For three years, families living on Belloc Court, a cul-de-sac with 16 houses east of Mt. Soledad, held an August block party with the city's blessing. But this year, the neighbors' attempt to get a permit for the party — which included BYOB alcohol — was refused, and the event may be cancelled.
"There was a change in city policy in 2015 that made it impossible to get the permits," says Robert Rynearson, who lives on Belloc. "We didn't have the party last year because of those issues and we may not this year."
Rynearson and his neighbors applied for permits in June and, according to Rynearson, were denied an alcohol permit unless they set up a beer garden with licensed security guards, a tall fence, and professional servers. According to Rynearson, about 200 people — including lots of children — came to the block party.
"Everyone on the street signed a petiiton in favor of it," he says. "It changes the vibe on our street for the better — when people get to know each other, problems get aired and solved."
Past parties have had bounce houses, music, and a huge squirt-gun fight. Kids on the block invited other kids in the neighborhood, and people were allowed to bring their own beer and wine.
"The neighbors who don't drink are supportive — our kids are there and it's a family environment," Rynearson says. "The parents can relax and have a glass of wine."
The neighbors raise a little money to pay for the bounce house and minor expenses, but the cost of setting up a beer garden — which the city requires, according to documents — runs to more than $1000.
"We can't afford to set up a beer garden and it doesn't make any sense," Rynearson says. "If I can consume beer in my driveway and in my front yard, why does it change when I step off the curb?"
Rynearson points to the Over the Line tournament on Fiesta Island, where people are allowed to bring their own booze and consume it without the group having to set up a beer garden.
"I don't understand why a massive event, on public property, where 35,000 people show up, can get a permit from the police department when a private event that no one drives to can't."
After he was told that the police department would not allow unfettered alcohol use, Rynearson filed an appeal with the city council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods committee. At the committee's August 2 meeting, the members unanimously denied the appeal.
Rynearson's argument with the city insofar as Over the Line is concerned and what he sees as a double standard goes back a ways. In 2014, as the nonprofit FreePB, Rynearson engaged Corey Briggs to sue the city over the department's refusal to release records about the reasoning behind giving Over the Line a pass on the alcohol permit.
FreePB — which opposed universal alcohol bans — won the lawsuit, and perhaps the animosity of the city. Rynearson's suit forced the city to turn over the documents for the process behind approving just three permits to allow alcohol at public events. That public records victory may have triggered a policy change in 2015 that, among other things, prohibited alcohol consumption on city property, including streets and sidewalks.
In its opposition to the block party, the police department noted that "because the use of alcohol may fuel or exacerbate disruptive, unruly and even violent behavior in crowds, SDPD has established a series of best practices for the use of alcohol at special events.... The ability to use and consume alcohol at a special event is a privilege, not a right."
The police department memo suggests that Rynearson and his neighbors consider holding the block party at a public park, many of which permit alcohol consumption without a permit or a beer garden.
"The apellant can identify a city park where alcohol is allowed and hold the event to include all age access and BYOB," the memo states.
Rynearson was particularly disappointed by the city-council committee vote.
"They just turned a blind eye to our neighborhood," he says. "It takes committee courage to push back on bad rules, and they didn't have it."