`War’ anticipated before beach alcohol-ban vote

January 23, 2002 No Comments

Angela Lau. The San Diego Union – Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Jan 23, 2002. pg. B.1.1.7

The issue has divided communities and pitted neighbors against each other. Now it could get ugly.

In less than two months, San Diego voters will be asked to decide whether the city should conduct a test and impose a 24-hour ban on alcohol for parts of the beaches in Pacific Beach and Mission Beach.

Supporters and opponents are gearing up for a knockdown war of words and possibly a lopsided financial battle that may favor opponents.

If Proposition G on the March 5 ballot is successful, the city would impose a test ban on alcohol in those beach communities until Dec. 31.

Supporters plan to kick off their campaign at the end of this month. Opponents, still busy raising funds, expect to begin their campaign blitz at the same time.

Ban supporters are planning on debates, airing their views on talk shows and distributing posters and fliers. The opposition, under the guidance of political consultant Bob Glaser, declined to reveal its strategy.

“They’ll probably have a lot more money than we do — usually that means TV, radio, possibly door-to-door,” said Jill Galante, co-chair of the San Diego Safe Beach Task Force, which supports the ban. “I’m afraid it will be a knockout fight.”

The task force consists of a group of social service agencies aggressively assisting supporters by conducting educational campaigns around San Diego.

By now, it’s hard to find someone in the affected beach areas who doesn’t already have an opinion on the test ban. It’s the rest of the San Diego voters they are worried about.

The sample ballot argument drafted by the supporters says the two beaches have become the “center of underage drinking in Southern California.”

The statement says that police reported 17,393 arrests and citations for alcohol violations at Pacific Beach and Mission Beach from 1998-2000, accounting for one-third of such crimes in the city.

The argument is signed by presiding Juvenile Court Judge James Milliken, the San Diego Police Officers Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The opponents’ ballot statement portrays the ban as depriving 99 percent of law-abiding residents of the opportunity to drink on the beach because of the actions of a few troublemakers.

Opponents further argue that police should enforce existing laws more diligently. They say current regulations are more than adequate to quell alcohol-related disturbances.

The anti-ban group includes the town councils of Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach.

Even though Ocean Beach is not part of the proposed test-ban area, the community’s leaders have opposed the regulation, saying drinkers barred from Pacific Beach and Mission Beach would swarm to Ocean Beach.

“It’s just bad public policy,” said Jane Gawronski, immediate past president of the Ocean Beach Town Council. “Nobody asked us how we felt about (being left out of the ban area). That’s why we’re so opposed to it.”

If money — as it often does — influences the outcome of this election, the advantage of this final battle may tilt to the opponents.

“Who knows, Budweiser may decide to write them a check,” Galante said. “We will never match them dollar for dollar.”

Indeed, liquor store owners in Mission Beach and Pacific Beach and beer and wine distributors have been generous donors to the opposition’s war chest.

Last year, when the city imposed the test ban on its own, opponents raised $77,896 in cash and loans to fund a campaign that forced the trial ban to be put before the voters in the hope that San Diegans would overturn the City Council’s decision.

Opponents have continued to raise money, although they do not reveal how much they have for the final push of the campaign or how they will spend it.

On the other hand, ban supporters are seemingly at a disadvantage due to a bare-bones budget, having raised $7,000 so far.

“It’s very slow,” said Bill Bradshaw, chairman of San Diegans for Safe Beaches, a residents group that supports the ban. “People don’t have any financial interest in it like liquor stores.

“If people can get past emotion and look at the facts, they will agree with us,” said Bradshaw, a novice at political campaigns. “The tremendous number of arrests, the amount of police manpower devoted to patrolling the beaches, drunk drivers in Pacific Beach, teen-age drinking — all these amount to a huge public-safety problem.”

But Glaser, consulting for the opposition group San Diegans for Protection of Responsible Beach Rights, said voters will quickly realize only a fraction of the 20.5 million visitors to the beaches in Pacific Beach and Mission Beach commit alcohol-related crimes.

“You can’t justify (the argument that) it’s a huge problem,” Glaser said.

The March referendum will be decided by a simple majority, which could come down to 50 percent of the vote plus one person, said Joyce Lane, the city’s elections officer.

If approved, the trial ban will be effective until the end of the year. And when it expires, the City Council must act to put another ban in place if it wants to do so, Lane said.

The test ban would cover beaches in Mission Beach on the ocean side from the south jetty to Pacific Beach Drive and on the bay side from the south jetty north to Zanzibar Court. It would also cover part of Pacific Beach from Pacific Beach Drive north to Felspar Street. The city manager could grant drinking permits for special occasions.

The test ban, which was approved by the City Council in April and was to have lasted 18 months, was stopped by opponents, who gathered enough signatures to force the council to reconsider its decision.

Instead of rescinding the ordinance, the council decided in July to put the matter on the ballot.

Angela Lau: (619) 542-4584; angela.lau@uniontrib.com
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