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Wave of Regulations Sweeps County’s Beaches

Times Staff Writer

If you yearn to sit on the sand sipping champagne from a crystal goblet while watching the sunset this summer, do it on the Silver Strand. It’s illegal in La Jolla and Del Mar and almost everywhere else along the county coastline.

It’s not the alcoholic beverage that puts champagne sippers on the wrong side of the law, it’s the glass. Most of the county’s 42 miles of sandy ocean shoreline are off limits to glass containers, although many of the beach parks allow alcoholic beverages.

Of course, that champagne-spiced sunset on Silver Strand will have to be cut short. The sun sets a few short moments before 8 p.m. these days, and the state beach parks along the strand close at 8.

To the dismay of many laid-back San Diegans who seek the calming beauty of the ocean to wash away the tensions of the working world, regulations are mounting on public beaches, leading to more prosecutions.

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Lifeguards, who have been pressed into double duty to enforce the beach restrictions, are not all that happy about their new duties. From bronzed hero to bad guy is a big comedown.

Chief Lifeguard Grant Larson, after warning three youngsters that their dog was not allowed on the Del Mar city beach (except north of 29th Street and south of the main lifeguard tower, and then only on a leash), philosophized that “a few bad guys” have eroded the freedom of the beaches for the many.

A case in point is the beach bonfire ban passed by the Del Mar City Council last fall. Because of a series of rowdy parties in the popular north beach area, where the San Dieguito River empties into the ocean, beach residents demanded a stop to the nighttime debauchery outside their bedroom windows.

The City Council responded with a beachwide ban on bonfires and city crews removed the popular fire rings that had served for decades as beacons for grunion runs and graduation parties.

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The same phenomenon brought a no-dog ordinance in Carlsbad starting June 1. The city controls a half-mile stretch of sand and surf north of the Carlsbad State Beach area, and has revoked the rights of residents to walk their dogs along that section because, a city employee explained, “a few bad guys refused to use a pooper scooper.”

“Next they will be banning people from the beach, and then everybody will be happy,” he said.

Each beach, from San Onofre to Border Field, has its own do’s and don’ts. Most of the regulations are designed to prevent recurrences of past problems that, in some cases, are unlikely to occur ever again.

The effect “is stress city,” according to Andrew O’Leary, Solana Beach director of marine safety (the new city’s glorified title for chief lifeguard).

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O’Leary, who has been lifeguarding since he was a pup, has watched the beach turn from a free zone to a stress zone over the past two decades.

“It is nothing but hassle for people nowadays,” he said. “The traffic on the freeway, finding a place to park, finding a fire ring, then sunburn and sand and finally heading home and fighting the traffic.”

Solana Beach, with two small accessible parks at Fletcher Cove, at the foot of Lomas Santa Fe Drive, and Tide Park, at the north end of the city, has posted rules. No glass, no dogs, fires in fire rings only. No fire rings were visible over the Independence Day holiday, but picnickers improvised, bringing hibachis and outdoor cookers from home.

Solana Beach allows alcohol consumption (beer and wine) on the beach, but not in nearby parking lots. Last call for booze will be 9 p.m. after a recently passed City Council ordinance goes into effect July 27.

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Famous for Collapsing

O’Leary also warned about the bluffs that flank most of the Solana Beach shoreline. They are famous for collapsing on sunbathers below. And, he warned, swiping sea life from the tide pools is a serious offense.

Some questionable behavior has escaped the local ordinances. A gang of surfers at Fletcher Cove recently convened in a brief ceremony to the Great Kahuna (patron of big waves), then shed their swimsuits and, with shouts of “Cowabunga!” surfed in the buff. The scene brought laughter and applause from the less adventurous beach-goers who were there to watch the sunset.

Up and down the coast, jet skiers are the peskiest problem. Most lifeguards evict the skiers who land their expensive craft in swimming areas, especially during crowded beach days. The speedy craft often ride the waves at the surf line, endangering swimmers and surfers alike, then skim away at 35 m.p.h., too fast for land-based pursuit.

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North Coast lifeguards recommend a launching ramp at Cardiff State Beach to the jet ski owners who inquire, but state park officials say there is a statewide ban on launching or landing motor-driven craft at state beaches between May 15 and Oct. 1.

State beaches make up much of the North County coast, and extend to the international border, spanning three state park jurisdictions.

At Border Field State Park, there are no bans on glass or alcohol use. Fire rings are scarce but available, and the chief complaint is sewage contamination from the nearby Tijuana River and a sewage outfall to the south in Mexico.

