A look at the beach booze ban, six years later
by Dave Schwab
Aug 29, 2013 | 5100 views | 7 7 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Not-so-quiet riot Police showed up in riot gear during a 2007 melee in Pacific Beach at which 17 people were arrested. The incident spurred the eventual ban of alcohol on all county beaches. 	BEACH & BAY PRESS ARCHIVES
Not-so-quiet riot Police showed up in riot gear during a 2007 melee in Pacific Beach at which 17 people were arrested. The incident spurred the eventual ban of alcohol on all county beaches. BEACH & BAY PRESS ARCHIVES
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BOOZE NO MORE Revelers crowd the beach at the 2007 Labor Day incident that sparked the ban on alcohol at San Diego beaches. In the midst of the crowd is a group of police in riot gear that attempted to quell the outburst. 	PAUL HANSEN
BOOZE NO MORE Revelers crowd the beach at the 2007 Labor Day incident that sparked the ban on alcohol at San Diego beaches. In the midst of the crowd is a group of police in riot gear that attempted to quell the outburst. PAUL HANSEN
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Six years after the Labor Day melee that ultimately led to the citywide alcohol ban on beaches, some say the ban has had a calming effect, as well as making beaches safer and cleaner.

On Labor Day in 2007, several hundred people crowded the section of Pacific Beach near Reed Street. When police officers responded to reports of fighting in the crowd about 5 p.m., they were pelted with full beer cans, plastic bottles and size D batteries by the crowd. Seventeen arrests were made, offenders were forcibly removed and a call for 70 additional officers to handle the crowd was put out. Mission Boulevard was closed near Reed Street for part of that evening.

District 2 City Councilman Kevin Faulconer arrived at the scene at about 6 p.m. to find police in riot gear and a helicopter overhead. A day later, Faulconer held a press conference, during which he pronounced, “Never again should we have to have police in riot gear walking down our beaches or have to close off our main thoroughfare,” pointing out San Diego was one of the only counties in California that still allowed alcohol on the beaches.

The Labor Day incident motivated Faulconer and the City Council to pass a one-year trial alcohol ban by ordinance. A year later, after years of debate and a year-long taste of alcohol-free beaches, San Diego voters finally drove booze off the beach permanently with the passage of Proposition D.

When the measure passed, Scott Chipman, Pacific Beach resident and spokesman for the Yes on D campaign, said the alcohol-ban campaign owed its success to “city residents who saw the difference the temporary ban made.”

Six years later, Chipman said the ban has helped, but more remains to be done.

“Violent crime, DUI and drunkenness is still way too common in the business district,” he said, though he added, “Positive change is in the wind, and that wind increased dramatically with the change in alcohol policy at the beach.”

But not everyone was — or is — happy with the beach alcohol ban, nor does everyone believe it’s necessary, fair and impartially applied.

“I opposed it, and I still oppose it,” said Paul Falcone, a member of the Pacific Beach Planning Group speaking on his own behalf. “It’s such a small percentage of people who are causing a problem.”

Falcone said there are more than enough regulations already dealing with alcohol on the beach, adding, “We don’t need to ban it for everybody.”

The beach alcohol ban has negatively impacted beach communities, Falcone contends.

“Beach businesses have suffered dramatically, their revenues are down almost 50 percent since the ban,” he said, arguing the ban is also driving people away from the beaches — and away from beach businesses — especially on all-important summer holiday weekends.

“We went from averaging 2 million people on the Fourth of July holiday weekend to 400,000,” Falcone said.

“The bottom line is it has taken away a lot of our freedoms,” Falcone said, noting that 2008’s Prop. D, which made the alcohol ban permanent, only passed by a 51 to 49 percent margin.

“People in the beach areas voted 65 percent against the ban,” said Falcone. “It was other areas voting for it that caused it to pass.”

Falcone’s comments were echoed by Robert Rynearson of freepb.org, which opposed the ban back in 2008.

“The fact is, we have no beach ban. We just have a permitting system that’s being administered unfairly,” Rynearson said. “They’re depriving people of their rights.”

Though some argued that an alcohol-free policy was an overreaction to an isolated incident, Chipman said he felt the ban was an idea whose time had come.

“For over a decade, local residents had been expressing concern about binge drinking, public drunkenness, beer bongs and alcohol luges, and lewd behavior and drunken pre-riotous conditions that had become commonplace in Pacific and Mission Beach,” he said.

Chipman contends, however, that the Labor Day riot was the catalyst for much-needed change.

“Prior to the riot, there wasn’t the political will to address the issue,” he said, adding drinking at the beach in San Diego had become an “institution.”

Retired San Diego lifeguard John Greenhalgh remembers the 2009 Labor Day fracas well. He recalls predicting it.

“I had said prior to that that a riot was going to have to occur before they got alcohol removed from the beach. That was going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Greenhalgh, who credited Faulconer for taking decisive action in proposing what was, at that time, an unpopular beach alcohol ban, which the lifeguard characterized as “a very risky move” politically.

Greenhalgh said he worked with the political campaign to get alcohol banned at the beach.

“I felt it was important. I understand that people thought it was a right, but I thought it was a privilege,” he said.

The retired lifeguard said there’s been a real “sea change” in the way the beachfront looks and feels, now that the alcohol ban is firmly in place.

