Thursday, Jan. 3, 2007 | Organizers of the campaign to overturn a one-year beach alcohol ban said they are confident they will gather the signatures they need by Friday’s deadline, but acknowledged that their efforts will likely fall short of the 75,000-signature goal they set out to reach.

“We’re probably short of the goal, but we’re well above where we need to be to get it on the ballot,” said Jacob Pyle, an organizer for Ban the Ban 3.

The group has been scattered across the city at local liquor stores, gas stations and supermarkets in search of the 30,209 signatures that need to be turned into the City Clerk’s Office by Friday in order to qualify for a referendum against the trial ban.

City law gives opponents of an ordinance 30 days after the rule is finalized by city officials to gathering the signatures. Ban the Ban 3 was mobilized very shortly after the City Council passed the law in November and began garnering the autographs of San Diegans who oppose the rule just after Mayor Jerry Sanders signed the ban into law in early December.

Campaigns for initiatives and referendums often collect more signatures than are needed because many are typically disqualified for several reasons. Signers are sometimes not registered to vote or they sometimes place an address on a petition that doesn’t match their registration, for example.

County Registrar of Voters Deborah Seiler estimated that, in a typical petition drive, about 20 percent to 30 percent of the voters that are turned in are invalid.

“People make mistakes, and sometimes they think they’re entitled to sign petitions that they’re not,” Seiler said.

The challenges for Ban the Ban 3’s collection efforts are compounded by the fact that the base of support for overturning the ban comes from younger voters, who are often not registered or, if they are, may not have changed their registration location to the city of San Diego if they have moved recently or are college students. Also, the petition drive comes during the holiday season, when many potential signers are traveling out of the area.

“It takes an extra step and an extra effort, but it can be done and it has been done before,” said Chris Crotty, a local political consultant who is not involved in the campaign. The challenge of gathering signatures pales in comparison to the difficulty of getting voters between the ages of 18 and 25, who are more likely to be sympathetic to referendum, to turnout on Election Day, Crotty said.

“It’s a whole lot easier to sign a petition now than to miss a class on a Tuesday while trying to find your polling place,” Crotty said.

If the requisite signatures are turned in and verified by election officials, an election date won’t be set for at least another month. The City Clerk has 30 days to verify the petition, and the City Council is able to set a date for a public vote for anytime in the following 11 months. While the upcoming Feb. 5 special election is too soon, the council will likely choose between the June primary or the November general election.

Pyle declined to comment on which date his group preferred.

Attempts to ban alcohol from San Diego beaches have twice failed to stick after petition drives in 1991 and 2002, but opponents this time around face the fresh images of a Labor Day melee in Pacific Beach that led to the arrests of 15 rowdy beachgoers. The incident played out on television sets and websites around the world, causing embarrassment locally that spurred beach-area Councilman Kevin Faulconer to lead the charge for a ban after he shied away from it earlier.

That hasn’t deterred Pyle or his fellow ban opponents from testing the messages they’ve been pitching to local patrons should they be able to ask voters for their support in an upcoming election later this year. They’re arguing that the ban is a case of the government intruding into the personal freedoms of law-abiding beachgoers who want a cold one while they enjoy the sun and the sand, and they spend a lot of time debating the public safety concerns that are touted as the impetus for the ban.

James Lantry, a political consultant who is advising supporters of the ban, criticized the push for a referendum, saying it disallows the public or city officials to make up their mind about a ban that was supposed to be a one-year trial period. Lantry said he was disappointed that voters will not have a chance to compare the before and after scenarios of a ban, because the rule will be suspended until an election if enough signatures are gathered by Ban the Ban 3.

“I’m saddened by the fact they’re not giving the people of San Diego the benefit of the doubt to weigh the facts and decide on their own, but rather to just put up political rhetoric,” Lantry said.

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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