Will Floatopia Be Banned?
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July 2, 2010 – A loophole in the beach alcohol ban has led to a phenomenon called floatopia -- a floating booze party in San Diego's Mission Bay. A city council committee is trying to put an end to the party. We discuss the details.
Related story: Will Floatopia Be Banned?
GLORIA PENNER (Host): As thousands head for the beach this holiday weekend, most San Diego officials agree the beach booze ban is working out well. But a loophole in the ban has led to the phenomenon that's been dubbed floatopia. As many as six thousand mostly students and young people have taken to rafts and inner tubes, to float just offshore and drink. A San Diego city council committee is trying to put an end to the party. Joining me now to discuss the latest on floatopia is KPBS Metro reporter Katie Orr. Welcome, Katie. KATIE ORR (KPBS News): Thanks, Gloria. PENNER: How did these floatopia events come to be? ORR: Well when alcohol on the beaches was banned in 2008 it was a reaction to that. It was discovered that there was a loophole in the law that would let you drink as long as your feet weren’t touching the sand. So if you were floating in the water you were ok. And so once that was discovered, these college kids started these parties. PENNER: So, actually, if you are buoyed up in any way at all? ORR: Yes. Yes. PENNER: So suppose you're actually on a boat? ORR: Well, this doesn’t cover boats. Boats are governed by state and federal laws. And so the city really doesn’t take those into account. So you can drink on boats, and this change to the rule wouldn’t affect that. PENNER: So once this was known, how did the city council react? ORR: Well they're not happy with these parties. They cost the city a lot of money. They're dangerous because, as you said, thousands of people come to these events. They're packed into this area and lifeguards can't always see them. So if you fell and you got caught underneath a raft you might not necessarily be rescued in time. And the lifeguards have said that they have had to make some rescues and there have been some critical cases. So the city council committee wants this stopped. So they voted to forward an amendment to the beach ban ordinance to city council to ban these parties. PENNER: Alright, so it’s an amendment to the… ORR: To the… PENNER: …beach… ORR: To the… PENNER: …alcohol ban. ORR: Right. To the ordinance that voters approved in 2008. What this would do is amend the ordinance to include bathers. That’s the definition. A bather is anyone who’s in the water. You can be standing in the water, surfing, floating on a noodle, floating on a raft, but you would not be able to drink while you're doing that. PENNER: Alright, you mentioned that the lifeguards are concerned. What about other people? I mean is there concern that’s being reflected throughout the beach community about this? ORR: Yeah, absolutely because depending on where they have these floatopias, and they’ve had them in different locations around the bay. Sometimes a lot of kids park around the neighborhood. You know they… thousands of people streaming through the neighborhood to get to the bay. And of course there's the trash issue. You know, beer cans in the water, trash on the beach… They were saying that during a typical floatopia they can fill up eight containers full of trash, and they hold like hundreds of tons of trash. And normally on the same weekend they would only fill up half of a container. So the trash that is generated from these events is a huge issue as well. PENNER: We said that this was students and young people, but you're not supposed to drink unless you're over 21. ORR: Well that’s one of the issues they have with floatopia. It’s organized anonymously on social sites like facebook. And so there's no one that they can hold accountable, no one that has come forward and asked for a permit. No one that they can say here’s a check for… a bill for $20,000 for us covering these events, you know, pay up. They don't know so there's no one that they can hold responsible. Police go and certainly if they suspect you're under 21 they could, you know, ticket you. So there are people on the scene but there's no one directly to hold accountable for these events. PENNER: Have there actually been disruptions and disturbances that can be directly attributable to the floatopia phenomenon? ORR: Well there have been… There have been, like I said, cases of people being so intoxicated. At the city council committee they were saying someone fell down in water that he could have actually stood up in but he was so drunk he didn’t realize that and the lifeguards had to rescue him. And you know you have public intoxication that goes along with these events. So there are certainly incidents that the police and lifeguards need to address. PENNER: I'm remembering back to when the alcohol beach ban had to be approved by the voters. Is this something that the voters will have to vote on? ORR: The city attorney’s office says no. They say that there is precedent that supports them being able to regulate this because it is related but distinct. So the voters didn’t say you can not drink in they water. They said you can not drink on the beach. So this does not affect what the voters approved but since it’s related, the city attorney says that they can legislate this without having to go to the voters. Now, they said they can't promise there won’t be a lawsuit. They can't guarantee that, but they think they have good precedent behind them to back up their position. PENNER: Are you seeing any kind of push back against having this happen? I mean are there protests at the…? ORR: Well there are some people you saw at the committee meeting earlier this week who said, listen, you know this is… you're banning everything. And Tony Young made a point – councilman Tony Young – saying he didn’t support the original ban and he thinks the city might be partially to blame because if you're banning all these activities, people are going to retaliate against that. You know, this all or nothing approach. And there were some people there that said, listen we don’t think we need anything else banned. Of course there are people in P.B. who say this is ruining our neighborhoods. And online you see on the floatopia facebook site, you know, college students or whoever is posting on there saying they can't do this to us. PENNER: Well we’re coming up to a big holiday weekend now. Can anything be done before the holiday weekend or not? ORR: Most likely not before the holiday weekend. What the council committee does want to do is make this an emergency ordinance, which would mean that it would go into effect the day it would be approved at the full city council. Normally, an ordinance need two readings and then it goes into effect about thirty days afterwards. This would make it so that it would go into effect immediately. PENNER: Ok. Just finally, Katie, when is the next floatopia supposed to happen? ORR: Well the facebook says July 17th is the day that they're planning another party. We’ll see if that happens or not. PENNER: Thank you very much, Katie Orr. ORR: Thank you.