Nevada City's Ban

Gold Country Town Bans Boozing in Street

NEVADA CITY (AP) — As he strolled this historic gold-mining town in a
steady downpour, Ike Frazee, a 25-year-old pastry chef with a black beret
and a long goatee, bemoaned the ebbing of a hallowed tradition.

“Drinking on the street? Hell, yes! This is the only place I could do
it,” Frazee said. “It added a lot of character to the town.”

Ending a mining-town convention that endured for generations, Nevada
City officials recently voted to ban public drinking on the city’s
downtown streets and sidewalks.

On New Year’s Eve, revelers had one of their last chances to roam
through the Sierra Nevada foothills town toting open containers of
alcoholic beverages before the new law goes into effect Monday.

In reality, the Nevada City Council action — giving police authority
to issue citations and roust people for drinking — brings the town into
conformance with other cities that ban drinking on downtown streets,
sidewalks, parking lots and alleys.

But in Nevada City, whose council over the years rejected several
attempts to ban drinking in public, this was no casual action.

While some merchants and council members complained that a handful of
people on sidewalks nursing bottles of beer and wine were a nuisance to
the tourist town, others bemoaned the loss of a drinker’s right.

“There is 140 years of tradition in town of drinking on the streets
and that should not be thrown away for people who have socially
unacceptable behavior,” protested Tom Coleman, owner of the town’s
144-year-old National Hotel.

After the council voted 4-1 to enact the drinking ban, Coleman said
the matter should have been put to a citywide vote.

“Basically, the majority is suffering because of a minority,” Coleman
said, “and I don’t want to see the erosion of another right.”

But council member Sharon Tobiassen, who pushed for the vote after
city workers signed petitions complaining about inebriated people hanging
out downtown, said the step was needed to halt a budding “skid row
atmosphere.”

She said nostalgia for Nevada City’s mining days is a poor excuse for
allowing open-air drinking downtown.

“When you see people openly drinking and defying all authority, I say,
`Let’s move into the 21st century,’ ” Tobiassen said. “Some years ago,
we banned lynching and dueling on the streets, another carryover from the
Old West. We no longer need to live in that mode.”

The new law won’t affect Nevada City’s restaurants and bars, which
will continue to serve alcohol. Under state beverage control laws,
patrons have never been allowed to take drinks outside such
establishments.

But the downtown drinking crackdown is bitter ale for residents such
as Dee “Little Zappa” Myers, 28, who said he’s enjoyed his right to
trudge through town swigging from a bottle of beer.

“Perhaps there’s pressure from community leaders to gentrify the town,
“Myers said. “Crusty old folks have been drinking here for years. What do
they want us to do now? Drink `near beer’ in back rooms?”

Under the new law, permits can be granted to allow open-air drinking
during special events, such as the town’s Victorian Christmas street
festivals or its popular Fourth of July Constitution Day. But the law may
be a death knell for the town’s era as a drinkers’ paradise.

As Nevada City was transformed over the years into a charming mecca of
upscale boutiques, eateries and bed-and-breakfast inns, many trendy new
businesses replaced old gin joints and hard-boozin’ taverns.

“This used to be a working man’s town,” Coleman said. “The loggers,
the truck drivers, the guys in Levis and suspenders don’t come downtown
anymore. If a guy with muddy boots walked into one of these yuppie places
today, he’d feel very uncomfortable.”

Nevada City Mayor Harry Stewart said police have received increased
complaints in recent months about individuals drinking and loitering
downtown. He said he feared adults were providing booze to youths.

And as long as drinking in public was legal, Stewart said, police
couldn’t intervene until someone became intoxicated or disruptive.

“Nevada City is very strong on tradition, and one of the hardest
things is change,” Stewart said. “But I think people, down deep in their
hearts, knew that the time had come.”

Published Wednesday, January 1, 1997, in the San Jose Mercury News

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