In a continuation of its April meeting with the San Diego Police Department on PB crime trends, the conversation June 15 turned to the direct link between the saturation of alcohol licenses in the beach community and the high incidence of violent crimes: PB has the city's second-highest rate.
It made for a volatile discussion.
“When the politicians feel the heat – they see the light,” quipped community activist Lou Cummings, who exhorted the community to “not just sit here and moan,” but to go down to City Council and tell them its continued inaction on alcohol-related crime is no longer an option.
“No one's responded when we've brought up the increasing crime rate in our business district,” said Brian Curry, Pacific Beach Planning Group chair, citing Discover PB Business Improvement District, and the majority of the City Council outside of District 2 Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, as cases in point.
Curry said there “has to be a change in the community's mind set” to pressure local politicians to do what's necessary to curb alcohol-related crime.
Responding to Curry, Sara Berns, Discover PB's executive director, said the BID's “been working for a very long time on all these things.”
Noting “there's a lot more to this conversation,” Berns added finger pointing and accusations aimed at the business community serves only to “stop the conversation.”
“We have to get the political will,” noted PB planner and activist Scott Chipman. “We will not stand anymore for being the second-highest crime community with double the rates in the region.”
For years, PB community planners have advocated greater local control over the issuance – and enforcement – of alcohol licenses as one way to stem growing crime problems related to alcohol abuse.
Guest speakers were Rob Hall, media specialist of San Diego Advocates for Youth, and Eric Collins, director of the Alcohol Policy Panel of San Diego County.
Hall gave a slideshow with charts using SDPD-reported crime statistics that showed PB ranked second out of 10 communities in the city with the highest violent crime rates between 2008-2015. During that interval, East Village had the most reported crimes, 1,883, with PB close behind at 1,792. By contrast, during the same time period, the Gaslamp Quarter had 960 reported violent crimes and Ocean Beach had 911. The citywide average was 355.
Hall concluded it was a mistake to blame police for PB's crime problem noting officers are enforcers not legislators crafting laws to solve problems.
“It's a policy issue,” Hall contended. He attributed PB's crime problems in part to youthful patrons, beach proximity and an intensely competitive atmosphere among bars/restaurants serving alcohol forcing them to cut prices or offer other incentives to encourage alcohol sales in order to survive.
Collins talked about measures undertaken to curb alcohol-related crimes in similar situations in other communities. He cited one program named a Deemed Approved Ordinance (DAO), which has been tried successfully recently in El Cajon.
DAO's impact all existing off-sale alcohol outlets including liquor stores, markets and convenience stores requiring responsible operating guidelines including not selling to intoxicated individuals or minors and restricting operating hours and the size and alcohol content of drinks sold, as well as regulating signage and minimum-distance requirements separating alcohol-related businesses from churches, parks or schools.
“These (DAO) laws do not shut down businesses, but rather allow businesses to partner with the communities to deal with serious issues with alcohol,” Collins said.