Block Party Blocked

March 23, 2006 No Comments

The toned-down alternative for Pacific Beach’s Block Party, the Pacific Beach Street Fair, was officially denied a permit for this year by the city after months of community controversy.

In a letter signed by the city’s chief executive officer, Ronnie Froman, the denial was based on the lack of community support, threat to private property and the inability for the city to provide adequate police protection amid 11 other community festivals taking place that same weekend of April 22.

Organizers of the event are mulling over whether or not to appeal the decision, but the City Council committee who would hear that appeal won’t meet until April 19, just three days before the event’s scheduled date.

It is the first time the city has denied a special events permit.

“The city is being really responsive to the community and I’m pretty happy about that,” said Benjamin Nicholls, executive director of Discover Pacific Beach.

District 2 Councilman Kevin Faulconer said the opposition of all three major community groups and councils to the revised street fair was a major factor in the failure to gain consensus and permitting.

“The event needed to be revamped, but you needed community buy-in and that just wasn’t able to occur,” he said.

Just last week, the Pacific Beach Town Council (PBTC) voted 69-46 to oppose this year’s PB Block Party, recently renamed the Pacific Beach Street Fair, at its March 15 meeting at Pacific Beach Middle School.

The packed auditorium included passionate supporters and opponents of the 30-year-old event, which started as a small community street fair. It has since evolved into a music festival that last year attracted approximately 200,000 visitors from as far away as Arizona.

Critics of the annual event say it has become a “drunk fest” that promotes vandalism, drunk driving, and lewd behavior while crippling local businesses.

Supporters describe the one-day event as a showcase for area businesses and a fund-raiser that contributes as much as $50,000 annually to organizations such as the Pacific Beach Kiwanis Club, Mission Bay High School clubs, the PBTC, and Discover Pacific Beach.

Jeff Sykes, president of the Pacific Beach Community Foundation, which organizes the event, believes it can be better managed and scaled down.

Sykes said his goals for this year’s street fair included downsizing it from eight to five blocks, reducing the music stages from seven to two, and targeting 75,000 attendees.

The foundation was also planning to make the event more community-centered by including a fashion show, hot dog-eating contest and reduced vendor rates for businesses in the 92109 ZIP code.

Nicholls questioned the safety of the street fair, saying that the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) had asked event organizers to increase security.

In response to questions at the PBTC meeting on whether the foundation had an emergency plan in place in case of a riot, Sykes said that the foundation planned to spend $43,000 on police enforcement and an additional $12,000 on private security.

“We do the best we can,” he said. “If our security plan doesn’t meet (SDPD’s) standards, we don’t get the permit.”

Sykes dismissed PBTC member Eve Anderson’s allegations that Trader Joe’s lost more than $50,000 in business during last year’s block party as “pure bunk.”

Anderson, who started the block party 30 years ago, told Sykes he would be “shocked and horrified” by the stories of what local businesses endure during the event.

Other council members focused on what role businesses play in excessive alcohol consumption.

“If Discover PB is so against this event, why not ask your members not to serve alcohol?” asked Patrick Finucane of the PBCPC and PBTC.

Nicholls responded that area bars are not the problem. Canceling beer gardens, per the SDPD’s request, just exacerbated alcohol-related problems.

“People take their parties home,” he said.

Both sides agreed neighborhood parties outside the street fair account for much of the event’s arrests and drunken behavior.

“That’s not something we can control,” said Sykes.

PBTC consists mainly of older long-term residents, said past council president Jim Moore. The council received 553 e-mails in support of the street fair from residents, he added. “Their representation is lacking tonight because they’re not members of the PBTC.”

Moore believes that the moratorium on the street fair could be its death.

“There won’t be another street fair in Pacific Beach if this event doesn’t go through,” he said. “Good luck to those people trying to raise those funds.”

A series of fund-raisers could match the amount raised by the street fair, according to Nicholls.

The PBTC’s next general meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 19, 7 p.m., at the Earl & Birdie Taylor Library, 4275 Cass St.

For more information, visit www.pbtowncouncil.org or call (858) 483-6666.

Source: Beach & Bay Press

Alcohol Culture in PB, Block Party, PB in the Media

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