Curbs on drinking, cruising approved

August 1, 1995 No Comments

PHILIP J LaVELLE. The San Diego Union – Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Aug 1, 1995. pg. A.1

Planning to sip a beer or a wine cooler as you take an evening stroll down San Diego’s sidewalks?

Better savor the moment — pretty soon it’ll be illegal.

That’s the word from the San Diego City Council, which in separate votes yesterday tightened the rules on public drinking and set a limited cruising ban along Mission Boulevard in South Mission Beach.

The public-drinking law takes effect in mid-September. The cruising law begins this weekend.

Designed to blunt public drunkenness and rowdyism, the council’s actions will:

Make it illegal to drink alcohol on city streets, sidewalks and other public “rights of way,” with exceptions for businesses such as sidewalk cafes that hold proper city permits.

Establish uniform alcohol curfews for city parks and beaches that now have varying curfew rules. Drinking alcohol would be prohibited between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Outlaw cruising along a half-mile stretch of Mission Boulevard — from the Belmont Park area south to the South Mission Beach jetty — between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

City Hall’s increasing focus on alcohol- and crowd-related problems follows a spate of violent incidents in the Mission Beach area, including a drunken shootout that wounded two bystanders at Mission Bay Park last month. Police later had to disperse a mob of angry people who thought — mistakenly — that police were responsible for the injuries.

The alcohol restrictions for sidewalks and parks were proposed by Mayor Susan Golding.

“I think it will be effective,” Golding told the council, “in helping to curtail vagrancy and noise and perhaps more serious problems in communities throughout the city.”

The council unanimously adopted Golding’s recommendation, which becomes law 45 days after yesterday’s vote.

Councilwoman Judy McCarty was absent.

Golding said setting uniform hours on beach and park alcohol curfews will clear up confusion for both the public and the police.

Current city laws make for a baffling patchwork of alcohol regulation. For example, City Manager Jack McGrory said, drinking is illegal from midnight to 6 a.m. along Sunset Cliffs; from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. at Mission Bay Park; and from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. at Balboa Park.

The ban does not affect parks that currently have no alcohol curfews; Golding said she wants to hear from community groups on whether such parks should adopt the uniform ban.

Parks and beaches now under 24-hour alcohol bans will retain them.

The cruising ban was made law in a separate vote. Because it is designated an emergency action, it takes effect this weekend. It becomes a permanent fixture of city law unless changed by the council.

Under the vote, police can hand out written warnings after a vehicle passes the same point twice and cite drivers thereafter.

It, too, was approved unanimously, but it drew criticism from Councilman Juan Vargas, a classic-car buff who persuaded the council to review the ordinance after Labor Day.

In criticizing the ban, Vargas suddenly sounded like a libertarian — just two weeks after he complained about skimpy bikinis at the beach and suggested regulating them. That suggestion came during an interview in which Vargas opposed making the city’s vice laws more lenient and loosening restrictions on topless dancers.

Vargas’ push for personal freedoms was fueled by his love for his 1965 Mustang, and his urge to cruise around town in it unrestricted. “It seems to me that you’re almost making me a criminal by just driving around,” he said.

Police Chief Jerry Sanders replied that the cruising ban is a tool that police will use sparingly. “We’re certainly not looking to infringe on people’s rights any more than we have to,” Sanders said, “and that’s the reason we have crafted a restrictive ordinance this way.”

Vargas remained skeptical.

“It does concern me that this is becoming a society where you can’t do anything,” he said. “Especially in Southern California — that you can’t drive your car, I mean, that almost seems completely ridiculous, to be frank.”

Golding, who also said she doesn’t like government intrusions, told Vargas that a limited crackdown is in order.

“We’re going to have to clamp down,” she said. “Let’s clamp down as tightly as we need to, but not more than that.”

The cruising ban was first proposed by Councilman Scott Harvey two weeks ago as part of his broader but failed push for a 90-day booze ban at Mission Bay Park.

“Right now, you can’t get emergency vehicles in (to South Mission Beach), and that’s wrong,” Harvey said in support of the cruising ban. “Residents can’t get in, and that’s wrong.”

McGrory said violators of the alcohol and cruising bans probably would get $100 tickets, similar to those issued to traffic offenders. Technically, offenders could face a maximum of 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The cruising ordinance is modeled on a National City law; a similar ban has been used successfully in Santa Ana, according to the City Manager’s Office.

Credit: Staff Writer

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