*editor’s note: Remember when we wrote that awesome article about bonfires and how we got open container tickets? This is the follow up. Read it here. It’s good.
**editor’s note #2: The following names have all been changed to protect the identities of those involved. And also because we didn’t get the proper spelling for everyone. Hindsight is 20/20.
***editor’s note #3: This is a two-part article. Look for part 2 on what it’s like to do your community service tomorrow (June 24th).
Your foray into Beach Area Community Court (BACC) begins with a letter in the mail. It reminds you that you committed a crime and agreed to volunteer for BACC. It gives you the dates of your education session & service session. The letter stresses that there is no alternative dates & if you don’t make it your ticket will be forwarded to the San Diego court system for processing. Don’t Be Late. NO EXCEPTIONS.
Except don’t be early either because they don’t open the doors to the Pacific Beach Area Rec Center (PBARC) until exactly 6pm. Two things jump out at us when we roll up to the rec center on our bicycles.
First: There are no bike racks. This has nothing to do with BACC, but c’mon PB. This is a rec center! A community gathering place. Throw a few bike racks up. You can get one on Amazon for $85.
Second: There were two empty Heineken bottles on the steps leading into our education session. Every person working the event to teach us about the effects of our crimes, predominantly alcohol-related, walked past them at least once if not several times.
The education session is moderated by the community organization Discover PB. They regularly deal with all the issues faced by the local communities of PB/MB. Discover PB also puts on a lot of the festivals we go to, and helps organize community events. The BACC sessions include people who have received tickets for a variety of offenses including open-container in a park area, jay-walking, having a dog off-leash or in the park area at the wrong time (even if it is in your car it’s still illegal). The list goes on.
There was a karate class in the room next to ours. During most of the two hour affair we’d be serenaded by the sounds of children kicking and punching. All accompanied by the required screaming of, “HIYAH, HIYAH, HIYAH!”
The room feels like a classroom in any elementary school. The north wall accordions up to expand the room if needed. The south wall has a bank of windows with protective metal bars. There is a stack of folding chairs, a podium, and I’m pretty sure there was a big tube TV on a rolling cart. That could just be my own flashbacks from my school days.
First we are reminded that this class is VOLUNTARY. It is an alternative to having your ticket processed, going to a court date and paying a fine. All things people don’t normally want to deal with. We went around the room introducing ourselves. Our group numbered 18 people from all over San Diego County. Santee, Oceanside, Camp Pendleton, Bay Park, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Carlsbad, Chula Vista, City Heights and Downtown were all represented. There was even one poor kid visiting from Ireland who got a ticket his first night in town for the summer.
“Rebecca” from Discover PB got things started by giving us a rundown of what was required to successfully complete BACC obligations. Then there was an “Impact Panel” to discuss the effects of Beach related crimes that went quick because 2/3 of the volunteer panel wasn’t able to make it. I honestly can’t tell you what was discussed. Not one stitch of recollection. The panelist was a transplant from Australia though, with only a slight hint of Aussie accent.
Then we broke up into two smaller groups. We were given a list of questions to ask our moderator and that would be asked of us. We went around the circle introducing ourselves and letting everyone know what our crime was. ALL NINE OF US HAD RECEIVED OPEN CONTAINER TICKETS! We talked about why beach crime is bad, what effect it has on the local community, and why it is important to have laws in place to restrict our activities on the beach. A few people spoke up right away disagreeing with some of the laws or complaining about how they were treated during their ticketing experience. We also talked about some of the negative effects public drinking or crime can have on the community in a positive way.
Apparently, we weren’t discussing enough so the Deputy City Attorney supervising jumped in to push things along. The conversation got aggressive fast. The tone was one of condescension. Any discussion that didn’t involve admission of our criminal nature was quickly shot down, and the overarching theme of the discussion was, “Did you learn your lesson?” It felt like a missed opportunity to really educate this group of people on the effects of small local crimes. Instead of creating a group of people ready to go back into the community and share what they had learned, most people turned defensive or indifferent. Although a few kept their sense of humor about the whole thing. When asked how we could limit drinking at the beach one participant responded, “Reinstate Prohibition.”
This was about the time we realized that this wasn’t really about educating and was more about punishment. The second hour kicked off with a slideshow from a Trauma Nurse of CAT scans & X-Rays. It was pretty dated and without any medical background hard to follow. Then the fun started. A pair of local cops came to scare us straight about beach crime. The stories mostly involved people getting so drunk they wanted to fight, went into the wrong house or urinated in public. One cop was tanned and buff looking with short sleeves. The other was teched up with a glasses cam and took on the role of the hardened vet with eight years in as a Beach Cop. These guys were great, and need their own TV show. I would Tivo “Beach Patrol: Pushed to the Limit” every week. Through it all the kids next door continued to punch padded targets, “HHHHHHHIIIIIIIIIIYYYYYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!”
The best advice from the cops, “Treat it (the beach area) as if you live here. With respect.” and “Stay off Facebook.”
Finally, the Mission Bay Park area Senior Park Ranger took center stage. Let’s call her “Denise”. Denise was by far the most compelling speaker of the night. As a Park Ranger she sees the effect the community has on the park every single day, and is responsible for the big picture vision of the parks as well. I learned more in 10 minutes than I had the rest of the evening. First, Beach Crimes definitely stress Denise out. They make her job harder and make our parks less friendly to be in. The number one problem of the parks department is dogs. Dogs off-leash endangering strangers. Dogs shitting and their owners not picking it up. Basically, just dogs in general. I learned that not only can you not have a dog off a leash, you can’t have a dog on a leash longer than 8 feet. You can’t have a dog in the park during certain hours, and that includes in your parked car or even if just driving through. And finally, I learned that the Parks Department has a lot of signs to let you know the rules. More than 400 of them. They are at all the entrances and placed anywhere that you might be. Go back and look. They are there. I promise you walked past 5 before you got your ticket.
And then it was over. Not fun, not terrible. Mostly painless. It also didn’t feel very effective. I doubt there is a lot of money budgeted for it other than the $40 each participant pays, but the message and method of delivery has to be updated. Speaking with other participants (of this session & other sessions) afterwards the most common emotion was annoyance & resignation. While I agree, this was better than going to court I definitely didn’t leave understanding how my wife and I sharing a beer at the beach was hurting the community. We want our community to be the best it can be & wished this gave us some more information on how to do that instead of just how to avoid tickets.
We walked out into the setting sun. In two days we’d partake in the Service portion of our punishment, but for now we were free. Now where did we park our bikes?
Check back tomorrow for part 2 of our BACC experience.