After a long day of work last Thursday, Brad Boyle had settled in with his roommate to watch the Hayden Christiansen flick, Jumper, when he heard a knock on the door. It was 8 p.m., and Boyle wasn't expecting anyone, so he was surprised when the man at the door introduced himself as Douglas Sensabaugh, an investigator for San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre. Sensebaugh said he wanted to talk to Boyle about his plan to dodge the beach alcohol ban through a kind of off-shore booze party and to get his phone number—Aguirre wanted to talk to him.
Months earlier, on Labor Day, a melee in Pacific Beach forced the San Diego Police to mobilize riot-control officers and K-9 units to disperse the estimated 500 people. After the crowd was dispersed and 16 people were arrested, City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer told reporters that he thought alcohol fueled the fracas. He re-raised the idea of a beach alcohol ban. Supporters of the ban thought it would reduce the number of ne'er-do-wells causing problems on the beach, and environmentalists believed it might reduce the amount of trash.
Faulconer used the momentum from the brouhaha to push through a one-year trial prohibition on alcohol on the beaches. The ban took effect in December.
With the law's passage, opposition began to organize. A group called Ban the Ban formed to get a revocation of the ban on the ballot, though they were unable to get enough petition signatures. Another outfit, called FreePB, posted the law on its website, noting that there were dozens of parks where drinking was still allowed during certain hours and making the case for drinking while afloat.
Brad Boyle found inspiration for his end-run on the ban after spending an alcohol-free afternoon on the beach in February.
“It just wasn't the same,” he told CityBeat. An IT engineer for Qualcomm, Boyle earns enough to have an apartment with a panoramic view of Mission Bay. He likes to go down to the beach with friends and have a beer and hang out.
He doesn't see himself as a danger to law and order.
So he started doing some research. He found the FreePB site and read the law. He studied the city's legal definition of beach: “‘Beach' means the sand or land area bordering the water of an ocean or bay.”
That means, he figured, it should be OK to drink as long as you're not on the sand—like, say, if you're floating. He checked in with some lawyer friends, who thought his interpretation might be correct. He discovered that it was legal to have sealed containers on the beach, and also that it's legal to carry empty, open containers across the beach for purposes of recycling. So it would be legal, he determined, to carry a case of beer across the sand, put it on some kind of float, push the float to sea, drink the beer, paddle in and recycle the empties. A perfect solution.
Thus was the Fourth of July Dock Block Party born. Boyle drew up designs for a wooden floating dock that could be built for $200 in raw materials, and he posted them on his website. He hoped people would come down to the beach the morning of the Fourth, build the docks and push them out to sea.
“It's kind of an act of civil disobedience, but with alcohol,” Boyle said.
His website started to get hundreds of hits every day, and people began to e-mail him with construction questions.Then last Thursday, Sensabaugh came knocking.
“He said the DA wanted to talk to me,” Boyle said, confusing Aguirre with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. “I think he thought I'd be much more assertive, more argumentative. But we ended up just talking about the ban, he left me his card, and then he left.”
A square-jawed 6-footer who looks like he might have been an athlete back in the day, Boyle is not easily deterred by evening visits from investigators. But he was a little surprised the next day to get a phone call from Assistant Chief of Police Boyd Long, recently promoted to the No. 3 job at the San Diego Police Department.
“I was just being proactive,” Long later said. “I'd seen his website.”
Long told Boyle that his enterprising idea would violate a law that forbids personal docks. He said a wooden dock would be hazardous to boaters. Boyle pressed the point: What about a rubber raft? Long said that probably wouldn't be a problem. He said the police would leave him alone if he were drinking on such a raft.
Boyle updated his website and went looking for the right raft. He found a fine six-seater available at Costco for $199—the same price as the original wooden raft, but without all that laborious construction. He still hopes people join him in Mission Bay this weekend.
Boyle's only concern, apparently, may be in determining who is the official “operator” of the raft. While state law allows anyone to drink while on boats, there are strict rules against operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol, said police spokesperson Monica Muñoz. Even if floating on a nylon raft, someone would have to be the designated driver.
“It's not advisable ever to consume alcohol and go into the water,” Muñoz said. “We're very concerned because we believe it's not OK to drink and go swim, or float.”
The chief proponent of the ban, City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, declined to comment for this story.Aguirre told CityBeat he never wanted to talk to Boyle himself—he just wanted Sensabaugh to talk to him.
Regardless, he thinks the whole thing is preposterous. And he warns floating drinkers to be careful of relying on other people's legal advice. If they're wrong, that's no protection from prosecution.
“Don't rely on anyone saying there's a loophole. There is no loophole,” he said. “We will cite people and we will prosecute them. There's all kinds of bars and things they can go to. It's not that they can't have a good time; it's just they can't drink at the beach or in the water.“
Environmental attorney Marco Gonzalez thinks Boyle may have found an honest way around the law.
“There's always going to be a way around it,” he said. “At the end of the day, it's not going to present the same problem as you've had in other years.”
Boyle has two rafts ready for his own Fourth of July celebration. He's not worried about people drinking too much and hurting themselves.
“We're all used to drinking 10 beers,” he said. “We'll be fine.”