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Sidewalk cafes have a liquor ordinance

I know there are open-container laws that prevent people from wandering around town with open beer cans or worse, but I also know of at least one local establishment that allows alcohol at outside tables on the sidewalk. How can one be illegal and the other legal?

— Louis R., Medford

Lewis, the second case is legal because the city of Medford says it is — kind of the municipal version of the old parental phrase, "because I said so."

The city backs up its talk with an actual ordinance, which you'll find in Municipal Code 5.310.

The rule says: Alcoholic liquor may be sold and consumed at a sidewalk cafe permitted under Section 10.358(c) of this Code and in accordance with a license issued by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. (Section 10.358(c) refers to zoning rules for downtown Medford.)

Otherwise, you are correct: You cannot legally walk around town with an open brewski in hand. The city code specifically says no alcohol may be consumed "... in or on a street, sidewalk, alley, public right-of-way, public park, other publicly owned facility, or premises open to the general public for the use of motor vehicles, whether the premises are publicly or privately owned and whether or not a fee is charged for the use of the premises."

There is an exemption allowing wine and beer to be sold and consumed in covered areas on city-owned parking lots for events sponsored by nonprofit organizations. Such requests must first be approved by the city.

Just in case you're thinking this would be a good opportunity for your (nonprofit) fraternity to hold a kegger, keep in mind that the applicant also has to pay for adequate security guards and cover the cost of necessary police officers to maintain peace. Any violation of the code can result in a fine of up to $1,000.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com.