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Pacific Beach. 2:00 p.m. A typical, sunny summer Saturday. The smell of spilled beer mingles with sea mist and wet wood. I'm bar-hopping, and not one establishment I enter at midday is empty. Many are almost full. The people are predominantly white, under 30, and showing off a lot of tanned and tattooed skin. I see muscles, cleavage, midriffs, baseball caps on backwards, baggy shorts, tank tops, flip-flops, sunglasses, dyed hair, skirts and halter-tops, lots of makeup, lots of perfume, and lots and lots of cheap beers and shots.

Pacific Beach. 2:00 a.m. A typical, starry summer night.

The bar crowds are dispersing, headed toward burritos and casual hook-ups and after-parties and drunken sleep.

I'm making my way along the main strip, taking in the slurred conversations, the stumbling around, and the intensified police presence.

I walk almost a mile on Garnet, from Haines Avenue down to Crystal Pier. I expect to see a fight or two, rampant littering, drunks getting into the driver's seats of cars, people peeing behind Dumpsters, and traffic backed up by gathering mobs in the street.

But I don't. I don't see any of that.

And the next morning, that same area seems so clean and serene. It's impossible to tell that thousands of people were partying in the area just eight or nine hours before.

Pacific Beach Middle School auditorium. 7:00 p.m. It's Monday, June 4, and over 100 local residents have gathered to contribute their opinions to a meeting of the Beach and Alcohol Task Force. From looking at the crowd, one gets the impression of a mature, intelligent, well-dressed, well-paid, and quite vocal minority trying to organize against an absent horde of loud, dirty, troublemaking twentysomethings.

A sample of selected quotes from the meeting make it sound as if I've stepped into the midst of an epic battle for freedom.

"Storm city hall!..."

"The situation is frustrating and it's getting worse."

"Most of our problems in the beach area relate to alcohol: house parties, trash, public urination."

"We're here to find a middle ground, whether it's a temporary alcohol ban, or a selective ban on certain beach areas or on certain holidays."

"My freedom to be able to enjoy the beach the way I want to is in jeopardy."

"I'm a big fan of my rights to go have a beer on the beach."

"We have to remember all the businesses that are supported and all the jobs that are created by the people who come to the beach areas, and, yes, these people enjoy drinking and going to bars."

"There's a whole list of nitpicking little items that we're said to be reaching consensus on but not one of which is designed to reduce drinking in the beach area by a single ounce. This is a farce."

I'm reminded of the prologue to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which, with a minor shift from the families of Verona's star-crossed lovers, might apply to our beach area's star-crossed population:

Multiple factions, often unlike in dignity,

In the fair beach communities, where we lay our scene,

From ongoing grudge to ongoing mutiny,

Where easy alcohol makes the easygoing neighborhood unclean...

The people involved in the beach-area alcohol issue can be neatly divided into five star-cross'd delegations. We have the Policy Makers, the Policy Enforcers, the Facilitators, the Non-Enjoyers, and the Enjoyers.

The Policy Makers are the federal, state, and city governments and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). The Policy Enforcers are the police and the ABC. The Facilitators are the business owners, who are members of a group called "Discover PB." The Non-Enjoyers are the conscientious people who have their interests articulated by the group "Save PB." And the Enjoyers are the visitors, most renters, and some property owners, who are fond of our beach area just the way it is and have formed a countergroup of their own, "Free PB."

The Enjoyers and Non-Enjoyers are engaged in a conflict over beach rights and liquor licensing that has escalated steadily for the past ten years or so.

On the one side, Free PB folks "promote the expansion of individual rights, privileges, and freedoms," and on the other, the Save PB members "promote safety, awareness, respect, and enrichment."

In the words of one local, it's "the irresponsible partiers versus those who care."

The tension between these two factions is no doubt good for Pacific Beach. Without the pressure from Save PB, one could imagine the Free PBers letting the place go to pot. And without the parties, PB would surely lose its hip, relaxed identity. Instead, the party goes on, though it ends earlier, and they clean up after.

But one wonders at the current state of compromise.

And no one can ignore the statistics:

According to 2005 police crime-analysis data for Pacific Beach: 1292 open-container violations, 357 people arrested for being drunk in public, 533 DUIs, 320 minors in possession of alcohol.

And in Mission Beach: 1191 open-container violations in 2005, 55 arrested for public drunkenness, 93 DUIs, 398 minors in possession of alcohol.

In the beach areas: 2692 calls for noise-related party disturbances in 2005. That's over 7 per night, all year long. In Mission Beach, it was 532 house parties, and in Pacific Beach, it was 2160 calls for parties and noise. Each of these calls costs the city roughly $150-$200, for four officers in two squad cars to take an hour out of their nights to break up a noisy gathering.

Pacific Beach alone represents 15.13 percent of all alcohol-related arrests in the city.

And the bottom line: 179 liquor licenses exist in an area where recent overconcentration legislation calls for no more than 49 licenses.

"This issue's been around for quite some time," Councilmember Kevin Faulconer says. "And what I wanted to do was get community leaders from both sides of the issue together around the table to do a couple of things. We need to look at these issues holistically. We need to get information from the ABC people, from the police, and from the community and to see if there are areas that we can agree upon and change."

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