Oh, alcohol, why must you be that way? You make us feel so good, yet you make us behave so bad. Oh, alcohol, what a tangled web you weave. What will we do with you? Will banishing you from our beaches tame you? Or will you have the last laugh, like you always do. You always win. Oh, alcohol, we're powerless to resist you, and we're powerless to control you.
To allow booze on the beach or not—what a dilemma. In a split decision, the San Diego City Council on Monday chose the latter—sort of. Unable to muster the five votes necessary to install a permanent ban, the council, by a 5-2 vote, settled on a one-year trial ban.
With most matters of controversy, we have a relatively easy time choosing a side. Not this time. This is one thorny issue. We go back and forth. The fact of the matter is that no one is wrong. Folks on all sides have legitimate arguments.
Take the City Council's own debate, for example. Council President Scott Peters spoke first, his eyes watering as he told how he can't let his 16-year-old daughter, who's grown bored of La Jolla Shores and wants to go where the action is, spend time at Pacific Beach or Mission Beach. Peters isn't a crybaby; it seemed clear that he hates the idea of restricting his daughter's freedom, but that he's too concerned about her safety to let her go where there are too many inebriated, ill-behaved young men. Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, who'd opposed a booze ban while campaigning, said “never again” to the melée that broke out on Labor Day.
Councilmember Jim Madaffer played the social libertarian, countering that crime statistics don't justify a draconian new law and that the police need only to enforce the nuisance laws—governing such things as being drunk in public and public urination—that are already on the books. But then Councilmember Donna Frye, who's had to overcome her own alcohol problem, talked about the deterioration of life in San Diego's beach communities during the last couple of decades. It used to be fun to work and play near the surf, she said, but not anymore; now it's unhealthy and unsavory.
Councilmember Ben Hueso, in his characteristically borderline-incoherent way, appeared to argue that a ban wouldn't do any good—so why punish law-abiding beach-imbibers unnecessarily? At City Attorney Mike Aguirre's suggestion, Hueso cast the swing vote in favor of a one-year ban after opposing a permanent policy. (Councilmember Toni Atkins joined Peters, Faulconer and Frye in support of an outright ban; Councilmember Tony Young voted with Madaffer on the other side. Councilmember Brian Maienschein—surprise, surprise—was absent.)
The thing is, they're all right.
There's a problem at the beach. We here at CityBeat don't really know the extent of it because, frankly, we don't often head down to Mission Beach and Pacific Beach thanks to the likelihood of encountering some of the ill-mannered boors that frequent those places. We think it's less a public-safety problem than a public-obnoxiousness problem; in any case, lots of San Diegans who would otherwise enjoy the public beaches simply stay away. That's a problem. Beaches are sacred public places, and everyone should have free, easy access to them. A wall of obnoxious people might as well be, well—a wall.
But outdoor enjoyment of a few brews with buddies, or a romantic picnic with a bottle of vino—those are beautiful things. Those are the places where good times are born. The idea of making them illegal makes us nauseous when awake and gives us nightmares when asleep.
The problem is, there's been a long, slow degradation of personal responsibility in this country. More and more, people just don't know how to behave themselves in a respectful, courteous manner—particularly when alcohol is added. We say bad parenting is to blame.
For our part, we'd have preferred, as a start, a ban only on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends, when the problem is acute. That would leave us with about 356 days to enjoy our beers on the beach. If the hooligans responded by moving their parties to other days, then a broader ban might be in order.Yet as a practical matter, the law will be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce; there's just not enough cops (because we San Diegans can't stand paying taxes). Perhaps the ban will keep some of the louts away. Perhaps that will be success enough. But these creatures are kind of like animals—they might be dumb, but they adapt. Once they figure out that they far outnumber the cops, they'll be back.
On the other hand, none of this is likely to matter. The booze companies will probably pour tons of money into a referendum and get the thing overturned. Then we'll be back at the beginning.
Oh, alcohol, look what you've done to us.