By Donald Wittkowski
Prompted by growing complaints about smoking, drinking, rowdiness and other bad behavior on the beach, Sea Isle City officials asked the public Tuesday for suggestions on how to restore “proper etiquette” in town.
Much of the public hearing convened by City Council focused on a relatively new phenomenon called “tent-spreading.” Some beachgoers have been monopolizing prime spots near the water by spreading out large tents, canopies or cabanas on the sand.
Council members and local residents discussed ways to prevent tents and canopies from dominating the beachfront and blocking the views of the ocean, including the possibility of imposing an outright ban.
Patty DeTitta, who lives on 78th Street, urged Council to prohibit tents, arguing that they are unsightly and simply take up too much space.
“The days of just the beach umbrella are what I’d like to see again,” DeTitta said.
In an interview after the hearing, DeTitta’s husband, Jim, said Sea Isle’s beaches have become so cluttered with tents that they resemble a “tent city” on some days.
Council President Mary Tighe and Councilman J.B. Feeley both said they would not support a ban on tents. However, Tighe raised the possibility of some tighter regulations.
“I certainly don’t want to ban tents, but I think we can regulate them better,” she said.
As a compromise, some residents suggested restricting the areas where tents and canopies are allowed. They proposed moving them closer to the back of the beaches, near the dunes.
Tents and canopies are popular among parents to protect their children from sunburn and skin cancer. Earlier this year, Councilman Frank Edwardi said tents are also a way to prevent aggressive seagulls from swooping down and snatching food.
Tighe pointed out that she has received more complaints from the public about “tent-spreading” than any other beach problem. Smoking on the beach, drinking, rowdy behavior and deep holes dug in the sand also have been drawing strong objections.
Tighe called the public hearing to have city officials, local residents, the police department and the beach patrol begin developing a strategy for next summer’s vacation season.
Among the possibilities being discussed are new laws banning certain beach activities, tighter restrictions or a new education campaign in concert with the Sea Isle City Environmental Commission to make the public aware of what Tighe called “proper etiquette.”
“Unfortunately, we have to tell people how to act a little bit,” Tighe said.
One resident, Tony Costello, cautioned city officials about imposing too many rules and regulations. He said over-regulation could scare visitors away from Sea Isle, hurting its tourist-dependent economy.
“We’ve got to be careful that we don’t legislate our guests and vacationers right out of Sea Isle and to another town,” said Costello, who lives at 92nd Street and Pleasure Avenue.
Drinking alcohol is already banned on the beach, but Tighe acknowledged that the law is being ignored, despite efforts by police to clamp down on the problem.
“The blatantness is what people are really worried about,” Tighe said. “It’s gotten worse over the years.”
One local businessman, Mike Monichetti, owner of Mike’s Seafood & Dock Restaurant, warned that drinking, marijuana smoking and unruly behavior on the beaches threaten to harm Sea Isle’s family-friendly reputation. He wants the city to hire more police officers to prevent any rowdiness, particularly drinking.
“You seriously have to think about drinking on the beach, because this has to stop,” Monichetti told the Council members.
In response to Monichetti’s comments, City Business Administrator George Savastano said Police Chief Thomas D’Intino has stepped up efforts to curtail drinking and is planning to have an even more aggressive enforcement program next summer.
Police officers already pose as regular beachgoers to try to catch people drinking. D’Intino has requested city funding to buy more ATVs for an even bigger police presence on the beaches, Savastano said.
Renny Steele, who oversees Sea Isle’s lifeguards as captain of the beach patrol, said he believes drinking on the beach is the most serious problem. He encouraged the public to tell lifeguards if they see anyone drinking. Lifeguards, in turn, will call the police if needed, he said.
During the public hearing, smoking on the beach was another source of complaints. Some residents urged Council to ban smoking. They said they can’t tolerate the smell of cigars or cigarettes and will leave the beach if they are stuck next to a smoker.
Frank Gaull, who lives on 57th Street, described a confrontation he had with one smoker who discarded his cigarette butts on the beach. Gaull said he ended up throwing the butts at the smoker.
“If you want to leave, take your butts with you,” Gaull recalled of what he told the smoker.
Gaull said he also objects to the deep holes that are dug on the beach. The holes are not always covered up, creating a hazard for other beachgoers.
Children often dig holes for their sand sculpting, but Gaull blamed the parents. He said the parents bring big gardening shovels to the beach instead of the traditional small, plastic sand shovels used by children.
“A little kid can’t dig those big holes,” said Gaull, adding that he wants the city to ban gardening shovels on the beach.
Instead of banning or restricting children from digging in the sand, Tighe suggested that perhaps the best approach would be an educational campaign to warn of the dangers of holes in the beach.
At the end of the hearing, Tighe told the audience that she believed it was a “good start” in helping the city to develop formal plans to improve beach etiquette for the 2018 summer season.