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If you don’t know mayoral candidate Kevin Faulconer – and even Faulconer says many San Diegans don’t – you’ve probably at least felt the effects of one thing he did.

Depending on your take, Faulconer’s either the guy who made it so you can’t have a beer at your family’s beach barbecue, or he’s the guy who made your family’s beach barbecue safe from drunken louts.

Faulconer, a city councilman, spearheaded the alcohol ban on all San Diego beaches, a ballot measure that changed the city’s culture for regular people perhaps more than any other over the past decade.

“It was the right thing for San Diego,” Faulconer said Thursday.

For a long time, drinking at the beach had been something that separated San Diego’s coastlines from much of the rest of the state. Other beach communities began banning alcohol in the 1970s. San Diegans had rejected similar booze bans before one passed in 2008.

Faulconer, who represents Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and neighboring communities, pushed his Council colleagues in 2007 to support a one-year alcohol ban over the opposition of then-Mayor Jerry Sanders and Police Chief Bill Lansdowne. Once that happened, Faulconer got the Council to put the issue before voters and then raised money for its passage.

“Kevin’s leadership was instrumental,” said Jim Lantry, the campaign manager for ban supporters.

Faulconer didn’t always want alcohol banned at the beach. He campaigned against a ban before his 2006 election to the Council. His opponent, now-Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, favored a limited ban. (Faulconer beat Gonzalez by 724 votes.)

After his victory, Faulconer formed a task force on beach alcohol issues. The group agreed to 21 minor changes along the lines of “increase trash receptacles,” but punted on an all-out booze ban. Faulconer said the group provided vital community input on a divisive issue. But Katie Keach, then a Pacific Beach town council member who served on the task force, said it didn’t serve much of a purpose.

“I’m pretty sure it was for political cover,” said Keach, who’s now the spokeswoman for interim mayor Todd Gloria.

Soon after Faulconer’s task force wrapped, things changed.

A Labor Day booze-fueled melee on Pacific Beach brought out cops in riot gear. Revelers threw bottles at the police. The police pepper-sprayed crowd-goers. And national television audiences were treated to handheld videos of drunks generally making idiots of themselves.

YouTube video

Faulconer held a press conference immediately after the fight to announce his support for a booze ban.

“Under no circumstances is it ever OK to have that environment happening,” Faulconer said at the time. “We have an obligation to protect people at the beach, and what happened on the beach was not safe.”

Faulconer’s position took Mark Arabo by surprise. Arabo heads the Neighborhood Market Association, which represents local grocers and some liquor stores, and his group had supported Faulconer during his Council race against Gonzalez. Arabo said Faulconer told the group he would never back a beach booze ban.

“He promised one thing and then when stuff happened and he was under the gun, he delivered something else,” Arabo said.

Arabo said he didn’t fault Faulconer for switching his position, but said he wished Faulconer would have talked about it with the group first.

“People can have change of hearts, but when they do, reach out to the people who helped get you elected and tell them why,” he said.

Faulconer said he doesn’t regret how he handled his switch, and met with numerous community members about it. The Labor Day melee, he said, showed the beaches needed help right away, and he acted accordingly.

Since 2008, alcohol crime has gone down at the beaches, though no one can say whether the ban’s the cause. Beach businesses seem to have suffered, too, though it’s similarly difficult to nail down whether the ban is responsible for the slump.

Faulconer said there’s no doubt the ban has made the beaches safer and cleaner, something he hears even from people who opposed it at the ballot box.

“From my standpoint, I’ve never looked back, nor has the community,” he said.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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