Tuesday, February 07, 2006 | Pacific Beach is ideally situated near the ocean and Mission Bay Park, but members of the coastal community are resisting a subculture that they say has drowned the neighborhood’s charm.
For more than a decade, Pacific Beach has tried to rid itself of the rum-swilling reputation it’s worn since the expansion of its nightlife along Garnet Avenue and beyond, and a current groundswell against placing the region’s detoxification center within its borders is the latest effort to peel that label.
The proposed relocation of the Volunteers of America detox facility from its downtown location to make way for the development of condominiums will be considered by the City Council on Tuesday.
If approved, police and others would take intoxicated individuals from across the county to the Pacific Beach facility.
The center, where inebriated individuals are held for four hours and subsequently released, has touched a nerve in Pacific Beach, which already grapples with the effects of a behemoth block party event, the allowance of alcohol consumption on its public beaches and a high concentration of bars.
Many there have complained that the influx of alcohol-serving businesses and the twenty-somethings packed inside them have spawned the reputation of Pacific Beach as the region’s drinking watering hole.
Marcie Beckett, a longtime Pacific beach resident and a SavePB.org activist, said the area’s image has suffered as the party culture began replacing candy shops and department stores in the 1980s.
“When I was growing up here in the ’60s and ’70s, there were a few bars but it was not a problem,” she said. “As we were replacing businesses it became a Mecca for the party-’til-you-puke atmosphere.”
Besides serving San Diego County as the temporary holding facility for inebriates, the Volunteers of America are also farmed out by the county to provide long-term prevention services for drug and alcohol abusers.
Opponents say that the proposed location, which is near several auto dealerships, two public schools and housing units, is the wrong place for a facility that serves the entire county.
“Right service, wrong location,” said John Weil, chief of staff for county Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, whose district includes Pacific Beach.
Weil said Slater-Price will ask the City Council to turn down the proposal so other options can be weighed, and to also waive a land-use restriction that would allow the nonprofit to operate in a light industrial tract away from homes.
The county government provides $900,000 of the nonprofit group’s $1.6 million operating budget, Weil said.
SavePB.org and others have challenged the proposal since it was introduced this summer, holding meetings to discuss its impacts on the community while the City Council seat representing Pacific Beach was vacant after former Councilman Michael Zucchet stepped down.
Councilman Kevin Faulconer, who was elected last month to replace Zucchet, said the proposed site lacked access to transportation or other social-service providers. The current downtown facility enjoys a close distance to bus and trolley lines as well as a number of transitional housing and poverty assistance centers.
“You need to have a location that works for law enforcement, has transportation, and takes advantage of the synergy from other social services,” he said. “That was all part of the equation, and this wasn’t adequately reviewed.”
Volunteers of America spokeswoman Karin Ross said her organization would decline to comment until after Tuesday’s meeting.
Last week, Faulconer and City Attorney Mike Aguirre said an environmental impacts report needed to be performed before the council signed off on allowing the detox center to set up shop elsewhere. Cynthia Queen, a spokeswoman at the city’s Development Service Department, said her agency already declared that was unnecessary because the relocation’s effects were marginal.
Faulconer, said Volunteers of America employed “back-end justification” when proposing Pacific Beach by pitching the idea when nobody was in office and basing it on faulty planning strategies.
“The train for this proposal was rolling down the tracks without a representative from this council district,” Faulconer said. “This community is strongly opposed to it and there wasn’t adequate discussion with the community. The whole point of having elected representatives is to help solve these problems.”
Faulconer noted that he wanted to keep Slater-Price’s request to consider light industrial areas on the table, and said he was open to keeping the Volunteers of America center within his council district, which stretches from downtown to La Jolla.
Volunteers of America’s stay expires March 31, but an extension is being sought so that other options can be mulled over.
Al Strohlein, a resident of Pacific Beach since 1967, said he believes the neighborhood was seen by Volunteers of America as an easy dumping ground. After first registering concern 15 years ago when the number of alcohol licenses that were issued there were apparently too high, Strohlein says the community over the past few years has become more disquieted over its image.
He said that, while still in limbo, it appears that activists opposing the annual Pacific Beach Block Party may successfully block its happening this year. The festival, which is typically held in May, draws tens of thousands of people to the beach enclave and normally results in numerous alcohol-related arrests.
“We have a reputation of being a drunky town, and we can’t change that perception until the City Council decides we do not deserve that,” Strohlein said.
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