Imperial Beach to ban booze at shore | Crackdown planned to clean up area and improve city’s image

September 10, 1995 No Comments

FRANK KLIMKO. The San Diego Union – Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Sep 10, 1995. pg. B.1

IMPERIAL BEACH — This rough-hewn community that once was called Whiskey Flats will soon make it illegal to crack open a beer on the beach as it tries to clean up its shot-and-a-chaser image.

Officials want to exchange the city’s outlaw biker bar reputation for a more wholesome one that will attract families to the ocean.

However, the new booze ban won’t change the fact that the city remains home to a string of beach-front hard-liquor bars that is one of the most concentrated in the state.

Similar attempts to ban alcohol consumption have failed in the past, but officials are serious about shaking off the city’s rough, boozy image, said Councilman Steve Haskins.

“The old Imperial Beach is over and there is a new desire to have it a family-oriented town, to change its image,” Haskins said. “We do not want to see fights, shootings, stabbings and people urinating on the street corners.”

Imperial Beach was among a handful of Southern California waterfront communities that did not regulate alcohol consumption along its beaches.

After years of talking about a ban, the Imperial Beach City Council unanimously voted to support it last week. The issue returns for a final vote later this month, although second votes tend to be a formality.

The ban could be enacted as early as Thanksgiving.

From Los Angeles to Redondo Beach to Coronado, it’s almost impossible to pop open a cold one on the sand without running afoul of the law. Only a few communities, such as Del Mar, expressly allow alcohol consumption on the beach.

In the city of San Diego, alcohol consumption is either outlawed altogether or limited to daytime hours along the beach.

Other cities also have adopted bans on drinking at the beach. It is generaly prohibited in Oceanside, Carlsbad and Encinitas, and allowed only at certain times in Solana Beach.

Imperial Beach’s ban is one of the most restrictive, outlawing liquor completely.

The Sheriff’s Department supported the alcohol ban, predicting it would cut criminal activity at the beach by 25 percent, according to Lt. Ron VanRaaphorst, who issued a report on the matter for the council. The department patrols Imperial Beach.

“It is clear that those communities that ban public alcohol consumption generate fewer alcohol-related calls for service,” VanRaaphorst’s report said. “As a result, those communities enjoy a more family-like atmosphere in their public areas and beaches.”

In the past, the city’s relaxed attitude toward alcohol consumption and the clustering of six taverns along a short stretch of beach have combined to cause problems for the Sheriff’s Department, VanRaaphorst said.

Deputies spend an inordinate amount of time answering alcohol- related calls along the beach when their time would be better spent elsewhere, he said.

“You’ve got a bunch of (drunks) out there acting ridiculous,” VanRaaphorst said. “It’s the jerks that create the problems.”

The Sheriff’s Department will soon permanently add two deputies on special assignment who will patrol the beach, looking for people violating the booze ban.

Imperial Beach has long been a hard-drinking, rowdy stretch of sand associated with bawdy behavior. It was the setting for Joseph Wambaugh’s ribald novel “Finnegan’s Week.”

Afternoons are surrendered to a fleet of beer trucks that seem to take over the town. One tavern even has Jack Daniels on tap.

During the Depression, bootleg liquor was available at an old beach hotel, and a nearby section of saloons and gambling parlors was called Whiskey Flats.

The gambling and bootleg hooch are long gone, but not the reputation.

Many said they will welcome the change.

“I think it’s great,” said Richard Jones, a South San Diego caterer walking on the Municipal Pier on Friday. “I would like to see it turned into a family beach.”

Jones, 48, said he and his son were harassed by a group of youths who threw water balloons on them while they walked on the beach this summer. Jones thinks an alcohol ban, along with stepped-up patrols, would bring more civility to the beach.

Indeed, it’s not unusual to see young people gathered in the shadows of the pier sharing a marijuana joint or passing around a pipe. And tourists often are accosted by a gantlet of drunken transients lined up in the grass at the pier’s entrance.

“If they stop the drinking, they will have less violence and less stealing,” said Bert Lopez, 56, of Coronado, who fishes almost every day at the pier.

Others disagreed.

“I see nothing wrong with (drinking) on the beach as long as they don’t make an ass of themselves,” said George Thomas Rushing, 61, a retired San Diego sailor, who was also fishing.

“There’s nothing wrong with taking a drink and wetting your line in the water.”

Opponents of the beach ban have collected about 1,400 signatures in the past month asking the Imperial Beach City Council to reverse its decision. They plan to continue lobbying against the ban.

“It’s just another infringement on the civil liberties of the people,” said Rolland Gray, publisher of Imperial Beach Review, a monthly newspaper.

[Illustration]
2 PICS; Caption: 1. George Thomas Rushing: “There’s nothing wrong with taking a drink and wetting your line.” (B-8) 2. Bert Lopez: “If they stop the drinking, they will have less violence.” (B-8) [2. UNION- TRIBUNE]

Credit: Staff Writer

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