Fact Check: Businesses and the Booze Ban - Voice of San Diego

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Fact Check: Businesses and the Booze Ban

A Pacific Beach resident claimed beach businesses have suffered dramatically since the 2008 alcohol ban on city beaches.

Image: MisleadingStatement: “Beach businesses have suffered dramatically, their revenues are down almost 50 percent since the (alcohol) ban,” Pacific Beach resident Paul Falcone said in an Aug. 29 SDNews.com story.

Determination: Misleading

Analysis: Almost five years ago, San Diegans voted to permanently ban alcohol on city beaches after a temporary stoppage in the wake of an infamous 2007 Labor Day weekend riot.

In the years since, alcohol-related crime has dropped in beach communities but some residents and business owners continue to oppose the ban.

Pacific Beach resident Paul Falcone, who also serves on the neighborhood’s planning board, recently claimed the ban has had a destructive effect on area businesses, nearly halving their revenues.

He later told Voice of San Diego that his information came from a handful of local businesses, including some that had closed since the ban went into effect.

We decided his statement merited some vetting – a 50 percent revenue drop would represent a huge blow to local commerce. Then there’s the fact that Councilman Kevin Faulconer – one of the ban’s chief proponents – is now running for mayor, so it’s worth taking a closer look at the impacts of one of his most significant accomplishments.

To check this claim, we contacted several business owners in Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach. Nearly all said their revenues had suffered since a temporary one-year ban on booze at city beaches went into effect in January 2008. (Voters made the policy change permanent that November.)

Only Willis Allen, part owner of Crystal Pier Hotel in Pacific Beach and a supporter of the alcohol ban, said his business has actually improved since 2008.

Industry groups echoed the message that most businesses had experienced slowdowns.

Mark Arabo of the La Mesa-based Neighborhood Market Association, which represents groceries and some liquor stores, said members who own beachfront businesses described significant drops in revenue and customers since 2008.

Arabo said one Ocean Beach grocer, whose name he would not reveal, recorded a 30 percent drop in customers in the wake of the alcohol ban.

But Arabo and most others were quick to point to other variables that affected businesses after January 2008. The alcohol ban went into effect in the midst of one of the nation’s worst recessions, a time when San Diegans and tourists alike spent less money.

Other areas of the city, including North Park and East Village, have since emerged as desirable weekend and holiday destinations.

“There were many factors at the same time,” said Sara Berns, executive director of Discover Pacific Beach, an organization that represents more than 1,400 Pacific Beach businesses.

For that reason, Berns said, it’s impossible to directly correlate most businesses’ revenue drops with the ban.

Berns also couldn’t say whether business had fallen by nearly 50 percent since the ban and the recession hit.

Business owners also declined to share specific revenue figures, or to tie any decreases specifically to the booze ban.

Jeff Huey, owner of Radd Action Sports in Mission Beach, was forced to cut staff after the ban but said it would be foolish to cite it as the sole reason for that decision.

Still, the timing of the ban was unfortunate for businesses, he said.

“The fact is it probably didn’t help having the ban at the point of time that it happened,” Huey said. “It was kind of an experimental thing to see what would happen, and the economy turned.”

But in his statement, Falcone only cited the ban as the reason for the decreased business.

In an interview with VOSD, Falcone acknowledged other factors, including an ailing economy and even poor weather, might have contributed to reduced business.

His statement doesn’t reflect those crucial nuances, and he made a sweeping assessment about business losses that couldn’t be backed up with hard numbers.

We label a statement “misleading” when it takes an element of truth and badly distorts or exaggerates it, leaving a deceptive impression.

Falcone’s claim fits this bill because many businesses have suffered since the ban went into effect – and a small number may have been hit especially hard as a result of the ban – but it’s irresponsible to suggest it was the only factor at play.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify Paul Falcone’s role on the Pacific Beach planning board.

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