On June 15, Pacific Beach Town Council, in a continuation of its April meeting with the San Diego Police Department on PB crime trends, 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.
Sara Berns, executive director of Discover PB, the beach community's Business Improvement District (BID), noted statistics can be deceiving – and not tell the whole story – when not put in proper context.
While not disputing that PB does have the second-highest total, behind downtown's East Village, of violent crimes related to alcohol use in its business district, she said that doesn't tell the whole tale.
Berns points out, when you factor in the total number of crimes compared to the total number of people in the community, that PB's ranking drops from number two to number 42.
Berns also noted PB's BID is the largest citywide with approximately 1,550 member businesses. Of that, less than 10 percent – about 120 businesses – actually have liquor licenses.
“Most of PB's alcohol licenses are 30 to 50 years old,” said Berns adding “I've seen some leave, or get more restrictive – it works both ways.”
Berns noted PB's business district is also huge geographically, extending a couple of miles from the ocean to I-5, whereas East Village, which it is being compared to, is just a handful of blocks.
Berns added that blaming local business owners entirely for PB's alcohol problems is unfair and a non-starter in terms of resuming the conversation about ways to reduce alcohol-related crime.
“We need to talk about self-responsibility, people taking responsibility for their own actions,” she said adding, “It's on the entire community to do that.”
And then, Berns said, you need to factor in huge, seasonal summertime tourist crowds, sometimes tens of thousands on weekends, to put the problems with alcohol in beach areas in proper perspective.
But not everyone is satisfied with the argument that statistics can be misleading, contending instead it's inaction, on a number of levels, which is largely responsible for the alcohol-crime link being as pronounced as it is today.
“Alcohol Beverage Control (federal) regulations allow restaurants to function like bars and to maximize alcohol sales and profit without regard for negative impacts on crime and the community,” said PB resident Marcie Beckett. “The solution is to enact land-use policies (conditional use permits) so the City, not ABC, can control where and how alcohol businesses operate, so as to reduce problematic operations and encourage vibrant and safe business districts and communities.”
Community activist Scott Chipman, while noting the PB crime issue is “not new,” contends it is also not the way it has “always” been. Chipman pointed out that, in the '70s and '80s, PB business district included a Penny’s, Walker Scott, See’s Candy, two fabric stores, a movie theater, multiple family style restaurants and a bowling alley.
“We had all the services that would allow residents to shop, dine and entertain locals with no need to drive to another community or feel uncomfortable to be out late at night,” Chipman said, adding things changed rapidly once “family restaurants started turning into bars, bar-like restaurants or sports bars.”
Citing a dozen or more high-profile examples, Chipman added, “Some people say we just need more enforcement. Although 'enforcement' makes a powerful sound bite, we don’t see more enforcement alone as the answer. Enforcement always comes after the problem or incident has occurred.
“We are already monopolizing police resources in PB,” continued Chipman. “The bar fight that spills out on the street doesn’t go away because there was an arrest. The death from a DUI is not restored after an arrest. The women that have been sexually assaulted (24 reported incidents in 2015) are not all better after an arrest.”
Berns is hopeful that if any new conversation on public safety “would not be a blame game,” and everyone, all the stakeholders – residents, businesses, the police, the City Council – could all come together at the table, that that might yield some answers to the vexing problem of alcohol-related crime in PB.