Banning beach booze

    In the upcoming March primary election, voters will have to decide whether they want to ban alcohol at some San Diego beaches 24 hours a day, as opposed to the current ban, which prohibits alcohol from 8 p.m. to noon. This measure, which would affect Pacific Beach and Mission Beach, is known as Proposition G.

    You are probably thinking, “”Now I won’t even be able to enjoy a simple drink at the beach? F*%# that.”” There’s more to it than that, and you know it.

    Alcohol in crowded public parks and on beaches creates major public safety problems: underage drinking, drunken driving, violence, vandalism and other disturbances.

    It is no wonder that every major beach community in Southern California except San Diego prohibits alcohol consumption on the sand. While to some people, prohibition may seem like a crusade against the wiles of alcohol, to many it is an issue of public safety and quality of life. It’s not to punish those who bring champagne as a part of a romantic beach picnic or those who bring a cooler on a hot summer day to enjoy a cold one. Proposition G is there to ensure beachgoers a safer and more pleasant place to hang out.

    The beach has become the underage scene for drinking. Why? Because it’s easy. Underage drinkers can come out to the beach and ask unsuspecting beachgoers for a share of their booze or keg, and just like that, they leave, having acquired alcohol without identification.

    According to the Policy Panel on Youth Access to Alcohol and The San Diego Union-Tribune, 733 minors were caught in possession of alcohol in Mission Beach and Pacific Beach in the last two years. Only seven adults were charged for distribution to minors. Of course, that doesn’t include the statistics for other San Diego-area beaches or other alcohol-related arrests. It definitely doesn’t include the minors whose alcohol exploits go undetected.

    In the last three years, police have made 17,393 arrests and citations for alcohol-related violations in those areas. This comprises over one-third of all of San Diego’s alcohol-related violations in that period. According to research by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 1,361 of these citations were for drunk driving and 2,583 were for minors in possession of alcohol. According to San Diego City Council statistics, the 92109 ZIP code, which encompasses the areas to be affected by Proposition G, has the highest percentage of drunken driving arrests in San Diego.

    On busy holiday weekends in Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, 50 or more police officers are often assigned to beach patrol — officers that could be protecting your neighborhood and making more meaningful arrests.

    In 1991, when La Jolla Shores Beach was made alcohol-free, reported crimes dropped 80 percent and arrests dropped 43 percent. By contrast, in 2000, 18 police officers were injured in the line of duty in Mission Beach and Pacific Beach due to alcohol-related violence.

    The last two major beach holidays — Labor Day weekend and Independence Day — were also considered the deadliest, because San Diego drunken-driving arrests jumped 8 percent higher than normal, the highest for San Diego since 1993.

    Banning alcohol 24 hours a day at Mission Beach and Pacific Beach would drastically reduce the staffing of beach patrol officers and the proliferation of crime at the beach. Eventually, the ban could reduce violations and rowdy crowds on major holidays.

    While everyone cries about the implications of Proposition G, it is important to note that under it, alcohol would not be completely banned: If voters make the proposition law, there will still be a procedure for securing alcohol permits for large beach functions.

    Additionally, should it be passed, Proposition G would be a short-lived law. The referendum specifically states the dates of effect: June 1, 2001 — yes, 2001 — through Dec. 31, 2002. After that, it could either be extended or abolished. That time would allow for tallying safety numbers and evaluating the true value of alcohol on our beaches.

    While this ban will undoubtedly ease some concerns about violence, many believe that drunken driving and underage drinking will not be curbed, regardless of the referendum’s passage. They are right. But at least the beach will become one less place to condone alcohol-related problems.

    Most of us are surely willing to curb our need for alcohol if it means fewer arrests, less vandalism, fewer alcohol-related accidents and fewer deaths around our beach cities. It shouldn’t take personal loss to bring about the realization that an alcohol ban on beaches is not the end of the world.

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