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Some Say Beach Booze Ban Changing Character of Pacific Beach

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Aired 4/19/09

The San Diego Police department is handing out 15 citations each week to people drinking alcohol on public beaches and in public parks. The ban was enacted by the city council after a Labor Day riot on Pacific Beach made headlines around the world. But as Reporter David Nogueras found out, many of the residents and people who do business on Pacific Beach have mixed feelings about ban.

Lifeguard Casey Owens has his eyes focused on the water. He's on the lookout for any sign of trouble and with hundreds of feet of sand separating him from the ocean, he relies heavily on his eyes. So it's not a surprise that when you ask him about how the ban on alcohol has affected Pacific Beach, he talks about what he sees.

Owens: The differences that we've notice is a substantial difference on the trash on the beach and that's also reported by the parks a recreation people that clean up the boardwalk and things.

But Owens says he also sees a change in the way people are behaving.

He says, in the past the lifeguards would have to deal with unruly crowds. In some cases drunken crowds have refused to clear a path so lifeguards can respond to emergencies. But since the ban went into effect, Owens says that has changed.

Owens: Now we don't see that. There's still huge numbers of people that come to the beach. They just seem to be better behaved, that's the only way I could put it.

Wiley Miranda lives in San Diego. He comes to Pacific Beach a couple of times a week -- not to drink he says, but to play horseshoes. Miranda thinks the ban was well intentioned, but ultimately misguided.

Miranda: It's difficult because I understand how alcohol can cause problems and situations can get out of hand but like people that live around here don't cause fights. They just hang out and play horse shoes, you know?

Miranda wonders if the ban could have unintended consequences for the character of the community. He points out that a ban on beer will probably affect people who collect beer cans left on the beach. Each can be returned a 5 cent deposit. And he says that's not all.

Miranda: It's also and attractive aspect of coming to San Diego. Like hey let's go have a beer with some friends on the beach in the sun. And you take that away and some people might stay at home and just have a couple of cocktails and enjoy a barbecue or something.

But so far, that doesn't seem to have happened.

 

Kevin Shaw is the manager at World Famous on Pacific Beach. Shaw describes it as a great restaurant with a good bar.

But he says, since the ban went into effect their "good" bar is doing some "great" business. He says the first indications of that came on Easter Sunday -- not exactly known for being a big bar day.

Shaw is happy to see the bar do more business, as long as it doesn't bring the trouble makers indoors.

Shaw: We don't want those people in here, we're looking for the families to come in on the weekend days and have a great time for their kids to be at, we don't want some place where families can't even walk on the boardwalk in front of our restaurant.

Gina Rangel is the hostess at World Famous. She says she's noticed a change since the ban went into effect.  She says in the past the restaurant would draw in college kids in their beach gear, looking take advantage of the restaurants food specials.

Rangel: It would effect us because we would have to maintain the shoes policy and everything. But now, there's really nobody I mean they come out when it sunny, but that's just a suntan and then they're gone.

And that's the worry -- the businesses that make their living on beach traffic could see that traffic affected by the ban. KPBS tried to talk to many liquor store owners on Pacific Beach to ask them how the ban has affected them. None of them would talk to us on tape. But one liquor store owner said he thinks the ban won't stop people from drinking on the beach. He thinks people will just hide their booze in plastic cups and water bottles. 

But some local business leaders think the ban might signal a sea change in the character of Pacific Beach. Benjamin Nichols is the executive director at Discover Pacific Beach. 

Nichols: In balance, I think you'll see more people. You'll see different people though. You'll probably have more families, more kids, younger children I mean...coming to the beach. And I think that families have a tendency to spend more money than a handful of college kids sitting on the beach.

Beach communities won't know for sure until this summer when everybody will see who shows up and who shells out. 

For KPBS, I'm David Nogueras.

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