Group pushes July 4 beach alcohol ban | Move rekindles fierce debate over drinking on S.D. shoreline

March 15, 2004 No Comments

Angela Lau. The San Diego Union – Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Mar 15, 2004. pg. B.1

Sail Bay residents want the city to ban alcohol on all city of San Diego beaches on the Fourth of July, but some beach communities oppose the prohibition.

As summer approaches, the debate already has assumed the vitriolic divisiveness that marked the battle two years ago over a proposition to ban drinking year-round at city beaches. Proposition G failed by a narrow margin.

Rudolf Hradecky, a spokesman for the Sail Bay Association, the driving force behind the effort, said his group is asking for an all- day July Fourth ban on alcohol at the beach. Hradecky said public safety is paramount.

Opponents argue that personal freedom is just as important and say existing laws are more than enough to control drinking.

Hradecky said his group is concerned about out-of-control alcohol consumption.

“It is not a family scene,” he said. “Our concern is that there will be a potential riot. The situation is ripe for a riot, with people shoulder to shoulder, literally, and the drinking is phenomenal.”

Furthermore, Hradecky said, partygoers have left behind tons of trash, including old couches and beer cans, at Sail Bay, on the northern edge of Mission Bay, on the Fourth of July in past years.

Last year, the Sail Bay Association scored its first victory against July Fourth drinking when it successfully pressed for a ban on keg beer at the beaches. The law remains in effect.

Independence Day is the busiest day of the year, police have said. Last year, about 289,000 people visited the beaches at Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Mission Bay. Police arrested 14 people and wrote 552 citations for alcohol-related offenses, including driving, boating or bicycling under the influence, public drunkenness and minors in possession of alcohol.

The proposed Independence Day alcohol ban has garnered support from the Pacific Beach and Mission Beach town councils.

The Ocean Beach Town Council voted against it. Ocean Beach residents also have collected signatures from 2,000 people who oppose the proposed ban. Ocean Beach traditionally has had more subdued Independence Day celebrations, town leaders said. Last July Fourth, 80,000 people used its beach. Police made nine arrests and wrote 34 citations.

City Councilman Michael Zucchet, whose district includes Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach, has decided not to champion the proposed ban. Zucchet said his constituents are divided over the issue.

In a statement sent to more than 300 people who telephoned or e- mailed him — mostly in opposition to the proposed ban — Zucchet said he will pursue other avenues to ensure safety. Those measures include increasing police and lifeguard presence.

He also called on ban opponents to police themselves.

“I am also confident that the individuals who fought so hard against this ban will exercise their privilege to drink alcohol on the beach with great responsibility to prove that an alcohol ban need not be considered in future years,” Zucchet said in the letter.

His decision drew criticism from the Sail Bay Association.

“People talk about all the laws on the books and all you have to do is enforce them, but the problem is this: For a police officer to determine a person is publicly intoxicated or is a danger to others requires fairly high standards,” Hradecky said. “The officer has to arrest the person, take them downtown, and the officer is out of commission for half an hour or more.

“With a prohibition against alcoholic beverages, all the officers have to do is look for cans and containers. They can confiscate the things, they don’t have to arrest people. They can pour the stuff out.”

Hradecky said his association will take the issue to the City Council.

Opponents have organized a group that uses the Web site www.freepb.org to spread their message.

“San Diego’s three major beaches — Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach — are essentially the last places in California you can drink on the beach legally (a few state beaches are exceptions),” the Web site’s home page says. “This freedom is under constant assault by alarmists. Their arguments are short-sighted, but they will win if we do nothing.”

City laws already limit drinking at Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and practically all of Mission Bay to the hours of noon to 8 p.m.

Larry Leon, one of freepb.org’s organizers, said the group’s goal is to “promote responsible drinking on July Fourth.”

Leon said the proposed ban is the work of “a small group of homeowners who live in Sail Bay who want to decide the rights of people in the community.”

Wes Willoughby, 76, a Sail Bay resident, agrees. Willoughby’s views were published on freepb.org.

“People from East County come here one day in a year. They want to celebrate July Fourth,” he said in a telephone interview. “People who live at the beach stand along the shore, drinking their martinis while saying `No,’ looking down at the beach, `You can’t drink that beer.’

“The beaches belong to all of the people.”

In Mission Beach, town council Vice President Ross Provenzano said the council “vigorously supports” the right to drink at beaches but voted in favor of a dry July Fourth because there are not enough police to patrol the beaches on that day.

The Pacific Beach Town Council cast a 29-25 vote in favor of a ban on alcohol. Opponents have asked for another vote.

In Ocean Beach, town council President Jere Batten said members felt that it was premature to ban alcohol without exploring other avenues to promote safety.

Zucchet said he is investigating the possibility of:

Increasing police presence at the beaches.

Enlisting the help of police volunteers to monitor fire rings and littering, and to enforce traffic and parking laws.

Working with the city attorney to increase alcohol-related fines on July Fourth.

Asking the city’s Park and Recreation Department to provide more trash cans and portable bathrooms.

Zucchet also said the San Diego Lifeguard Service will extend its Independence Day hours to 10 p.m. in the hopes that the lifeguards’ presence would deter illegal activities.
[Illustration]
1 PIC; Caption: The Sail Bay Association is targeting alcohol on the beach on the Fourth of July, calling for a citywide beach drinking ban that day. (B-2); Credit: Jim Baird / Union-Tribune file photo

Credit: STAFF WRITER

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