowerPoint presented at the council meeting, “A person commits an offense if he possesses an open container of or consumes an alcoholic beverage in or on any public street, sidewalk, alley or pedestrian way located within 1,000 feet of the property line of a homeless shelter that is not located in the Central Business District.” Prior to the decision, the ordinance Section 10.12.050, sub.2.b.1, was only applicable to prohibiting open containers and “out in the open” consumption in and nearby the El Paso Central Business District which has homeless shelters in the area. The new ordinance applies to shelters including, the Salvation Army, the Child Crisis Center, the Veteran Emergency Shelter, and transitional housing programs. (KFOX 14)
The penalty for violating the ordinance is a Class C misdemeanor and a $500 fine. The purpose of the ordinance, as laid out in the presentation, is “to improve the quality of life for residents and persons experiencing homelessness in and around homeless shelters by reducing nuisances related to drinking in public.” City Representative Alexsandra Annello, the sole representative to vote against the ordinance, is disappointed according to El Paso Matters. “I think that this ordinance (change) is a step backwards,” Annello said, “This is just a cycle of recidivism that so many of us have worked so long to reverse.” (El Paso Matters) El Paso Matters also reports that Annello said the city should be looking at long-term solutions to help the homeless population as opposed to expanding the possibility of citations and fines that may not be paid which could in turn lead to arrests and incarceration.
On the other hand, City Representative Cissy Lizarraga said the ordinance falls in line with what state law allows and the change will give law enforcement a tool to prevent or stop some specific patterns of disturbances that have emerged around some of the shelters. (El Paso Matters)
There are a few exceptions to the ordinance outlined in the Powerpoint which are:
•Special authorized events with valid permit from TABC;
•Inside a building not owned or controlled by the City;
•Residential structure; or
•Within area of a TABC licensed establishment for consumption on premises