Faulconer turns to alcohol debate | Councilman to form group to study beach problems

August 28, 2006 No Comments

Jeanette Steele. The San Diego Union – Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Aug 28, 2006. pg. B.1

With debate aswirl again about suds at the sand, the city councilman for Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach is launching a citizens task force to study alcohol problems in those neighborhoods.

San Diego Councilman Kevin Faulconer said he wants to get now- warring community groups at one table for six to nine months to hammer out recommendations. Faulconer expects to name the task force members in the next few weeks.

Faulconer does not support a ban on alcohol at city beaches. Town councils in Mission Beach and Pacific Beach recently voted to back such a ban. A third group, Save PB, wants more restrictions on new alcohol licenses. An organization called FreePB opposes a ban on alcohol and more red tape for bars and restaurants.

“Even though there’s different views on it, I want to get people together,” Faulconer said. “To (see if) can we agree on what some of the problems are and maybe what some of the problems aren’t. And what are some potential solutions.”

The idea is getting mixed reviews in the beach communities. Some residents worry a task force will waste time talking and accomplish nothing.

“It’s long, cumbersome, and it’s homogenization rather than just saying: These are the problems, let’s address it,” said Scott Chipman, a Save PB organizer.

Town council presidents say a task force is a worth a shot.

“We’re willing to go to the table and see if there are solutions there,” said Mission Beach Town Council President Nancie Geller, who added that her neighbors’ top concern is a surge in crime that they say may be alcohol-fueled.

Pacific Beach Town Council President Don Mullen said the debate usually focuses on outlawing alcohol at the beach, but he hopes the task force will look at other issues because Faulconer doesn’t support such a ban.

“If we can sit down and talk about what the negative impacts are, maybe there are other ways to confront those behaviors,” Mullen said.

Police officials don’t seem to support a ban, either.

“If we ban alcohol on the beach, my professional opinion is you’re going to move that problem inland with all the alcohol- related establishments here,” San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne said at a recent Pacific Beach Town Council meeting. “It is easier for me … to control them on the beach than to have them come into the city.”

In Ocean Beach, community groups have not voted on alcohol restrictions. But one community leader, Denny Knox of the Ocean Beach Mainstreet Association, said that area is troubled by people bingeing on the beach, too.

In 2002, San Diegans voted 50.8 percent to 49.1 percent to kill a proposal for a one-year trial ban on alcohol at Pacific and Mission beaches.

Four years later, some Pacific Beach residents say something needs to change.

They complain about public urination, beer bottles left after parties and rowdy behavior that makes life uncomfortable for families. All of the above is fueled by too much alcohol, some longtime residents say.

That’s why Save PB is resurrecting a 2004 proposal that would require new bars and restaurants to apply for a city conditional- use permit before obtaining a state alcohol license.

The permit already is required for new liquor stores and markets that sell alcohol, and it would allow restrictions on a bar or restaurant, such as setting hours or requiring extra security. If the business broke those rules, city officials could revoke its permit to use the space, effectively closing it.

As it stands, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is virtually the only body that regulates businesses with liquor licenses.

Save PB says its proposal would allow more local control over drinking establishments.

“It is an elected official who is responsible to the community and who hopefully will hear the community’s concerns,” Chipman said. “It would go a long way to solve a lot of the alcohol problems in Pacific Beach.”

The practical result might be to discourage new bars and restaurants from applying for licenses in Pacific Beach, if the city’s permit restrictions were too onerous.

That’s fine, with community activist Al Strohlein, who opposes any new liquor licenses in Pacific Beach because he says the area already has too many based on its population.

Prospective bars and eateries can buy a license from an existing business, Strohlein said. Some businesses find that prospect too costly to be palatable.

Census tracts identify 177 liquor licenses in Pacific Beach and Mission Beach, while 75 would be allowed if based solely on population, according to state figures. Other factors — such as the need for convenience in the community — allow for the higher number.

FreePB President Jeremy Malecha challenges the need for an extra city permit for new bars and restaurants.

“It’s just unnecessary bureaucracy,” Malecha said. “If a small restaurant is trying to get a foothold, the extra steps could be the difference between profitability and not. … I don’t think there are enough good restaurants in PB.”

He pointed to the state administration actions against some licenses in the beach communities as proof current safeguards are working to punish bad establishments.

Faulconer said he is undecided about the conditional-use permit proposal and wants to hear the pro and cons. He said he will consider any recommendations the task force delivers.
[Illustration]
4 PICS; Caption: 1,2. The line to get into Moondoggies stretched down Garnet Avenue, where a strip of bars and restaurants includes Big Bertha’s (below). The prevalence of businesses that sell liquor, combined with alcohol consumption on the sand, has long divided beach communities. 3. San Diego Councilman Kevin Faulconer, who represents beach communities, opposes a ban on alcohol on the sand. 4. A crowd waiting to get into Moondoggies filled the sidewalk on a recent night in Pacific Beach, where at least one group wants to curb liquor licenses.; Credit: 1,2,4. Nancee E. Lewis / Union-Tribune

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