There are numerous propositions on the November ballot and several are quite complex, but Proposition D is easy to understand. Last year, following a beach riot, the city council voted to prohibit, for one year, consumption of alcohol on our beaches, in Mission Bay Park and several smaller parks near the beach. This action brought San Diego in line with policies of virtually every beach city in Southern California, most of whom had banned beach booze decades ago. So, if you want the policy of alcohol-free beaches to continue, you vote “YES” on Prop D. If you vote no, you want the city to revert to its previous policy of unregulated drinking on the beach eight hours a day, from noon until 8:00 p.m.
This is a classic battle, public safety vs. the preservation of personal privileges. Normally, public safety wins out; witness other regulations at our beaches such as leash laws, speed limits for bikers and skaters on the boardwalks, restrictions on bonfires and most recently a ban on smoking. The drinking issue has been contentious for years. Beach booze endured because of a well-organized alcohol industry plus a large number of vocal young adults, mostly singles, who simply like to party on the beach. And, it’s a great place to party if you ignore the consequences because it’s cheap, convenient, and there are no bartenders or bouncers to tell you when you’ve had enough, nor are there any I.D. checks if you happen to be underage.
So, beach drinking endured here decades longer than elsewhere. Beaches became trash heaps as drunks simply dumped their refuse on the sand. Public urination became a significant problem for beach residents who often found drunks using their yards or fences as potty stops. Fights on the beach, the boardwalk and in nearby parking lots were common, and underage drinkers were often taken to detox. Beach drinking advocates claimed the problem wasn’t drunken behavior, it was a lack of trash cans, not enough restrooms and a police department that had failed to effectively enforce existing laws against drunk driving, being drunk in public, fighting, public urination, vandalism, littering, etc. Sure enough, the city put out more trash cans, installed port-a-potties on major holidays and pulled police officers from every city neighborhood in an attempt to maintain order on the sand. Incidents on the beach got little press coverage and were rationalized away because of large crowds. Senior citizens and families with small children learned to stay away from the beaches once the drinking lamp was lit each noon.
I don’t know about you, but to me, this is simply madness. For openers, I’m tired of hearing people take pot shots at the San Diego Police Department, a darn good police department placed in an impossible situation. There simply aren’t enough police to monitor miles and miles of beaches looking for out-of-control drunks.
And what about the lifeguards? They found themselves increasingly dealing with beach drunks, distracted from their vital job of providing water safety. On some weekends the crowd refused to clear a path for their vehicles to get to emergencies. On one recent July 4th, so-called “revelers” tried to tip over their vehicles. The city was spending an increasing amount of money on trash pickup, police overtime and port-a-potties, and residents endured vandalism, cans thrown in their yards and a smell of urine and stale beer in their neighborhoods.
Then came last year’s riot. Finally, a year of sanity. Beach booze advocates claim the riot wasn’t a riot, that is was at least partially caused by police overreaction, not the hundreds of drunks on the sand, and that it was a unique, isolated incident. If you want to dispel this nonsense, go to www.safebeaches.org and view both the riot video and, more importantly, segments from the TV series “Beach Patrol” filmed here in San Diego, which shows lifeguards and police dealing with beach alcohol problems throughout the summer (by the way, the Tuesday after Labor Day, a man was beaten senseless by beach drinkers on the boardwalk at Ocean Beach, miles away from the riot scene).
Better yet, just go to the beach, grab the nearest lifeguard and ask how things are now compared to last year. You’ll get an earful.
I’m hopeful the voters will make the beach alcohol ban permanent this November, but look for a last minute media blitz by ban opponents emphasizing personal liberties, claiming the ban has ruined tourism and caused a crime wave. They’ll dangle the option of some “middle ground,” perhaps a ban only on the most crowded days if only the voters will tell our useless City Council to “go back to the drawing board,” They’ll claim there are lots of alternatives to the ban.
The response to this baloney is obvious. San Diego policy is now the same as everyone else’s. If beach alcohol bans increased crime and hurt tourism, how come all the beach cities have them?
You can help. Unlike our opponents who have a ready source of funds from the local liquor industry, we are dependent on individual contributions. Go to our other web site, www.safebeachessandiego to make a contribution to our cause.