Beach Area Community Court provides law violators in Pacific Beach a way to lower their fines
It is early in the morning, the beach is covered with a thick marine layer, your dog is tugging at her leash wanting to run free. You assess the situation and decide to take the risk, unclipping the leash.
A few moments later, a San Diego police SUV pulls up next to you and your heart sinks, knowing you are going to be slapped with a hefty fine for having an off-leash dog on the beach.
However, to your surprise, the police provide you with a choice — pay an expensive fine or pay a much lower fine and attend Beach Area Community Court.
Pacific Beach residents and visitors are faced with many regulations, especially regarding use of the beach and boardwalk. Many of these rules are in place for the greater good, but occasionally people inevitably break them.
Perhaps someone has an off-leash dog, brought a beer to the beach to watch the sunset or set up a bonfire with some friends. Instead of having to pay a lot of money for these minor infractions, there is now an option to attend Beach Area Community Court and pay a reduced fine.
Eric Marenburg, president of Discover PB (the local business improvement district) explained that this concept has been implemented in other communities, and Pacific Beach wanted to try it here as well.
“(We thought), what’s a different way than just having a ticket and expensive fee?,” Marenburg said. “What about a way that person can give back to the community in place of that citation and learn more about PB?”
The funds from the smaller fee go to Discover PB, which implements initiatives and finances activities that benefit the community. Along with the minor fee for the Beach Court option, there is a community service requirement. Participants must fulfill a number of community service hours, which generally consist of street or beach cleanups.
Marenburg said Discover PB is consistently working with the San Diego Police Department’s beach team to ensure that for minor infractions, violators are offering the Beach Court option instead automatically paying the higher fine.
Mitchell C. (who declined to have his last name printed), is a Pacific Beach resident who was offered that option when he was ticketed for having a beach bonfire in September 2022. At that time, San Diego lifeguards and police were just beginning to enforce the rule that bonfires are not allowed on PB beach areas, and the enforcement felt sporadic.
“I’ve lived here for five and a half years and every weekend during the summer you can expect at least 15 beach bonfires just from the PB pier to the end of Tourmaline,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell claimed he was not aware of the new regulation when he was cited, and not offered a warning from the police. He was, however, offered the option to attend Beach Area Community Court, and decided that paying a lesser fine was worth the extra time commitment.
“I think it’s a good option for people who are ticketed for urinating in public or drinking alcohol on the beach,” stated Mitchell, adding that 90 percent of those that attended his session were ticketed for these activities.
For his infraction, Mitchell said he did not feel that Beach Court was warranted since beach bonfires were never previously ticketed.
The trash pickup portion was also highly strict. Participants were not allowed to interact with anyone else not in the program, and they were not allowed to wear earbuds to listen to music during their community service hours.
Beach Court consists of a two-hour class that begins with an open dialogue with two community members from Pacific Beach. These members are volunteers that have offered to be a part of the program to educate violators about how their infractions impact the PB community.
After about 30 minutes or so with the community volunteers, there is an “impact panel” with a nurse, the San Diego Police Department, City of San Diego Parks and Recreation, Discover PB and the San Diego City Attorney.
For those committing a minor infraction, such as public urination or drinking alcohol on the beach, the numbers show that people are taking advantage of the option to attend Beach Court instead of pay the steeper fine.
Marenburg said the amount of people in the program fluctuates from just a few, to as many as 20 to 30 people per session. There also appears to be a larger number of people attending Beach Court in the summer, as this is when more people are out and about, and out-of-town visitors are here for vacation.
Sunny Lee, Discover PB’s executive director, emphasized that the whole point of the program is to deter potential repeat offenders.
“Offenders will openly converse about what happened. ... A lot of them feel remorseful and learn from their mistake after going through this,” Lee said.
“We do see a lot of infractions,” Marenburg said. “This is a way that we can turn those things that can have a negative connotation into education and support (for the community).”