By Dave Schwab
Jerry Hall's social activism began four years ago when he campaigned to get gum cleaned off Pacific Beach sidewalks. Since then, his campaign has since morphed into a crusade to slow the proliferation of liquor licenses in the area.
Hall's goal is to convince local government to enact new laws to require businesses serving alcohol to get a conditional use permit — setting forth specific operating conditions — to do business.
Insisting liquor license proliferation is out of control in Pacific Beach, Hall warns La Jolla could be next. That's the message he delivered recently to La Jolla Town Council members and one he will be spreading soon to other community planning groups.
Arguing that Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), the state governmental licensing authority that oversees liquor licenses, is virtually toothless when it comes to enforcing its authority, Hall said, "San Diego used to have 16 officers enforcing liquor licenses and now there are four."
Pacific Beach is oversaturated with liquor licenses, claims Hall.
"We have 125 liquor licenses in PB and 64 licensees in the core area that is only zoned for 10," he said.
Though La Jolla admittedly is quite different from PB in character and demographics, Hall contends it's naïve to believe the same kind of alcohol-related problems the neighboring community is experiencing won't eventually spill over into the Jewel.
"La Jolla isn't an island," he said. "Wrecks, drunk driving — it's happening in La Jolla all the time."
Jennifer Hill, district administrator of San Diego's ABC office, said Hall's view is valid, but added some issues he raises are subjective and difficult to quantify. For example, she said there's a big difference in the potential for alcohol-related problems between a restaurant serving alcohol with meals and a beach bar serving mostly alcohol and a little food.
And, she added, there are many more of the former than the latter in both Pacific Beach and La Jolla.
Most of the existing business liquor licenses in both communities are also grandfathered.
"The great majority of the ABC licenses were issued prior to 1995," Hill said, noting there is a similar concentration of liquor licenses elsewhere in tourist-oriented parts of the city like downtown's Gaslamp District.
Hill also believes it's hard to make a case that the same type of alcohol-related problems plaguing Pacific Beach and its youthful crowd will inevitably gravitate to La Jolla with its older and wealthier demographic.
"I've been in this office 15 years and I haven't seen really the PB-type of crowd move into La Jolla," she said. "La Jolla is more international. It doesn't have the same cultural reputation as Pacific Beach does. There is a (youth partying) culture down there. Most of the tourist-oriented beach cities in the state of California have similar issues, with people who don't live in the area coming in in the evening and weekends especially during summer."
Hill added the ABC will not take a position regarding whether zoning restrictions like conditional use permits should be attached to liquor licenses.
"That's a zoning issue," she said. "ABC does not have any authority for land-use issues. That's given to the locality."
Hall is proposing a solution to the growing problem of liquor license proliferation. "We're not saying no more licenses," he said. "We're saying that the communities need a voice. Other cities across the state have determined this is a land use and zoning issue. What we're proposing is that a conditional use permit be required for bars, cocktail clubs and liquor stores to get licenses. This isn't a prohibition thing: We definitely don't want people to be driving drunk."
Lt. Jim Filley of the San Diego Police Department's Northern Division which covers the beach areas including La Jolla and PB, said police are doing everything possible with diminished personnel in challenging economic times to enforce the laws with drunk driving and public intoxication and "will continue to do so."
But he added, in beach communities with large concentrations of liquor licenses you have people that drink responsibly and a select few that do not. "When that happens, we will respond and enforce the laws as appropriate."
Filley added the majority of alcohol-related crimes in Pacific Beach and La Jolla are "bar patrons on bar patrons" — not bar patrons on residents.
Asked whether he felt either beach community had an overconcentration of liquor licenses, Filley replied, "No opinion."
We continue to look at Hall's concerns.)