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Petition aims to ban daytime tippling on Sunset Beach

TREASURE ISLAND — Drinking on Sunset Beach during the day could soon be a thing of the past if residents persuade enough voters to support a proposed ban on alcohol.

The initiative petition, filed with the city clerk Wednesday, calls for no daytime tippling specifically on Sunset Beach, south of the intersection of Gulf Boulevard and West Gulf Boulevard.

"The residents of Sunset Beach are convinced that much of the bad behavior is caused by uncontrolled drinking of alcohol on the beach. We intend to change that," said Dennis Velasco, one of the organizers of the petition drive.

The ban would apply only to the public beach and "coastal parks" and would not affect imbibing at beachfront bars and restaurants like Caddy's or on private property.

And because many residents like a sunset toast on the sand, the ban would only be in effect between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Many residents blame Caddy's for helping to attract large crowds of mostly college-age beachgoers.

Since last spring, crowds grew into the thousands on weekends. Residents complained about heavy traffic, cars parking on residential streets and blocking driveways, littering, rowdy behavior and public urination.

In March, the City Commission briefly considered a temporary ban on alcoholic beverages but abandoned the effort when it became obvious that residents were split on the measure.

Commissioner Alan Bildz acknowledged at the time that there was not overwhelming support and suggested residents supporting a ban on alcohol should pursue voter approval in a citywide referendum.

A referendum to ban alcohol was defeated by voters in the 1980s.

Crowd problems and residents' complaints continued through the summer, even though the city increased its police patrols and Caddy's owner Tony Amico hired off-duty police officers to help patrol the beach and direct traffic, regularly cleaned the beach and installed portable toilets.

On the Fourth of July more than 3,000 people crammed the beach north of Caddy's. Many brought coolers filled with beer, and some brought kegs and drank beer through hoses and funnels.

The commission held a special workshop in August to address the problems on Sunset Beach.

That resulted in a unanimous vote last month to ban beer kegs holding 4 or more gallons from all public beaches and parks in the city.

The petition organizers, Velasco, Mary Daughtry, Laurance Yost, Thomas Fitzgerald and Pamela Tushaus, hope to get enough signatures to put the issue on the March ballot.

Velasco, chairman of the Sunset Beach Alcohol Ban Committee and a 30-year resident of Sunset Beach, said the limited ban would allow residents the freedom to drink on the beach after they come home from work or when they want to watch the sunset.

"Now is the hard part. Our goal is to collect up to 1,400 signatures to make sure we have enough," Velasco said.

"This referendum petition will give all Treasure Island citizens a chance to come forward to support a ban on alcohol," he said. The petition process, as specified in the city's charter, is complicated.

Citizen initiative petitions must be signed by 20 percent of registered voters qualified for the last regular city election. City officials said Friday that that totals about 1,200 signatures.

The initiative organizers have 90 days to collect signatures, starting on the day the first one is collected.

Once the completed petitions are turned in to the city, the city clerk has 15 working days to certify that there are enough valid signatures.

If the effort falls short, the initiative organizers are given another 10 working days to collect the additional signatures. The clerk then has five days to verify that the new signatures are valid.

The commission has three courses of action. If the petition is deemed "insufficient," it may review and overturn the clerk's ruling. But if the petition is valid, the commission must either adopt the proposed ordinance within 60 days or schedule a special election that must be held within 120 days.

Within 15 days before the election, four of the five original petition committee members may stop the process and withdraw the petition.

If the process continues to an election, a majority of voters casting ballots determine whether the initiative goes into effect.

Petition aims to ban daytime tippling on Sunset Beach 10/10/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 10, 2009 4:30am]
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