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Tuesday, July 3, 2007 | The rights of people to crack open a cold one on the sands of Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach this Fourth of July remains intact. However, the decades-long fight between residents over whether or not to permanently ban alcohol along the area’s beaches has once again reached a stalemate.
Last fall, San Diego City Councilman Kevin Faulconer, who represents the coastal communities in District 2, established a committee of 13 local community leaders, bar and restaurant owners, and residents to discuss alcohol licensing, enforcement and drinking on the beach. The committee, known as the Beach Alcohol Task Force, held its last meeting June 25. While it reached consensus on 22 different preventative measurements to cut down on crime, waste and public disturbances in the area, the committee was split as to whether or not to consider banning alcohol from the beaches.
To Ban or Not to Ban?
The consensus came for proposals including the provision of drunken-driving kits for all Northern Division police patrol cars, uniformed officers patrolling inside area establishments, security cameras along Crystal Pier and more trash receptacles.
“We were able to reach consensus on several issues that had never been agreed upon before,” Faulconer said. “But people are very passionate about an alcohol ban and have been for a long time.”
Several members of the task force and local residents are not satisfied with the end results of the task force because no final implementations or policies were made, and there are no plans for a trial alcohol ban in the future. Faulconer plans to meet with subcommittee members of the task force over the next several months to plan implementation strategies.
“Some of these things just can’t happen overnight,” Faulconer said.
Scott Chipman, a longtime Pacific Beach resident and member of the task force, said he was reluctant to join the committee because he thought it would be an exercise in pretending to get things done.
“The task force in many respects is a task farce,” Chipman said. “You can’t just make minor adjustments and say everything is going to improve when everything right now is at a really bad place.”
Jeremy Malecha, another task force member and executive director of FreePB.org, is firmly against the alcohol ban and said small mitigations like increased trash receptacles and more police presence do make a difference.
“What Faulconer has done is brought both sides to the table to improve on the things that we can agree on,” Malecha said. “This is one of the fairest things a councilman has done about this issue,”
Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and the Ocean Beach area are three of only a handful of major beaches in the state of California where alcohol is permitted. Alcohol is only allowed on the beach between noon and 8 p.m., and kegs and glass bottles are banned at all times. This freedom, along with the more than 25 bars and clubs that line the nearby streets, helps attract the more than 600,000 people who visit the three beaches on the Fourth of July. Even during non-holiday weekends, several hundred thousand people visit the neighborhood during the warm summer months.
The debate over implementing a ban on alcohol on the beach has continued for more than 20 years. For many residents, the controversy boils down to how the alcohol on the beach affects the amount of crime, littering and drunken-driving accidents in the area.
In the past year, there have been six drunken-driving fatalities in the Pacific Beach area, and Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach held the city’s top three positions for the number of alcohol arrests in 2005, according to a report the police presented to the task force.
“I’m not against alcohol, but people just can’t seem to be responsible,” said Kathy Mateer, a longtime Pacific Beach resident and member of the Pacific Beach Community Planning Committee. “I’m against the high crime and the high price the city has to pay to deal with alcohol-related problems on a regular basis.”
Police Capt. Boyd Long said it’s hard to tell exactly how much of the area’s crime is alcohol-related.
“The majority of the crimes are probably related to alcohol in some way,” Long said. “But most are not violent drunkenness, they are things like having glass bottles on the beach.”
Long gave a presentation to the task force in February about crime statistics in the area where he said violent crimes — which make up only 10 percent of beach-area crime — have decreased by an average of 15 percent in each of the three beach communities since 2001. Long attributes these drops to increased enforcement, higher patrol levels and education about alcohol regulations.
Long said the task force was very split on the alcohol ban issue, which is a good reflection of how the rest of the community feels about an alcohol ban. He said the real problem wasn’t as much the alcohol on the beach as the demographics of the area.
“Merely taking alcohol off the beach is not the answer to the problem,” Long said. “The crime rate is driven by the fact that more than 70 percent of the housing units are rentals filled with college-age occupants who don’t plan on living there for more than a few years.”
Both Chipman and Mateer acknowledge that the demographics of downtown Pacific Beach have changed dramatically in the past two decades.
“There used to by JC Penny’s and old-fashioned dime stores downtown and it was very family-orientated,” said Mateer. “Now we have tattoo parlors, manicure shops and second-hand music stores.”
However, Chipman said it is the stigma of Pacific Beach as a place for out-of-towners to come and party that is the bigger problem.
“We’ve been described as the Tijuana for Orange County,” Chipman said. “The only thing that is going to work is for us to take the necessary steps to change the perspective that this is the place to go to abuse alcohol.”
Malecha doesn’t agree with portrayals of Pacific Beach as an out-of-control party zone. Rather, he said, its a mixture of demographics with something for everyone.
“If you don’t like the scene of one particular area all you have to do is go two blocks down and the sands are wide open and quiet,” Malecha said. “There are issues between people at every beach regardless of alcohol.”
Malecha said the majority of residents in the beach community are against the ban. In 2002, Proposition G, which would have banned alcohol on all city beaches for a trial one year period, was voted down 2-1 in Pacific Beach and 3-1 in Ocean Beach.
“What it really boils down to is personal responsibility,” Malecha said. “You are never going to be able to legislate a utopia.”
In 2004, then-Councilman Michael Zucchet chose not to pursue a ban on alcohol on the beaches during the Fourth of July. In a letter to the Sail Bay Association, a local group that had asked for him to consider the ban, Zucchet said that receiving so much mixed public input on the issue led him to believe that “there are other changes that can be made to improve public safety.”
Faulconer said the task force was a step in the right direction, and the mitigation efforts will become noticeable to the community-at-large as he continues to meet with the subcommittees on a quarterly basis.
“I think the committee was absolutely a success,” Faulconer said. “But the proof is in the pudding.”
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