Plenty of Minor Problems

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Park rangers are helped in enforcement by U. S. Border Patrol officers who are in the area routinely to nab illegal aliens and guard against drug smugglers. Despite relatively good surf and beaches, Border Field gets little use from locals.

Imperial Beach, with 3-plus miles of beaches, reports few major problems on them, but plenty of minor ones that Lifeguard Capt. Harold Seuquay admits could be solved if the city were not in such dire financial straits.

Dogs on leashes are permitted except in posted areas around the pier and on it. Glass containers are prohibited but alcohol is allowed. A launching ramp for jet skis and other craft is located north of the south jetty, but the City Council is working on a set of regulations to curb their use.

Jet skiers, Seuquay said, “are basically jerks,” but he doubts if city ordinances are going to reform them. Lifeguards have no power to enforce local laws and jet skiers are reportedly quick to leave when sheriff’s deputies appear.

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Imperial Beach permits beach fires within fire rings, but someone stole the rings. Who? Why? No one knows. And the city has no funds to replace them.

At Silver Strand State Beach, which park rangers and lifeguards say is almost exclusively a “family beach,” there are few restrictions other than a ban on dogs and an early (8 p.m.) closing time. Fires are allowed in fire rings; jet skis are not a problem; alcoholic beverages and glass containers are allowed and will remain so unless a problem arises.

Used by Families

The broad beach in the city of Coronado is another one used mainly by families. Unlike a growing number of beach towns, the north end of the beach, across from Sunset Park, has fire rings, and people use them late into the night. However, the city has a ban on alcohol and glass containers.

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The most northern part of the beach is known as Dog Beach, where unleashed dogs are allowed to romp freely, chasing Frisbees and tennis balls into the waves.

San Diego’s city beaches, from Ocean Beach north to Torrey Pines, are generally open to dogs (on leashes) and to fires (in fire rings), according to San Diego Police Capt. Dave Crow, Northern Division commander. Glass containers are banned everywhere along the city sand, but alcohol is allowed.

However, alcohol possession and consumption is prohibited in all beach area parking lots in the city, posing an interesting question as to how beach-goers can legally get their booze from car to sand.

San Diego city beaches are generally off limits between midnight and 6 a.m., and police enforce earlier curfews on popular party spots such as Fiesta Island in Mission Bay (10 p.m.) and suspected drug-dealing areas such as the South Mission Beach parking lots.

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Lifeguards and law enforcement officers admit that they “look the other way” when grunion hunters, fishermen or beach walkers break the curfew rules meant to curb late-night partiers and all-night campers.

Under State Control

North at Del Mar, the fire rings have been stored and no fires are allowed, except for self-contained portable cookers. Glass is banned, but alcohol is allowed. Leashed dogs are allowed at the extreme north and south ends of the 2 miles of sand.

From Solana Beach north to Oceanside, much of the seashore is under the control of the state. Chief Ranger Jim Van Schmus said that glass containers are banned at most of the beaches and alcohol is allowed except at Moonlight Beach and state beaches within the city of Carlsbad. Fire rings are provided at Moonlight Beach (at the foot of Encinitas Boulevard) and South Carlsbad and Carlsbad state beaches, but have been removed along Cardiff’s Restaurant Row.

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Leashed dogs are permitted at Cardiff and Leucadia state beaches but banned in other beach areas of heavy use. And all the state beaches close at 11 p.m., Van Schmus said, although fishermen and grunion hunters are not bothered.

Oceanside bans alcoholic beverages on its beaches, a longstanding prohibition growing out of Marine-versus-townie gang fights and beer busts of a decade ago.

No dogs, no glass, no overnight camping and fires only in fire rings round out the restrictions along the Oceanside Strand, beach lifeguard Bill Richardson said.

From the earlier turbulent days, the Oceanside beach has matured into a mellower mood where law enforcement officers are kept busier writing parking tickets than busting up brawls.

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North of Oceanside lies Camp Pendleton Marine Base, but its beaches are open to civilians only by invitation. At the extreme northwestern corner of the county, San Onofre State Beach carves out a tiny section of the sprawling military complex for a camping park and surfing-swimming area in the shadow of the nuclear power plant.

There, alcohol is allowed, glass bottles are banned. Dogs are allowed on sections of the camping area but not on the surfing beach. Fire rings are located on the surfing beach, not at the camping beach.

The day use area closes at 10 p.m. and, according to the locals, the waves are “gnarly.”


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