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Second Summer with Booze Ban Wrapping Up

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Aired 8/19/09

Year-round pleasant weather is a hallmark of San Diego. But officially the summer will end in less than a month. Police and some politicians say the alcohol ban at city beaches has been an across-the-board success. But there are still some people who miss the days when you could kick back on the sand with a beer.

— Year-round pleasant weather is a hallmark of San Diego. But officially the summer will end in less than a month. Police and some politicians say the alcohol ban at city beaches has been an across-the-board success. But there are still some people who miss the days when you could kick back on the sand with a beer.

Pacific Beach
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Above: Pacific Beach

Mike Ferreri of Ocean Beach sits on the sea wall and looks out at the surfers. He’s lived in the neighborhood for about six years, just a block from the beach. He didn’t vote for the alcohol ban, but admits it’s been good for OB.

“It’s a hard call. I mean, for being a local, it’s very hard, because I like how the beach is now. It’s very clean. There are not a lot of drunks laying around or drunks bothering you. It’s been great really. It’s cleaned up really a lot, to tell you the truth,” he says.

Ferreri says the Fourth of July this year was nothing like past holidays. Instead of a steady stream of people walking between the beach and the liquor store, he says it was like any other weekend day. Still, he says he thinks the ban has changed the character of the beach. And he says people are still drinking, they’re just being less obvious about it.

“You get into the places where I used to like to walk past the pier, onto the cliffs, stuff like that. But that seems like where everyone’s drinking now. The bad part about that is there are no facilities, there’s no cans to throw your trash away. So they leave the trash right there and it gets washed into the ocean. It’s worse now than it ever has been,” he says.

Ferreri says people are also choosing to drink liquor that can be easily concealed in soda or juice. He says most of his neighbors share his mixed emotions about the ban. But Police Captain Shelley Zimmerman says the ban isn’t keeping people away. More than 1.2 million people went to the beach during the Fourth of July weekend. That’s more than last year. But arrests and citations were down. Alcohol citations at beaches in the police department’s northern division were double what they were in 2008. But Zimmerman says that’s because the people who were drinking stood out more this year. She says those figures fall in line with a study she did in the fall of 2008 that compared pre- and post-ban crime statistics.

“What we found is that, again, there were fewer arrests, fewer citations, response times were reduced. Minors in possession was greatly reduced. And we’re continuing to see that,” she says.

Just because fewer people are drinking on the beach doesn’t mean drinking has stopped all together. There have been reports of increased drinking at Kate Sessions Park in northern Pacific Beach. Zimmerman says it’s not really a big problem. She says the police department is working with residents around the park to make sure things don’t get out of hand. But Rob Rynearson says it was predictable people would start drinking somewhere else once the beach was off limits. He’s with the organization FreePB.org and worked to oppose the ban when it was up for a vote. Two years in, he’s still not a fan.

“Overall, the ban, I mean I think it’s just a shame. I know a lot of my friends and our families aren’t able to go down to the beach and enjoy ourselves the way we used to,” he says.

And Rynearson says he believes the ban drew the backing of more affluent people who didn’t like the crowds.

“The people that live right on the water and therefore need to share these public spaces with the people that come use them are reluctant to do that. And I think they’d much rather look across an empty beach at the sunset rather than a beach full of picnickers or people enjoying themselves out on the sand,” he says.

Still, Rynearson says his group doesn’t have any plans to try to overturn the ban. Councilman Kevin Faulconer’s district includes many city beaches. He says no law is ever going to please everyone, but he says it was the right time for a ban in San Diego.

“People have had the opportunity now to see the difference. They knew what it was like before and they’ve seen the change now. And I think that’s one of the reasons voters supported this change,” he says.

Faulconer says the ban has allowed the police department to use its resources in other parts of the city. And he says the beach has a more family friendly atmosphere now. San Diego police are already preparing for summer’s last bash, Labor Day weekend, when large crowds will cover the sand again.

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