"January 9, 2008, is a day that will live in infamy," says Terry Brickman, a beachgoer I talk to in early April about the day the beach booze ban went into effect.
I am surprised when Terry tells me he saw on radio station KGB's website that the Old Mission Bay Athletic Club (OMBAC) would be having an event with booze on the beach. "OMBAC gets to have beer at their event," he says. "That is complete bullshit. You can't make special rules for one company just because they're somehow in bed together. Either beer for everyone or nobody at all!"
I talk to Paul Willemssen, who has been in OMBAC for ten years and is an editor for a few of its publications. He is animated, excited about everything going on regarding the booze ban. He explains that when the people against it — a group called "Ban the Ban" — went out and got signatures, they were told they needed 30,000 signatures. "They got 45,000, but a sample of 1000 signatures indicated that only 60 percent were valid voters. Based on that, the petition didn't stand. It would've cost the 'Ban the Ban' people almost $150,000 to pay for the City to count all the votes, and based on the statistics, they probably wouldn't all pan out.
"A lot of people were worried about how this would affect tourism dollars. As part of OMBAC, we were worried about the thunderboat races, the summer music fest, our coming-out party — and our biggest fundraiser of the year, over-the-line. We not only provided alcohol at over-the-line, but many people brought it in coolers. We would've just stopped having it. But Councilman Kevin Faulconer came through for us."
I head out to the beaches to ask a few locals about the current ban.
A guy named Jack tells me, "I've just gotten a few devices to get around it. My wife has a thing called a 'wine rack,' which basically goes over her breasts and fills with wine, which she likes. I have a plastic flask that looks like a big cell phone. It's easy to get around the laws if you want."
A woman named Shirley is sunbathing with a friend and two kids. She tells me, "I'm glad the ban passed. I'm sick of drunk, obnoxious people on the beaches, cursing around my kids and acting stupid."
I talk to Eric Chris, co-owner of Guava Beach Bar and Grill in Mission Beach. He says, "I had mixed feelings about the beach ban, and quite frankly, I still do. As a responsible adult, I greatly enjoy being able to have a barbecue, play horseshoes, or just watch the sunset, enjoying a cold beer while sitting on the beaches. A few bad apples ruined it for the rest of the responsible adults. The vast majority of people that flocked to the beach to hang out and drink responsibly contributed greatly to sales at surf shops, clothing, grocery, and liquor stores and to restaurants and bars. We had hoped that our sales would increase, but they have not. Anyone can just look at the beaches and see that there are significantly less people coming down to hang out on the beach. Spring break? Plenty of families but virtually zero college students. We sold more food and had more families, but as a bar and grill, we also rely on beer-and-liquor sales to make ends meet, and those sales were way down from previous years. If less people come to the beach, that equates to lower sales. As a smaller venue, we depend on our summer months, May through September, to make our money."
When Willemssen tells me that Councilman Faulconer gave them the loophole to continue their events, I say, "So, OMBAC is getting special treatment?" He says, "Well…not really. I think the laws have always been in place, that you can't consume alcoholic beverages at certain parks."
He hands me pages and pages of legal documents. I see, in three pages, that from Adams Community Park to Marie Widman Memorial — and the 150 parks in between — all the parks are listed as places where it is illegal to drink. The new ban just adds some beach areas to that. Willemssen continues, "The ABC [Alcoholic Beverage Control] wanted to keep our whole thing from happening. But Faulconer really helped us. And anyone can do what we're doing. They can apply for a permit and then have alcohol."
So, if a few people want to have a beach party, all they have to do is apply for a permit?
"I believe so. But it's a few hundred dollars. I doubt you and a few friends would want to pay that. And you'd still have to have a six-foot-high fence; that's a beer garden. No food prep can be done in that area. It has to be on grass or cement. And you have to be able to view inside the area. If there's a wedding reception, birthday party, whatever…I think they'll issue a permit. There is a law that says only one permit will be issued per area, and if two groups request it, a lottery system will be done."
I glance through more of this paperwork. One page states that it is "unlawful for any person to possess any keg containing any alcoholic beverage that has been opened, or a seal broken, or the contents of which have been partially removed at any designated public area on the Fourth of July."
Willemssen laughs and says, "At our coming-out party, we have 200 kegs."
I call Councilman Kevin Faulconer's office. His assistant tells me that Faulconer will talk, but he's really busy. The assistant says, "You know, Faulconer didn't really do a lot here. I think the OMBAC people didn't understand a lot about the ban, and they just wanted someone to talk to about it. I'm sure all this praise for Faulconer isn't warranted. He just pointed out things already in the books."