“My wife and I were walking on the boardwalk the other day and I was just amazed at how much cleaner it was, no urine stench, and how much safer it felt,” he said. “Overall, there’s a lot less trash on the beach. There are less people stumbling around intoxicated. It’s almost like the residents were under siege. It’s just a better situation now.”

The beach alcohol ban has been good for lifeguards, allowing them to provide more focus on prevention and water safety, said San Diego lifeguard Lt. Nick Lerma.  

“Prior to the alcohol ban, lifeguards were spending an inordinate amount of time with alcohol-related or [alcohol]-induced issues, including fights and disorderly conduct,” Lerma said. “There were many medical issues related to extreme intoxication, including unconscious or disoriented individuals who had overimbibed. These issues were very distracting for lifeguards and took time away from other beach management priorities.”

Lerma said one of the most significant issues for lifeguards was managing water safety when intoxicated individuals would head to the water. 

“Intoxicated individuals tend to ignore the direction of lifeguards attempting to warn them out of rip-current areas and are less able to overcome challenging physical stressors,” he said. “Intoxicated individuals do not always exhibit the survival ability necessary for a lifeguard to affect a rescue.”        

Lerma said the majority of beachgoers continue to respect the alcohol ban. 

“With the majority of people abiding by the alcohol ban, it has not been overly taxing for lifeguards to enforce,” he said. 

Lerma said the ban has made a qualitative difference in the beach experience.

“There is no question that the beach has much less drama than it did prior to the ban,” he said. “The Pacific Beach area would be littered with trash daily prior to the ban. The area is now a much more family-oriented experience that all can enjoy.”

SDPD Northern Division Capt. Brian Ahearn said the ban has made law enforcement’s job easier as well as changing the social climate along the coast.

“It’s a lot less violent. We’re not responding to the same degree of violent crimes, especially the assault-type of cases, sexual assaults,” he said. “There’s been a dramatic reduction. With less alcohol consumption on the sand, it’s given us the ability to respond to other types of calls that took us longer to get to in the past.”

Ahearn said families and people of all ages, many of whom were put off before by disruptive behavior from excessive alcohol consumption, are returning to the beachfront.

“They know it’s going to be an enjoyable environment and they’re not going to have to deal with arrogant or inebriated people who are disruptive. It’s a big change … [The police have] moved on, the community’s moved on. It’s in the rear-view mirror.”
Comments
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enjoypb
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September 09, 2013
Thanks for this article Dave. I've had people tell me, even though they didn't vote for the ban, it's the best thing for the city. Hawaii does just fine without any alcohol on their beaches, as does most every small and major beach community in America. This was a privilege that, as sure as a clock tics, a few who took advantage of the laws and then abused the opportunity ruined it for the rest of us.

Also, just to clarify some statements made Voice of San Diego did a Fact Check and found Mr. Falcone's statements 'Misleading'. This is important because this is a serious unproven accusation. Here's their piece: http://voiceofsandiego.org/2013/09/06/fact-check-businesses-and-the-booze-ban/.
gfalke1
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August 30, 2013
Dave, thank you for an excellent report taking a long range look back at this issue. It's been nothing but positive as far as I'm concerned. At a time where San Diego should be greatly concerned about its image as an inviting tourist destination, the idea that our beaches once used to reek of urine should be offputting enough to convince anyone this was the right move. Orangebike's statistics are also illuminating - thank you for posting them. What we may never know is the number of DUI arrests and accidents prevented in other zip codes as people drive home from a day, night or weekend of binge drinking at the beach.
PacificBeach92109
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August 29, 2013
Paul Falcone is nothing but a pathetic anarchist and does not represent anyone in PB much less the Planning Group.

The Planning Group needs to discipline this smuck.
orangebike
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August 29, 2013
Hmm. Mr. Falcone needs some math help. He implies that beach attendance is down, by quoting 4th of July stats. However, comparing the five years before the beaches went alcohol-free to the five years afterward, beach attendance is up by 1,337,865. Mr. Falcone was only off by one-and-a-third million. I suppose in light of that number, his misquotation of the margin of victory of Prop. D is small change. It actually passed by about 53 to 47 percent; his error represenging just a few thousand vote.

As for the claim that "freedoms" have been taken away, let's remember that the last "Floatopia" alcohol-focused event resulted in tons of garbage being left on a small section of Mission Bay, and that the city spent more than $20,000 in police, lifeguard, and ambulance services for that event, which only lasted one afternoon.

When city officials considered modifying the beach booze ban to end the Floatopia events (and the resultant environmental nightmare), the only group to support Floatopia was…you guessed it, freepb.org…

gfalke1
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August 30, 2013
Orangebike, thank you for providing this well documented information. The beach booze ban is nothing but positive in the view of this native San Diegan and you've got the numbers to prove it.
enjoypb
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September 09, 2013
Even more startling is beach attendance being up 14% or more than 3 million from 2007 (last year with alcohol) vs. 2012 last year. Source: http://arc.usla.org/Statistics/public.asp
my2centz
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August 29, 2013
I think the beach is a much more pleasant experience now. It was scary walking down the boardwalk before. So many belligerent drunks stumbling around and blocking the boardwalk. There are far fewer transients hanging out there also I suspect because they can't get drink. Alhohol and water don't mix as the lifeguards point out. I am sorry for the alcoholics who are unable to go for several hours without it to go to the beach. NOT. As for the businesses there are already far too many bars around PB anyway.