SPECIAL REPORT: Pacific Beach loves the nightlife, but is it safe for partiers and good for the community?
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 08/25/17 - 01:16 PM | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Garnet Avenue is busy near Dawes Street on a Saturday night. / PHOTO BY DAVE SCHWAB
Garnet Avenue is busy near Dawes Street on a Saturday night. / PHOTO BY DAVE SCHWAB
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Young adults, mostly age 25 and under, packed the bars and lined the streets along Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach on a recent sultry summer Saturday evening.

It's a typical summer weekend at the beach, with all the mingling and consumption of alcoholic beverages. This kind of fun, along with some rowdiness, has been going on in Pacific and Mission beaches for decades.

I recently went out on a weekend “pilgrimage,” along with Beach & Bay Press intern Mathilde Rousseau Bjerregaard, and Eve Anderson, longtime PB resident and community planner, to experience just what the summer nightlife scene is really like first-hand in PB.

Anderson has been touring PB's bar district for the last seven years, monitoring the behavior, or misbehavior, of young crowds out having a good time on a Saturday night.

Alcohol-related crime has been a major, and at times worsening, concern in PB for many years.

In February, Pacific Beach Planning Group discussed the distressing violent crime statistics from community's commercial strip. Stats don't lie. 

Out of 125 City of San Diego communities, Pacific Beach recently ranked second overall with 216 violent crimes in 2016. That figure included 31 “reported” sexual assaults, averaging nearly 20 violent crimes per month.

But things have changed lately, for the better, with drunkenness and rowdiness on the beachfront, concluded Anderson, who ought to know — she's there checking it out every year.

“This year is different,” said Anderson, who felt, this time around, that there were “more people out on the streets. I'm guessing at least 60 percent of those were from east of the 5.”

Noting the tour night in question (Aug. 5) was “an almost-full moon,” Anderson added, “people seemed a bit edgier.”

Though she's in her 70s, Anderson said she and a female friend “get invited at least a half-dozen times to join the guys going wherever. And lots of high-fives and positive comments from young women, too.” 

Anderson, summarizing this year's grand beach nightlife tour, said, “Overall, far fewer drunk or seriously happy people ... No peeing on walls, no barfing, no fights. And that's commendable. Polite Ubers are helping.”

But there is another side to this story.

PB entrepreneur Todd Brown, owner of Bub's at the Beach at 1030 Garnet Ave., is a former member of the Discover PB board. Brown has been involved with committees trying to resolve problems with alcohol and beach bars. In Bub's case, Brown noted, “It's a bar, but we've always made our living on the food — that's how we differentiate ourselves.”

This year, Brown pointed out, “Our business is down in gross sales,” adding, “it's indicative of the Garnet corridor. PB is a different place now.”

Now that alcohol has been banned on the beach, Brown said, “You have different choices now. Police have taken out the house parties, going after the landlords. The kids aren't living down at the beach anymore because they can't drink on the beach. It's a younger demographic now — lots of young families.”

How is the situation now with alcohol-related crime in Brown's view?

“PB is really getting better,” he said, adding that, with young people and booze, “Crime is never going to be zero. I wish it was.”

Brown said he and other PB bar owners continue to employ heightened security and training attempting to thwart alcohol-related crime.

“At the end of the day, as a bar operator, I'm looking to do everything I can do to improve every aspect of my operations from food quality to security,” Brown said. “There's always room for improvement.”

Out for a night on the town, Amanda Fog, and a male friend, were in front of Tavern at the Beach at 1200 Garnet Ave. Fog noted, “Tavern is actually one of the safer bars because they have good security, and they do a really good job of making sure anybody drunk or acting up is taken care of.”

Added Fog, “As you get closer to the beach, you tend to get behavior that is more problematic.”

Having witnessed the nightlife tour, Bjerregaard, a Denmark native, commented: “The biggest difference between going out in PB and going out in Denmark, is that you only have to be 16 to buy alcohol and 18 to go out in Denmark. You could say that it is really early to start drinking at 16, but I think it keeps people from getting in trouble when they get older.

“In Denmark people start drinking when they still live at their parent's house. This means that the parties are under supervision, parents have control over how much their kids are drinking, and they pick their kids up after a party so that they know that they come home safe. In that way, when people are old enough to go out at 18, alcohol is not something new and fascinating anymore, and you know how much alcohol to drink and not to drink. 

“Walking down Garnet Avenue I wondered why we don’t have a problem with alcohol-related crime in Denmark, and I actually think it is because the bars and clubs in Denmark are open all night,” Bjerregaard continued. “In Denmark, people normally go out around 1 or 2 a.m. and they go home at 5 or 6 a.m. People are just as drunk as the people from PB when they go out, but because they stay out so late, many people become sober before they leave the bars. Besides, it is often daylight at the time people go home. I think the combination of people not being drunk when they leave the bar, and not having to walk home in the dark, avoids a lot of alcohol-related crime.” 

When this reporter was a younger man, about 35 years ago, I used to go out and enjoy the bar scene. PB always has been — and always will be — a haven for partying and young people, as all beach communities are. Things seemed pretty tame this year, on this night. I saw no one passed out. No one sick. One person was laying on the ground outside one bar, but he was trying to use his cell phone, so he wasn't that out of it.

But inebriated people can be troublesome and difficult to deal with. I met a couple of young men on the tour who, after I informed them I was researching a story about PB and alcohol-related crime, they were just certain I was going to do a hit piece advocating stricter alcohol regulation at the beach.

I told them I had no preconceived notions going in, that I would assess what I saw, and be fair and impartial, in rendering my take on how wild (and not wild) the PB bar scene is. I ask this question of the readers of this story, “How did I do?”

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