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San Diego City Council Puts Beach Drinking Ban on Ballot

by Mark Gabrish Conlan/Zenger's Newsmagazine Thursday, Jul. 26, 2001 at 7:17 PM
mgconlan@earthlink.net (619) 688-1886 P.O. Box 50134, San Diego, CA 92165

The San Diego City Council on July 23 responded to a public referendum petition to put its controversial ban on drinking on city beaches to a public vote. Opponents of the ban focused on the $180,000 it would cost to add the issue to the March 5, 2002 election. Supporters said that's a drop in the bucket compared to the costs of additional police to patrol the beaches and prevent alcohol-related crime.

errorSan Diego City Council Puts Beach Alcohol Ban on Ballot

Copyright 2001 by Zengers Newsmagazine Used by permission

After an hour and a half of contentious public testimony, the San Diego City Council voted to accept a referendum petition on the ban on drinking at some San Diego beaches and put the issue on the March 5, 2002 ballot for a citywide vote. The Council originally passed the ban on a 5-3 vote April 30, but opponents circulated a petition to repeal it. Faced with a choice of getting rid of the ordinance or letting the people vote on it, a unanimous Council decided to let it go on the ballot even though it will cost up to $180,000 to have citizens vote on it, and even if the ban wins it will only be effective for nine months, until the end of 2002, when it was scheduled to expire anyway.

The ban, which is now suspended pending the election, would only apply to Mission Beach and the southern part of Pacific Beach between Felspar Street and Pacific Beach Drive. It would not apply to Ocean Beach, nor to the northern end of Pacific Beach. Ban opponent Jane Gowronski, acting president of the Ocean Beach Town Council, pointed this out when she called the ban a piecemeal solution that isolates Ocean Beach as the place to drink on the beach. She said the ban would push beach drinkers towards Ocean Beach and turn it into a combat zone.

Pacific Beach Town Council president Carl Jedke and Mission Beach Town Council board member Richard Kreme also opposed the ban. Why dont you listen to us and consider the alternate proposals supported by all three beach-area town councils? Jedke said. Apparently you only want to hear from us during your election campaigns.

But ban supporter John Blecker said the only reason the beach-area town councils opposed the ban was that the liquor industry had taken them over. The local town councils, voting on the ban, are not an indicator of their constituents wishes, Blecker said. They only are an indication of the liquor industrys success in infiltrating our town councils. Blecker noted that the recently elected Mission Beach Town Council president was also a financial supporter of the referendum campaign, which Blecker called a conflict of interest.

The question is whether the highly financed restaurants, bars, liquor store owners, hotels and liquor industry can finance a campaign that makes it seem like the entire community is opposed to a ban, said ban supporter Phillip Sharp. They have the financial clout to hire a professional signature-gathering organization to put this on the ballot. Ordinary people dont have that kind of clout.

Many of the ban opponents focused on the probable cost of an election, which would be $150,000 to $180,000 if consolidated with the regular March election and $1 million if a separate election were held just for that purpose. I hate seeing city money wasted, said J. P. Hagemeyer. Putting the ban to a vote would cost $180,000. Why spend that to tell us what we already know that San Diego does not want a ban? While were waiting for the March election the beach communities will still be waiting for a real solution.

Ban opponent Mike Meyer disputed the claim of supporters that it takes up to 60 police officers to patrol the beach areas and prevent or break-up drink-related fights and other crimes. He said hed done his own survey and had never seen more than nine officers in the area on any weekend day. The only time they ever need 60 officers is to break up gang fights, Meyer said.

Ban supporter Jean Strohlein, who identified herself as second vice-president of the Mission Beach Town Council, called the cost of an election peanuts compared to the cost of giving us more police officers and implementing the opponents so-called seven-point program, a smokescreen which would only allow the problem to continue. Nothing has changed in the last two months since you voted for a trial ban. The only difference is the opponents spent $750,000 on a P.R. campaign and now say a $180,000 special election is too expensive.

Strohlein, whose parents Al and Katherine (both veteran beach-area activists themselves) also spoke in favor of the ban, said the issue had hit close to home. This past Thursday, my neighbors car was vandalized by two inebriated youths, and they were still doing it when the police arrived, she said. This is not a moral issue or a personal-rights issue. Its just a public-safety issue. Like a number of the bans supporters, she also pointed out that the $180,000 the election would cost is also the full cost of hiring and training just one San Diego police officer.

A number of teenagers and pre-drinking age adults also showed up to announce their support for the ban. I came from the west coast of France, a much more liberal country where we can do pretty much what we like, and where were introduced to wine at a relatively early age, said San Diego State University senior Tomas Dessen. But even in France, drinking on public beaches is not considered acceptable. We do not believe children should be exposed to that.

I cant vote yet, but I thank you, said Rita Marquez, a junior at El Cajon Valley High School. Teens drink at the beach. Its a perfect place. Adults buy or give it to them. Police rarely search for IDs and we get lost in the hundreds of beer guzzlers on the beach. Let the residents of San Diego choose alcohol-free beaches. You would not take your children to a club; why take them to an alcohol beach?

Melvin Bibbs, whos worked with Mid-City for Youth for three years, said, A lot of the kids I work with are high-risk or probable gang members, and when I ask them what theyre going to do over the weekend, most of them say, Im going to the beach with my homies. I worry about them coming home safely. One day, coming home from a movie at Mission Valley, I was cut off at Fairmount and Mission Gorge Road by a car with seven or eight inebriated youths inside.

Greetings from Pacific Beach, said beach area activist Robert Lasker, who asked the Council to put on the ballot an even stronger alcohol ban that would cover all of Pacific Beach. We all agree on the severity of the alcohol problems at the beach. I have personally witnessed intoxicated people striking police officers, urinating and defecating in public, and harassing lifeguards. Lasker said there were two sources for the problems with public intoxication in the beach areas: bars that wont set reasonable limits and keep selling people drinks to make money, and drinking on the very beaches that we cherish.
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