FOLLY BEACH — Just two days into a 60-day alcohol ban on the beach, city leaders decided to give residents a chance to make it permanent.
City Council voted Thursday night in a special meeting to put the ban up for referendum in the Nov. 6 general election. The result is not binding, however, unless residents put together a petition with signatures from 15 percent of voters in the meantime.
Councilman Eddie Ellis proposed a resolution that would commit council to enforcing the ban if residents vote that way.
“This is my town, and I’ve got certain things that are mine,” Ellis said. “And mine is my enjoyment on the beach. There are too many drunks, man. ... Let’s not get too political on this. Let’s keep it simple.”
Council passed an emergency ordinance Tuesday prohibiting booze on the beach for 60 days, with fines up to $1,092 for violators. Many of the residents who packed city hall Tuesday returned for the Thursday meeting.
Former Mayor Richard Beck told council to “ban it now,” while other residents described feeling captive in their own homes. Brian Porter, who has lived on Folly for 69 years, said his wife yelled at some of the rowdy beach-goers congregating near their home.
“You know what they did? They waved at her,” Porter said. “The quality of life on this island is the worst it’s ever been.”
Others who spoke Thursday wanted a more moderate approach. Planet Follywood owner D.J. Rich suggested a seasonal booze ban similar to Folly’s rules for bringing dogs on the beach, while a James Island woman with inoperable cancer cautioned not to let a few misbehaved visitors spoil everyone’s fun.
Councilman Paul Hume suggested discussing options before making a decision, but Mayor Tim Goodwin echoed the stronger sentiment in the room — “This should go forward tonight.”
The decisions this week meant some major plan changes for the weekend, including a possible cancellation of Charleston Pride Week’s finale party slated for Sunday. The planned festivities included two deejays and a sponsorship from Bud Light and Barefoot Vineyards, according to Pride Chairman Rob Lewis.
Lewis spoke with Goodwin Wednesday night and learned that the deejays couldn’t set up on the sand in light of the recent problems at the beach.
“Ultimately, we believe you don’t have to have alcohol to have a good time,” Lewis said. “Not having alcohol doesn’t take away from the party atmosphere, but to not have music — that does.”
Lewis said that Pride likely will relocate any annual events if the emergency ordinance sticks.
“We’re a group that every year has Big Gay Beach Day,” Lewis said. “We always made sure every year that we were responsible about picking up our trash. There have been no violent instances, other than maybe a friendly rivalry between tug-of-war competitors.”
The push for a booze ban reached fever pitch on the Fourth of July when, at East 10th Street, thousands of people crammed into a tiny patch of sand and some of them began fighting. Authorities described the chaos as a “riot,” which left in its wake more than 100 bags of garbage, five injured law enforcement officers and seven arrests.
Days earlier the Folly civic club newsletter The Sandspur printed a message from the mayor and the public safety chief warning residents about new crime trends, including people doctoring drinks with date-rape drugs, selling crack cocaine and hallucinogenic “bath salts” and systematically breaking into vacation homes.
Now, the 16 full-time public safety officers and their support from Charleston County sheriff’s deputies face a new challenge of enforcing the booze ban. Folly officials plan to post more than 60 signs in advance of the weekend advising beach-goers of the ordinance.
If an officer spots someone breaking the law, he can impose a fine ranging from $250 to $1,092. The amount is subject to the officer’s discretion.
City council will meet again Wednesday for a second reading on the referendum.