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San Diego seeks sober beaches

Proposition D would permanently ban alcohol at some sites.

October 27, 2008|Tony Perry | Perry is a Times staff writer.

SAN DIEGO — An alcohol-fueled melee at Pacific Beach on Labor Day weekend 2007 has led to a renewed push for San Diego to do what most other areas in Southern California have already done: ban drinking at the beach.

Fifteen men and one woman were arrested after the bottle-throwing confrontation among hundreds of beachgoers and dozens of police in riot gear.

Afterward, the City Council slapped a temporary ban on beach drinking. Now the council has put Proposition D on the Nov. 4 city ballot to make the ban permanent at Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, Mission Bay Park and other coastal parks. La Jolla Shores already bars drinking.

It's not a new issue in San Diego, pitting an anti-alcohol and public safety message against a libertarian streak that treats a beer or sip of wine on the beach as a kind of civic birthright. Voters in 2002 narrowly defeated a similar ban.

Both sides have their talking points and websites left over from that election. Favoring the proposition are the city Fire Chief Tracy Jarman and head lifeguard Ken Hewitt. The opposition includes the chairman of San Diego County's Libertarian Party, and Roger Hedgecock, the ousted-mayor-turned-talk-show-host.

Jake Pyle, a member of the Pacific Beach Town Council, says Proposition D would punish the well-behaved for the misdeeds of the few. There are already ordinances to punish public drunkenness, he said.

Proposition D, Pyle told KPBS-FM (89.5) radio, was "dreamed up by a bunch of do-gooders and wealthy beach area property owners who want to privatize the beach. They don't want people to come there."

Scott Chipman, a leader of safebeaches.org, said San Diego's beaches had gained a reputation as a great place "to get intoxicated as quickly as possible."

"We're literally the last city with urban beaches that have allowed alcohol," Chipman said on KPBS.

Whether Chipman's point will help or hurt Proposition D is unclear. San Diego voters have a tendency to resent any suggestion that they follow the lead of other cities, particularly Los Angeles.

"It's San Diego's culture," Pyle said. "We're not Los Angeles, we're not Orange County, and we don't want to be."

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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