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Ban on July 4 Beach Alcohol Sought

San Diego homeowners group faces resistance, however, amid debate over encroachment on personal freedoms.

March 21, 2004|Jean-Paul Renaud | Times Staff Writer

A move to ban alcohol from San Diego's beaches on the Fourth of July has sparked fierce debates in three coastal communities and revived arguments over personal freedoms and public safety.

Many residents of Sail Bay -- an affluent San Diego community at the western edge of Mission Bay -- say their section of the beach is marred by violence, littering and indecency every Fourth of July holiday, and they blame the heavy use of alcohol.

The city allows alcohol consumption on its beaches only from noon to 8 p.m. But residents in the cluster of condominiums that make up Sail Bay say the "sea of humanity" that converges annually on the coast to view fireworks -- and takes advantage of one of the few beaches in California that allows alcohol -- produces a volatile scene. They want alcohol restrictions extended eight more hours on July 4.

"Freedom carries responsibility, and there was no responsibility on the beach," said Sail Bay resident Nicole Larson, referring to the drunken behavior she saw on the beach last year. "It was just a total free-for-all."

Leaders of the Sail Bay Assn. attempted to convince the rest of San Diego's beach communities -- Mission Beach, Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach -- that alcohol has eroded the holiday's family-friendly atmosphere. With each of the community groups' blessing, they hoped to take the proposition to their council member for City Council approval.

But on their trek down the San Diego coastline, they encountered opposition. They convinced two beach communities that the ban was a good idea, but hit a roadblock on their final stop -- Ocean Beach, the southernmost beach in their plan.

Opponents say they have no right to keep others from enjoying the day the way they want to.

"Who are we to impact someone else's right to go to the beach on that day and enjoy it the way they want to?" asked Jere Batten, president of the Ocean Beach town council, the only beach community to have rejected the idea. "We don't want any restrictions on people's freedoms."

The council's board members, which defeated the measure 12 to 1, say the debauchery presented to them by some Sail Bay residents is not a problem they face on their stretch of sand, nearly three miles south.

"They need to take hold of their own problem," said Claudia Jack, an Ocean Beach resident who voted against the proposal last month. "If my friends come to the beach, they should be able to have a beer. It's taking away somebody's rights."

While coastal cities up and down the California coastline have been prohibiting alcohol for decades -- and are now even considering banning smoking -- voters in San Diego have refused to allow any of those restrictions to enter their city. Two years ago, they voted down a ban on alcohol at their beaches in a citywide referendum.

Last year, however, Sail Bay residents succeeded in prohibiting kegs on the beach. But after another rowdy year, they say kegs were not the problem.

The proposed ban will not enjoy the support of the beach communities' councilman, Michael Zucchet. He told constituents in an e-mail that "residents are divided on this issue and that there is a great deal of passion on both sides."

Instead, he pledged to increase receptacles and police presence, and extend lifeguard hours until 10 p.m. "I am confident that these measures, combined with the Police Department's enforcement of existing laws, will make a positive difference in the atmosphere of July 4 at Sail Bay," Zucchet wrote.

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