Officials praise summer beach alcohol ban

Del Mar’s summer beach alcohol ban, which was lifted the day after Labor Day, is being touted as a success in keeping the beach safe from overenthusiastic drinkers.

“There was a dramatic difference,” said Del Mar’s Community Services Director Pat Vergne. “There were virtually no problems, no brawls, no fights. I think we saw a lot more families and kids as a result.”

Vergne estimates the number of citations handed out to alcohol violators dropped significantly from last year’s summer season, which is considered from early June until Labor Day.

“I’m guessing a little bit, because I don’t have exact numbers,” said Vergne, “but we had close to 125 citations last year and this year we had 25 during the period.”

In May, the Del Mar City Council enacted an urgency ordinance that banned all alcohol from city beaches, parks and other public places for an almost four-month period.

Weather inspired

The ban was prompted by two warm, pre-summer weekends that saw 28 alcohol-related citations being issued for a variety of violations ranging from underage drinking to public urination.

At the time, Vergne told City Council members he believed the citation spike was directly related to a beach alcohol ban put in place on city of San Diego beaches (including nearby Torrey Pines State Beach) that most likely was driving drinkers to Del Mar.

Fearing a similar scenario to Del Mar, Solana Beach enacted a ban of its own shortly thereafter and in a domino effect, several other North County cities followed suit. By mid-summer, all San Diego city and county beaches had gone dry.

Watchful neighbors

The Solana Beach City Council decided to put its alcohol ban in place for a one-year period. City Manager David Ott says the city will reexamine the ban when it expires in late May of 2009.

“We’ll be watching to see what happens with other cities,” said Ott. “We are usually fairly calm; it’s the nature of our beach where the sand is regularly swept away by tides. But we did notice an increase in (alcohol-related) activity after Del Mar’s ban went into effect.”

The city of San Diego, whose ban is in place until the end of this year, is asking voters in November whether to make its beach alcohol ban permanent.

Vergne said there is no current talk of a permanent ban in Del Mar, but said there was a portion of residents, mainly in the North Beach area, that requested the city do so. He said after discussions with city officials, Del Mar would take a more cautious approach toward that request.

Just waiting

“We’re taking a sit-and-wait position,” said Vergne. “We’ll watch it and see if problems resurface before going before the City Council again.”

There is a belief among some in San Diego that the city’s ban was responsible for a drop in beach attendance. According to San Diego Lifeguard Services, beach attendance was down 17 percent and Labor Day attendance at the city’s 12 beaches was cut in half from last year’s holiday.

Vergne says he saw no real decline in beach attendance in Del Mar over the summer.

“We were about even,” he said. “We didn’t see a significant drop-off, but there was a drop-off in problems in areas like 19th Street.”

Vergne said that beach street has long been a source of consternation to residents with numerous complaints over rowdy behavior and public drinking. Vergne also says he has seen no increase in beach drinking since the alcohol ban expired, but acknowledged the weather has been somewhat cooler this September possibly cutting down on attendance.

“We had one large-scale beach party recently that left a lot of trash on the sand,” he said. “But that actually turned out to be a resident’s party.”