Friday, December 14, 2007

Booze Ban as Bad Governance

On December 6, Mayor Jerry Sanders officially signed the San Diego Beach Booze Ban. On the same day, opponents announced they would organize a petition drive to put the ban on the ballot, where it has failed twice in the past (1991 and 2002). The group has dubbed itself Ban The Ban 3 and is current in the midst of a 30 day window to gather more than 30,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot. I remain ambivalent about the virtues of the ban in itself- I think that the goal of reigning in drunken craziness is laudable but highly doubt that much can change without increased enforcement capacity- but am increasingly coming to support this ballot measure as a way to force into light the underlying issues that actually matter.

Like I discussed in my initial thoughts on the ban, I have a hard time imagining this having a significant effect. If police can't enforce public drunkenness now, then when people just load up at beachfront bars or friends houses then walk/bike/drive to the beach, they'll be just as obnoxious. If anything, it spreads the problem out and removes responsible drinkers from the equation. But that's ultimately beside the point.

Nobody seems interested in asking why these people have no concern about their behavior. Nobody is questioning how San Diego has ended up with a significant population that simply has no investment in their community. Nobody is questioning the develop-or-bust strategy that's turned San Diego into a boom town for young people with new money and no plans to stay beyond a few years of fun in the sun. What was once a community of villages has abandoned that mentality in favor of big corporate money. Neighborhood self-sufficiency has broken down, condo conversions have tightened the rental market has led to increased transience, and people don't develop connections to their neighbors or neighborhoods. I may sound like a Leave It To Beaver revivalist here, but there are tangible and practical concerns involved here. Specifically, that feeling like part of a community leads one to take responsibility for that community. Right now, with no sense of accountability, there's no compelling reason to not get drunk and tear things up. It's not "home," and everything breaks down from there.

California suddenly finds itself wrestling with similar issues at the state level. Senate leader Don Perata is set to block any health care reform because of a $14 billion budget gap next year. Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed 10% cuts across the board for all state agencies and services, a majority of Californians have a negative outlook on the direction of the state (pdf) and the Governor wants to raid local tax revenues to help cover the shortfall. In short, the state is facing a budgetary crisis and absolutely nobody is talking seriously about increasing revenue or re-examining the basics of budgeting. The same problem with different dressing is unfolding in San Diego.

The city has seen fights over unions, fair pay for police and firefighters, condos vs. apartments, living wage, big-box stores, the list goes on and on. Increasingly the arguments over the trees has abandoned any attention on the forest. How do we convince people that a viable community is worth their time and effort? The booze ban doesn't do it- it just increases tension and disenchantment. It blatantly sells out to the tourism industry and more sadly, it factionalizes the city at a time when exactly the opposite is necessary. Just as the state government is reaching a breaking point and must address the failings of its operational infrastructure, San Diego needs to stop reacting to symptoms and look at the root cause of the problems being faced collectively. Pointing fingers and ignoring the bigger picture doesn't help anything. As long as our city government won't tackle the big issues, it becomes incumbent on citizens to force the issue. The booze ban isn't simply about civil liberties or drunk yahoos at the beach. It's fundamentally about whether a piecemeal approach to city government is feasible. It hasn't seemed to be working so well lately if measures like this seem necessary.

There are 21 days remaining for signature gathering. Find a place near you to sign and let's stop talking about bandaids and start talking about solutions.

1 comment:

Andrew at TheLiberalOC.com said...

Personally I would be inclined to support the alcohol ban, since drunken craze (as well as bottle littering) on the beach can be a problem. However, I also must say that you make a good point about the underlying problems that cause drunkeness on the beach. Are there enough police officers to enforce the ban? Are there enough community services for the homeless so that they're not just "drunk bums on the beach"? Are there enough bars/restaurants for people looking for fun to go so that they don't get drunk on the beach?

To be honest, I'm starting to get sick and tired of "cosmetic measures" that treat the symptom but not the disease. Up here in Santa Ana, our lamebrained majority on the city council votes to do things like erect signs in our "business districts" and repaint our watertower near the 5 Freeway and 17th Street, but they don't address our working poor, our struggling family businesses, and our decaying infrastructure. It's really like putting lipstick on a pig. These "cosmetic measures" gloss over the root disease, but don't cure it.