Debate over beach booze isn’t taking a holiday

July 1, 2006 No Comments

Jeanette Steele. The San Diego Union – Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Jul 1, 2006. pg. B.1

As July Fourth approaches, a battle over booze still rages in San Diego’s beach neighborhoods, particularly Pacific Beach.

Judith Bomberger, a mother of four young children, has asked the Pacific Beach Town Council to back an alcohol ban on city beaches to reclaim them for families.

She and others say their children are afraid to go to the beach because of the drunken, raucous behavior they see there.

Meanwhile, for the second year, a group called FreePB plans to place 120 Dumpster-style bins between La Jolla and Ocean Beach and run a volunteer effort to collect bags of trash on the holiday. The group, which opposes a ban, believes people can use alcohol responsibly.

The debate is being played out in the final year of Police Chief Bill Lansdowne’s three-year push to clamp down on Fourth of July beach mayhem. The city plans to spend $1 million on overtime to run an intense policing effort focusing on Pacific Beach and Mission Beach.

Police say they will gauge the success of the three-year effort by reductions in the number of service calls and the amount of time an officer is out of circulation while dealing with a crime report.

Independence Day, which falls on a Tuesday this year, is the hands-down busiest day of the year for San Diego beaches. Police say 500,000 people will stream toward the sand at Pacific Beach and Mission Beach.

Pacific Beach residents have increasingly complained about the trash and drunken behavior.

The issue arose in the District 2 City Council race last year, with the losing candidate backing a July Fourth alcohol ban and the winner stopping short of it.

Bomberger said her family, with children ranging in age from 7 months to 8 years, lives five blocks from the beach but drives to the La Jolla seaside to avoid loutish behavior in Pacific Beach. Drinking in La Jolla’s beach parks was outlawed by special ordinance in 1991.

“Many people I know say that it’s OK to live here in PB when you are single and young, but when you get married and have children you are crazy to live here,” said Bomberger, 37, a homeowner for 10 years. “The actions of people are not conducive to raising your kids to have good manners.”

Angela Gerber, another mother with a young son, said she often has to shield her children from witnessing drunken fistfights on the beach. About every six months, she and her husband discuss whether they should move.

“Young families like us are hesitant to either move here or stay here because of the atmosphere,” said Gerber, a 35-year-old homeowner who also advocates a ban. “If there are more people who get together like us, someday it might change.”

The Pacific Beach Town Council is expected to vote on Bomberger’s proposal by mail-in ballot, with results announced July 18. If the council supports a ban, the proposal would have to make its way to the City Council before any rules could be changed.

People have been trying to usher alcohol off San Diego’s beaches for years.

In 1991, the City Council voted for a one-year trial ban, but the council was forced to rescind the decision when opponents gathered enough signatures for a referendum. The city settled on outlawing drinking between 8 p.m. and noon.

In 2002, a citywide ballot proposition to impose a round-the- clock trial ban on parts of Pacific Beach and Mission Beach failed by a slim margin.

Two years ago, Sail Bay residents pushed for a July Fourth ban, but the proposal didn’t fly. And there have been other efforts.

Police say this is a pivotal time. The city will hold police accountable for the results of Lansdowne’s three-year program.

It has been a considerable push. This year, like last, police will have 125 to 150 extra officers in the Mission Beach and Pacific Beach areas on overtime, starting this morning.

Horse-mounted and motorcycle officers will be on patrol, in addition to gang enforcement and plainclothes vice officers. Police helicopters will buzz overhead and relay information to six command posts scattered around Mission Bay and the beaches.

The police traffic-control plan, which includes some street closures, is available for viewing online at www.sandiego.gov/ police/pdf/-july4traffic2006.pdf.

Before Lansdowne’s crackdown, the department spent less than $100,000 on Independence Day policing efforts, said Capt. Boyd Long.

The police will issue a report in August evaluating the program’s success, Long said. He expects to see a reduction in service calls, as police have tried to clamp down on troublemakers and minor crime before serious incidents occur.

Councilman Kevin Faulconer, whose district includes Pacific Beach, has said he wants to give Lansdowne’s plan time to work. Faulconer said recently that he sees some success because partyers are no longer able to cart furniture onto the sand or rope off sections for private parties.

“Has it gotten better? Yes, it has in my opinion. Is it perfect? No, it’s not,” he recently told a Pacific Beach audience. “After this Fourth of July we’re going to take a hard look at what worked, what didn’t work and how we will do it in the future.”

Police say they would have to devote the same July Fourth staffing to the beaches even if alcohol is banned — a claim some residents scoff at.

Assistant Chief Lou Scanlon recently told Pacific Beach residents that the flood of beach-goers is the central issue.

“Although most likely we would have fewer problems should alcohol not be there, we are still going to have to have a tremendous police presence here because of the volume of people. We need to get emergency equipment in and out and need to facilitate traffic,” he said.

FreePB Director Jeremy Malecha said the changes for the Fourth of July have been profound. Police are getting the ne’er-do-wells out of circulation early, and his group’s efforts are reducing the amount of trash littering the beach, Malecha said.

“Last year, 99 percent of the people were able to go out and have fun with alcohol. That doesn’t tell me there’s a problem out there.”

Bomberger disagreed, saying that alcohol is the root of problems and needs to be cut out.

“I think if they banned alcohol, they’d see a dramatic difference,” she said.

Credit: STAFF WRITER

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