Palm Springs Votes to Tone Down Easter Break

TIMES STAFF WRITER

By law, Spring Break in Palm Springs will be modest this year. No ifs. No ands. No butts. Fed up with the annual Easter Week spectacle of girls in G-string bikinis and boys who "moon" from the windows of passing cars, the desert resort has outlawed the baring of buttocks and the wearing of too-revealing bathing suits in public.

The action--among half a dozen new ordinances passed by the Palm Springs City Council on Wednesday--is the latest in an annual flurry of new laws aimed at toning down the typically raucous fest. In 1986, a riot erupted after girls bared their breasts on the streets, and ever since Spring Break has meant annual crackdowns and a beefed-up police presence.

Last year, for example, all Spring Break citations--for anything from firing a squirt gun to cruising with an open beer in hand--were accompanied by a $15 surcharge to reimburse the city for the time it took to write the ticket. But Councilman Tuck Broich said the extra fine failed as a deterrent because "in a lot of cases it wasn't paid, and it was too small to be worth collecting."

So this year, the city fired off a volley of new laws, which take effect immediately, ranging from a strengthened public nudity ordinance to a ban on motorcycles on the main thoroughfares during Spring Break. G-string or "thong" bikinis will be banned year-round on public property and on private property visible from public areas.

Poolside drinking will be prohibited after 11 p.m. at most hotels. Police will be authorized to barricade any cruising area that becomes too congested. Anyone responsible for repeat disturbances at large parties will be charged for the police time involved, a fee that could range upward of $500.

Most of the new laws cut to the heart of the community's biggest Spring Break headaches--cruising and public drunkenness.

One of the most popular forms of revelry, Police Sgt. Ron Starrs said, is the practice of men cruising the main streets, preferably on souped-up motorcycles with women in G-string bikinis riding on the back. The bikinis do little if anything to cover the buttocks, and the spectacle is such a distraction to other drivers that it creates a traffic hazard, Starrs said.

"The rear-ending causes rear-endings, you might say," the sergeant said. "But we've also had girls fall off the motorcycles as they dart in and out of traffic."

Cruising also creates gridlock in the city's thoroughfares, causing traffic to spill out into residential neighborhoods. The 24-hour partying has led to drunken driving, vandalism at the local hotels and, in some cases, serious injuries, he said.

The mooning ordinance was needed to bolster state laws pertaining to indecent exposure, which require a specific lewd act beyond mere nudity. In Palm Springs, mere nudity will be enough.

"These new laws sound fine to me. The more they do, the better I like it," said Donna Bullmaster, general manager of the Dunes Hotel, a 128-room inn popular with students and the site of past Spring Break disturbances.

In 1989, a Simi Valley college student suffered massive head injuries when she fell from a second-floor balcony at the hotel during the revelry. The incident occurred just two hours after police clad in riot gear stormed the hotel to break up a brawl.

"They get drunk and they get crazy and accidents can happen," Bullmaster said. "Last year a guy thought he was Superman, dove into the Jacuzzi and cracked it." "Superman" was not seriously hurt.

Like most of the city's 170 hotels, Bullmaster's lacks a liquor license and will therefore be subject to the new poolside drinking law. The hotel does not sell alcohol but students routinely bring their own.

The new law is fine, Bullmaster said. If it can be enforced, perhaps she'll see fewer "of those big quart bottles of booze they bring in."

But merchants also expressed doubts that the new laws will be enforceable.

"I'm sure the police will have some fun trying, but it's going to be extremely difficult," said Jean Bankert, owner of Bikinis by Bernie, a downtown bathing suit boutique that sells its share of G-strings. "Any time you say, 'Don't' or 'You can't' to kids, they'll figure out a way."

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