December 12, 2003

Guest Opinion:

“Game Planning For A Winning Ballpark District”

By Bob O’Donnell

After years of planning, litigation delays and construction, we can actually see the promise of a new and beautiful downtown ballpark. Soon San Diegans will be attending Major League Baseball and other events at a state-of-the-art venue in which we can all take pride.

However, before we take our seats, let’s give some further thought to the neighborhood that will be home to Petco Park. There are many East Village businesses and residents, and more will come, having ideas about the revitalization of their community.

Commonly envisioned is a vibrant neighborhood with compatible mixed uses. Everyone going to Petco Park should be able to enjoy its surroundings as much as the ballpark experience, itself.

Within the next few weeks the Padres and downtown planners are expected to release operational plans for ballpark-related venues. Hopefully, what have been unanswered questions about public activities, security measures and risk-management plans will be addressed.

Before the San Diego City Council reviews and approves operational plans for Tailgate Park, Park at the Park and other ballpark-related venues, public input should be part of the process. As will be with the pending Ballpark District Ordinance, we have the opportunity to prevent “mixed use” conflicts that have occurred with redevelopment elsewhere.

Alcohol risk management is one priority that needs to be addressed in the emerging operational plans and other planning. Common sense policy addressing alcohol availability and public drinking is essential to assure baseball fan, pedestrian and vehicular safety as well as family appeal and overall “quality of life” in the evolving East Village/Ballpark District.

Good alcohol risk-management also has been proven to be an essential ingredient to establishing a strong and sustainable retail, dining and entertainment environment. For shoppers, residents and tourists to be attracted to and frequently patronize commercial areas, they need to feel safe from public nuisances and crime often linked to a poorly planned alcohol environment.

Research has shown increased density of alcohol outlets correlates with increased rates of crime, loitering and other neighborhood disturbances. Community planning for the number and types of new alcohol outlets in the ballpark district needs to provide a proactive formula before license applications pour in. Long-range community interests suggest avoiding an over-saturation of new bars and nightclubs.

The Gaslamp Quarter, a stones throw away, has ample alcohol establishments providing late-night entertainment. The commercial district that will grow around Petco Park should complement and add to the character of downtown, not be more of the same.

These are other alcohol risk-management questions yet in need of answers:

· Responsible operations by alcohol establishments: What core set of operating conditions should be established for new licensees in the Ballpark District? I have been hearing East Village residents stating preferences that new restaurants / sports clubs don’t become loud, late-night venues in their emerging high-density residential neighborhoods.

· Alcohol at the ballpark and Park at the Park: The Padres have demonstrated a sense of responsibility in their alcohol practices at Qualcomm Stadium. What policies will be in place for baseball and other events in Petco Park? What about drinking within the children’s play areas at Park at the Park?

· Locations where alcohol can be publicly consumed: Qualcomm is well known for its festive tailgating traditions. Unfortunately, it is also notorious for over-indulgence and rowdy behavior in the parking lot. Do we want tailgate drinking occurring in game day parking facilities? Current crime data, neighborhood demographics and law enforcement demands around the so-called “Tailgate Park” suggest serious consideration of no alcohol consumption within this high-risk location.

· Alcohol abundant street events: It is easy to foresee what a prime opportunity the Ballpark District will provide for event promoters. Events with substantial drinking are quite common in the Gaslamp. Should East Village events add a different dimension to downtown? How about a fresh and profitable orientation to arts, culture and family?

The above issues are not about prohibition. They are about good planning, public safety and providing balance. Countywide public opinion surveys commissioned by the Institute for Public Strategies reflect that people do care about these issues. In the March 2003 telephone survey — for its “Vitality San Diego” project – 89 percent of those polled said they thought potential problems associated with alcohol availability and consumption within the pending ballpark district need to be considered in East Village redevelopment planning. Majorities indicated support for reasonable policy measures addressing these matters.

During a 30-year law enforcement career, that included dealing with risk-management issues at Qualcomm Stadium and special events throughout the city, I personally have witnessed the downside of not planning for alcohol issues.

I am sure we have all seen how excess alcohol availability and consumption can spoil a sporting event, a public celebration or even the quality of life in a community. As taxpayers, we should also be cognizant of the tremendous costs for police, fire and other emergency services resulting from alcohol-related and other incidents.

The dream of a ballpark that stimulates a vibrant business and residential community in East Village can be a reality. To assure the future enjoyment of those who will live, work or visit in this ballpark neighborhood, let’s include good alcohol risk management in our planning.

Bob O’Donnell is a recently retired San Diego Police Department sergeant, now associated with “Vitality San Diego” – an Institute for Public Strategies project. He can be reached via e-mail at vitality@publicstrategies.org.

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