"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."
When I talk to Faulconer, he confirms this.
Pacific Beach Bar and Grill's general manager, Roger Lee, has been a PB resident for 20 years. I ask him about the ban.
"I understand and appreciate the ban," he says, "because I have seen firsthand how out of control these beach parties can be. I also know that the problems are made by a few and that, in general, the vast majority are law-abiding people having drinks, having fun, and not causing trouble. It is unfortunate that it only takes a few to ruin it for everyone. Just the other day, I was talking to a customer who called everyone who drank at the beach a 'trouble-causing hooligan.' With 5000 people coming through our doors every week, all it takes is a couple people to cause trouble, and everyone is accusing you as a problematic business. The difference is that at the Grill, these disruptive customers are 86'd. At the beach, these troublemakers are taken to detox and returned the next day. Being drunk in public and causing trouble should have more consequences than going to jail overnight. Recently, the bars in PB have begun installing ID scanners that enable bar owners to 86 customers known to cause trouble and to share this information with each other. The belief is that if you cause a problem at one bar and are 86'd, there is a good chance you will be 86'd from a dozen other bars in PB. If there were stricter penalties in place, such as three days in jail or community service, that would discourage over-intoxication, and maybe there would be less alcohol-induced incidents, and the ban at the beach would not be necessary. I am a big opponent of the government telling people what they can and cannot do. The City needed to do something, but they overreacted. There were many great ideas out there, such as making drink zones or no alcohol on certain holidays. As a business owner, I like the ban because, potentially, business should be better. But…weighing my personal rights over a bigger profit? I would rather have my freedom. The ban hasn't affected the number of fights, or loitering."
Stan Holman was elected president of OMBAC in November 2007. He tells me, "I first heard that the San Diego City Council was considering a beach booze ban in early November. The measure was passed mid-November. On November 26, two of us met with city councilmember Kevin Faulconer and his staff, plus some key City personnel. Our intent was to explore the full effect of the ordinance on our fundraisers at the beach. I told them that the typical over-the-line attendee brings an ice chest with beer, a beach chair, an accessory bag, plus bats and balls if they're playing. Faulconer replied, 'That's all fine, except for the beer.' We saw OTL as…gone. More meetings took place, involving a good legal mind. All suggestions involved fencing any and all areas where alcohol could be consumed. A fourth meeting took place on January 14 that involved the San Diego director of Alcoholic Beverage Control, who stated that OMBAC would be under the microscope for violations. No ideas from either side worked. Our legal guy suggested that the City use the City's term, 'special event permit,' which was written into the law but not defined. The defined term allowed weddings, company picnics, and other gatherings to have alcohol legally while on city property. As an FYI, any organized gathering of people numbering 75 or more on city property requires a permit. If alcohol is sold, the event permit is required from the City, and a permit from Alcoholic Beverage Control is also required. Most people know the ban is for one year and have a 'wait and see' attitude."
The first event that OMBAC would have in which alcohol would be on the beach is the coming-out party on May 17. Holman says, "Our coming-out-party came about when Delmar Miller, one of the original club members, was taken prisoner during the Korean War. OMBAC members used to throw loose change into a large glass jug at the Pennant [bar] for him when he came home. When Delmar returned, he was handed the jar and asked what it was for. The club said it was for 'coming out of prison.' Delmar said, 'Let's throw a coming-out party.' When I joined the club, there was a gate charge with free beer once inside. Needless to say, it got out of hand, and we went to pay-as-you-go several years ago."