‘Floatopia’ one step closer to being beached



City News Service

A City Council committee moved Wednesday to close a loophole in San Diego’s beach alcohol ban that allows revelers to imbibe while floating on rafts and other devices just offshore.

The Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee voted unanimously to forward to the full City Council a proposed ordinance that would make it unlawful to consume alcohol while floating on inner tubes, rafts, surfboards, air mattress and other flotation devices.

If approved by the full City Council, the proposed law would put an end to the booze-soaked “Floatopia” parties that have attracted thousands to Mission Bay.

Larry Sanders, a San Diego lifeguard, testified that change is needed to preserve public safety.

“Lives are in danger,” he said. “People are going to die in these events because someone is going to slip underneath a raft and be too drunk to be saved.”

Gordon Nall, with the group, described the proposed ordinance as an “unfair manipulation of voter intent.”

He said it would be unlawful for the City Council to change Proposition D, which San Diego voters approved in 2008 banning alcohol at all city beaches and coastal parks.

“Rather than making more bans, why don’t we figure out a way to do this in a safe way?” Nall asked.

The City Attorney’s Office disputed Nall’s claims, opining that the change is allowed and doesn’t go against the will of voters.

Lifeguard Chief Rick Wurtz told the committee that there have been 66 water rescue events at the four “Floatopia” parties held over the past year, most of which were alcohol-related.

Each of the parties, which are announced through online social media sites like Facebook, have attracted between 1,500 and 6,000 people, according to Wurtz.

In addition to the potential for drowning, Wurtz said partiers leave behind a lot of trash in the water.

“In general, it is certainly having an impact on the environment, as well,” he said.

The past two “Floatopia” events have also cost the city about $20,000 for lifeguard services, Wurtz said.

“Public safety officials have come to us and said they have some problems with this,” Councilwoman Marti Emerald said. “We want to address it before it becomes a bigger problem.”

It wasn’t immediately known when the full City Council will take up the ordinance.

When it does, the City Council could approve it as an emergency ordinance, which would take effect immediately. If the City Council opts to approve the ordinance without declaring that an emergency exists, it wouldn’t take effect until 30 days after a second reading.