Del Mar bans alcohol for the summer

By Jim Kerr

The Del Mar City Council has unanimously enacted an urgency ordinance that will ban all alcohol from Del Mar city beaches, parks and other public places for the summer season. The ban went into effect at midnight last night and will remain in effect until midnight, the day after Labor Day. The council approved the ban at their May 19 regular meeting.

Del Mar city officials had expressed concern of late that alcohol bans recently put in place on city of San Diego beaches and at Torrey Pines State Beach, could drive beach drinkers to Del Mar. Those fears were realized over the last two warm weather weekends when numerous citations were issued on Del Mar beaches according to the city’s Public Services Director and Chief Lifeguard Pat Vergne. Vergne said after several citizen complaints, some 28 citations were issued including those for underage drinking, public urination and usage of glass bottles on the beach. Vergne said excessive alcohol consumption was involved in almost all of the cases. Only one of the citations involved a Del Mar resident.

“Del Mar lifeguards are spending so much time on the sand dealing with these issues,” said Vergne, “they are being spread thin from their core mission of watching our waters and keeping swimmers safe.”

At their May 5 meeting, the City Council approved what has become an annual ban on alcohol during the long Fourth of July holiday weekend. That ban was prompted by several alcohol-related fights on Del Mar’s beach during the 2000 holiday, which resulted in numerous arrests. Similarly, a large brawl in the Pacific Beach area on Labor Day of last year prompted that city of San Diego to ban all alcohol on city beaches for a one-year period. Torrey Pines State Beach followed suit with a similar ban in April. At the time of the May 5 City Council meeting, Vergne said he saw little evidence of a need to expand Del Mar’s July 4 ban. On Monday, in an unscheduled presentation before the council, Vergne said his opinion had been altered.

“In three weeks my mind has changed,” he said. “Having seen this beach for a long time, in three weeks it has changed dramatically.”

“What makes you think this is a trend and not an aberration?” asked Councilman Richard Earnest.

Vergne, who has been with the city for about 30 years, said his sense was that negative trends were developing, indicated by the warm weather summer preview of the last two weekends. After receiving numerous complaints last Saturday, Vergne said he called City Manager Karen Brust and told her, “Things are changing on the beach.” The next day he observed several instances of excessive alcohol usage including one group of 10 to 15 individuals who set up a tent and commenced drinking in the tent from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

“They weren’t playing volleyball, they weren’t barbequing, they were just drinking,” said Vergne. “I finally approached them in a non-confrontational way and asked them why. They responded, ‘because we can drink in Del Mar.’”

Vergne indicated that Del Mar had lately been garnering somewhat of a reputation for their policy on allowable drinking. He said he recently received information that a student exchange program from Ireland had specifically mentioned in its promotional material that Del Mar was the only beach in San Diego where alcohol consumption was allowed.

Some council members did express some concern over what council member Henry Abarbanel characterized as “regulating behavior,” with the new ban.

“It’s very difficult to legislate good behavior,” said Abarbanel. “But I’ve seen first hand that the Fourth of July (alcohol ban) returned tranquility to families who live in Del Mar.”

Earnest expressed some concern over the suddenness of the proposal, as the issue was not listed on the meeting’s agenda.

“Citizens haven’t been able to weigh in on this and that’s unfortunate,” he said.

But Earnest was swayed by Vergne’s concern.

“What really bothers me is you are not getting a chance to watch the water and you’re watching the beach instead,” Earnest said. And that’s disturbing.”

The new ban will be indicated by signage posted throughout the city. Violators will be subject to a fine of $100, with a $200 fine for a subsequent offence and $500 for a third violation. Besides beaches and parks, the ban will cover all public areas including streets, sidewalks and alleyways. The ban will be enforced by existing Public Services personnel, which increases during summer months. With Del Mar’s ban, Solana Beach and Encinitas remain the only cities in the county who have not banned alcohol on the beach.