Beach booze ban? Voters should have final say — againSeptember 7, 2007 No Comments
The San Diego Union – Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Sep 7, 2007. pg. B.8
As the City Council considers a sweeping prohibition against alcohol at San Diego’s beaches, it should be mindful of the voters’ repudiation of a much more limited booze ban five years ago. Ample public hearings are essential to devising a workable law, and whatever the City Council comes up with should be submitted to voters for their approval or rejection.
Councilman Kevin Faulconer has called for a permanent alcohol ban at all San Diego beaches. He acted after a Labor Day melee at Pacific Beach prompted the Police Department to dispatch 40 officers in riot gear. Sixteen people were arrested, but there were no injuries requiring hospital treatment. Heavy drinking and the day’s near-record heat clearly contributed to the rowdiness.
Excessive alcohol consumption is a problem at some San Diego beaches, and the City Council is right to address it. But the council should not repeat the mistakes it made in 2002 at the behest of one of Faulconer’s predecessors, Byron Wear.
In that instance, the City Council hastily imposed a 24-hour ban on alcohol from the south jetty in Mission Beach to Felspar Street in Pacific Beach. The measure also prohibited drinking in Mission Bay Park from Mission Point to Zanzibar Court. The ordinance limited the restrictions to an 18-month trial period.
In response, signatures were collected for a referendum to overturn the ban. The resulting citywide ballot measure, backed by beer distributors, liquor store operators and residents, was placed on the March 2002 ballot. By a margin of about 3,000 votes, San Diegans rejected the ban.
This history suggests that voters, if given the chance in another referendum, would be reluctant to approve a total ban on drinking at all San Diego beaches. The 2002 vote also is a cautionary tale for the City Council, which should seek this time around a balanced compromise, with plenty of input from residents, not only in beach neighborhoods but from throughout San Diego.
A more moderate proposal than the one Faulconer has endorsed might have a better chance of winning voter approval. Mayor Jerry Sanders has suggested, for example, that a booze ban be imposed only on major summer holidays, such as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. Experience shows that these holidays are the occasion for the worst excessive drinking and disorderly conduct.
The City Council has two challenges. The first is to consider the legitimate interests of the large majority of law-abiding beach- goers with beer or wine in their coolers, while also cracking down on the small minority who abuse alcohol. The second challenge is to avert unintended consequences. For instance, Police Chief William Lansdowne has warned that a beach booze ban could drive the heavy drinkers into coastal neighborhoods. Pacific Beach and other communities already are plagued by a plethora of bars where excessive alcohol consumption is a problem on most weekends.
Given San Diego’s history on this issue, the last thing the City Council should do is impose a blanket booze ban without giving the voters a say in the matter.
1 PIC; Caption: Not all beach-goers are rowdy. [Union-Tribune file photo]