Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007 | The City Council approved Monday a one-year prohibition of alcohol at San Diego’s beaches, a compromise measure that stopped short of the permanent ban sought by those hoping to combat the disorder of drunken beachgoers.
Under the compromise, the council will consider whether to reauthorize or make permanent the ban in January 2009, when the trial period would likely expire.
In the meantime, the council’s decision to curb beach drinking will enjoy the praise of residents and business owners who cited the safety of San Diego’s coastal neighborhoods in advocating a ban.
“I strongly believe everyone has the right to come down and enjoy our beaches in a safe environment,” Councilman Kevin Faulconer said.
Faulconer, who represents beaches and bays that would be impacted by the ban, opposed such stringent rules while on the campaign trail and after commissioning a nine-month task force study. But he reversed course after a melee broke out in the waning hours of Labor Day in Pacific Beach, where 17 people were arrested and police blockaded streets.
The council’s 5-2 vote for the trial came after Faulconer’s proposed permanent ban fell one vote short of approval. Councilman Ben Hueso agreed to support the rule’s one-year audition after saying earlier that the ban wouldn’t stop people from getting drunk at the beach.
“I’m just not content with saying a ban is going to solve our problems,” said Hueso, likening the ban to laws against drunk driving or smoking marijuana, in which those illicit acts occur despite the government’s regulations against them.
Along with Faulconer and Hueso, council members Scott Peters, Toni Atkins and Donna Frye supported the test ban. Council members Tony Young and Jim Madaffer voted against it. Council member Brian Maienschein was absent from the hearing.
Mayor Jerry Sanders, who said he would veto a round-the-clock ban in favor of prohibiting alcohol on major summertime holidays, will not veto the temporary ban, spokesman Fred Sainz said.
The vote came after hours of emotional testimony that pitted residents who enjoy a longstanding privilege that is virtually unique to San Diego against community members incensed by the footage of the Labor Day skirmish and the rowdiness they perceive to be a regular symptom of beach partying.
Opponents of the ban said the debate became too emotional after the Labor Day melee, stressing that the overwhelming amount of the hundreds of thousands of people who enjoyed alcohol on San Diego’s beachfront that day did so without police confrontation.
“These incidents do not happen because of alcohol,” said Jacob Pyle, a Pacific Beach resident and director of FreePB.org. “These incidents happen because of jerks, and removing alcohol will not turn them into model citizens.”
Others pointed out that the 17 arrests from the Labor Day melee pale in comparison to the hundreds of arrests that are made during a typical Chargers game at Qualcomm Stadium, where significantly fewer people flock than the numbers that tread the sand of San Diego’s beaches on a holiday weekend.
But supporters of the ban said the culture of beach drinking has gotten progressively worse over the years. They argued the city should follow the lead of Orange County, Los Angeles County, and most other beach cities in San Diego County. San Diego has garnered a negative reputation in the Southwest for its booze-soaked beaches, they said.
Many speakers said they admired the ban that was put in place at the La Jolla Shores and Marine Street beaches in previous years.
Randy Strunk, a surf school instructor, noted that his sales in his Pacific Beach are declining while business has picked up in La Jolla. He said it’s because parents are wary about allowing their children to hang around Pacific Beach.
“I’ve never had a mom ask, ‘Is it safe?’ while booking a camp at La Jolla Shores,” he said.
Michael Katz, a hotelier and shopping center operator in Pacific Beach, said the security guards he hired to patrol his properties confront an average of four problems every day as a result of drunken beachgoers.
“It’s gotten to the point where I’m definitely opposed to alcohol on the beach,” he said.
Although it’s only temporary, the decision for a test ban paves the way for a potential showdown at the ballot box, where voters have shunned previous laws that threaten to meddle into their seaside swigging habits.
Monday’s vote marks the third time in two decades the council has restricted drinking on the beach, however the earlier two council decisions never stuck. The council abandoned a 1991 ban once opponents gathered enough signatures to place the issue in front of voters.
A 2001 law, which prohibited drinking from certain beachfront stretches, was narrowly overturned in a voter referendum, known as Proposition G, a year later. While the liquor industry contributed thousands of dollars to the 2002 campaign, financial disclosures show that beach-area merchants and eateries as well as residents chipped in small amounts as well to defeat the ban.
Robert Glaser, a political consultant who fought against beach alcohol bans before, said he has been contacted by individuals who would likely want to put the question to voters, although he would not name who. The talks are still preliminary, he said.
“They’re all talking to each other and occasionally talking to me,” Glaser said. “It depends on how draconian the new legislation is.”
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