TREASURE ISLAND — Voters on this barrier island city soon may be asked a controversial question: Should drinking alcohol on the beach be banned?
The consequence of continuing to allow alcohol on the beach was a contentious issue Wednesday night as city officials and Sunset Beach residents struggled to find ways to control the reported misbehavior of thousands of weekend beachgoers.
Beach visitors park on neighborhood streets, often blocking driveways. They leave their trash on the street and on lawns at the end of the day.
Beachgoers are frequently intoxicated and rude to residents, who say that some trespass on their property to urinate in the foliage while others engage in sex on the beach dunes.
Suggested solutions included putting more garbage cans on the beach, banning the sale of disposable cups and straws by beach businesses, increasing public participation in beach cleanups, adding police patrols of the beach and neighborhoods on weekends, encouraging residents to report problems to the police, and banning beer kegs.
That latter suggestion is one that could get immediate action. The commission plans to take up an ordinance at its next meeting to ban beer kegs on the beach.
Some residents wanted more regulated parking, and they renewed appeals to institute permit-only parking on neighborhood streets.
That proposal was considered and then rejected last year when it was learned that some public parking on side streets was required in order for the city to qualify for beach renourishment money. Residents opposed putting those parking spots in front of their homes.
The real solution, said Dennis Velasco, a 30-year resident of Sunset Beach, is to ban alcohol on the beach.
His proposal drew strong applause Wednesday — and an admonition from city officials that any ban must be approved by voters in a citywide referendum.
Drinking alcoholic beverages on Treasure Island's beaches is legal, thanks to a referendum passed by voters in 1986.
"Citizens can ask all they want, but the commission has no authority to ban alcohol on the beach," Commissioner Ed Gayton Jr. told residents Wednesday.
City Attorney Maura Kiefer stressed that any change must be accomplished through a voter-initiated referendum.
The commission has considered proposals to ban alcohol on the beach before, but not all residents have been in favor. Many said they enjoyed walking on the beach with their wine or beer at the end of the day.
On Thursday morning, Velasco was at City Hall to gather information on how to get the alcohol question on the ballot for March.
He said he already has the required five qualified electors (voters) needed to form a referendum petition committee and people "willing to pound the pavement" to gather signatures.
The city charter requires a petition to be signed by 20 percent of the city's voters before it can be placed on the ballot. There are a number of other hurdles and restrictions ahead.
"There are mixed feelings about a complete ban on the island," Velasco acknowledged.
He is considering offering voters three different referendum petitions: one that would ban alcohol on all city beaches, a second to ban alcohol just on Sunset Beach, and a third that would allow alcohol on Sunset Beach only after 6 p.m.
The latter proposal is Velasco's personal favorite, as it would allow residents the "freedom" to drink on the beach after they come home from work or when they want to watch the sunset.
Workshops will be held to further discuss permit parking on neighborhood streets and on increasing fines for illegal or expired parking.
The city also will consider increasing trash cans and garbage pickups, particularly on holidays.
An earlier suggestion by City Manager Reid Silverboard to install permanent restrooms was rejected by the commission.