by OB Cindi
For those of you who need to be brought up to speed, last night (2/24) from 7pm to 9pm there was an OB Town Council Meeting.
Earlier yesterday (Wed 2/24) I walked around Ocean Beach and handed out a flier to a handful of people under the pier. My flier had a map giving directions to the Masonic Temple, the time of the meeting, and a request for those the OBRag Ad Hoc Committee were representing to add their voices to the Town Council’s issue on homeless.
I asked about a dozen youth to come to the meeting to talk about their experience and to help push for a local shelter/camp city and more restrooms.
As the meeting started, I took a seat amongst the youth as I had promised–I practice and preach tolerance and coexistence.
The meeting kicked off with people running for various districts pushing their platforms.
I was very interested when Landry Watson of District 1 was asked what accomplishments he had achieved and he mentioned he had started several committees including a committee to work the Bathrooms at Brighton Project. I asked when the bathrooms would be replaced and about current restroom facilities at that location. Landry said that there are temporary restrooms and the lifeguard tower restrooms need to come down and be replaced. He said this was a 2 yr project.
My thought–so where do the rich and the poor visitors who come to our beach use the bathroom? And shouldn’t there be more restrooms on our beach with better lighting?
A town council member announced they were going to talk about the “homeless issue” next. My thought–why is this even being talked about by a group of people who have never been homeless? Thankfully, Town Council was about to be educated by our peaceful anti-establishment neighbors who I call, Travelers….
First to speak, officer Walt Vazquez who runs the Western Division, SDPD. He did speak for an awful long time, but to be fair, the first two homeless kids who followed him were also given an unlimited amount of time to speak. The problem with Officer Vazquez is that he let us all know how out-of-touch he is with homeless youth being targeted in our community.
Rather then discuss homelessness, he talked about wanting to reduce domestic violence and aggravated assaults in our community, and wanting to remain neutral by enforcing laws and citing anyone who does not follow the law. He gave the usual police talk of “serve and protect” (sorry, but that is so VERY cliche) and then tried to say that he would answer questions privately.
Thankfully I was allowed to direct a question his way before he left the podium. I asked Officer Vazquez what the police policy is on homeless issues and to specifically focus his response on homeless being targeted by his officers in our community. Vazquez responded by saying that he was more concerned with all crime and if there were 2 crimes or 2,000 crimes, he wanted all crime to stop. So he didn’t answer my question. As he ended he said that he told his officers to enforce laws on all as they are there to serve and protect and it doesn’t matter if you are homeless or not–if caught using drugs or drunk in public or defecating/urinating in public, you will be cited.
Okay, Officer Vazquez, but are you out of touch with our community? The reason people pee and defecate in the alleys is because we lack a balanced ratio of beach visitors (homeless or not) to bathrooms. ANYONE visiting OB would agree with this!
Next up, John – who I had met that morning under the pier. His picture was in the Beacon and he started out by saying he felt targeted and had never been asked if it was okay to have his picture in the article. He felt the slant of the Beacon‘s article stating that there was a problem with kids hanging out under the pier was directed at him. He stated he is peaceful and only wishes to coexist in our community. As John spoke, the whole room went silent. His voice was very soft, and a few times, I thought he might break down in tears.
One of those moments came when he talked about the man who gave him the “Get out of town Trolls” flyer. For those of you who have never heard this word before, it is as insulting as the “N” word, and is meant to describe Travelers as less then deserving the gutter.
John felt “threatened and scared” by the tone of the document. He became more concerned that something bad might happen to him. He said that it is a few who don’t even stay in OB who do bad things, that need to be the focus, not on all. He asked that everyone in the room not look at him as scary, as he sometimes looks at us as scary.
If you walk up to the youth under the pier and get to know them, you’d find that they are trying to police themselves, want help and outreach from us to help them. I think if I could put into words what John was saying is:
if you see something, call and give a VERY CLEAR DESCRIPTION of what you see and who is doing it. And that when the police get there, don’t just handcuff everyone then ask questions. Police need to learn to ask the youth who is causing the trouble–they will tell you, but off to the side where they won’t end up being harmed when these bad apples get out of jail.
I hope that the officers who police OB read this, but I doubt they will…
Two speakers later a very bright young man who described himself as someone who chose not to live in four walls, spoke to us in a way that again, made everyone in the room stop talking. As he spoke of peace and coexistence, he pointed out that we all needed to share the beach. That a few bad apples spoil the bunch and make all the youth that hang out under the pier look bad. He mentioned that we need more restrooms and somewhere safe for youth to stay.
The youth and I had thought it might be good to have temporary low income camping for tents and campers near Rob Field. He asked that the people in the room try to open their minds and not change what makes OB a beautiful place to visit. He called our town his second home and when he walked away from the podium, everyone applauded.
Lane kicked off the ad hoc committee for OBRag by talking about his background and the need for a shelter and more bathrooms. More bathrooms seemed to be a recurring theme all night. He asked that everyone focus on what we love about OB–it’s eccentric bohemian style.
Next Sarah stood up and discussed that she is torn between being compassionate and being tired of seeing people defecating and urinating on her property and people fighting and selling drugs. Her point was well taken–let’s not focus on homeless, let’s focus on the problems we have with violence and lack of restrooms.
She pointed out that a group of local teenagers from the high school pulled up and defecated behind her house, and that a few weeks later another group who definitely did not look homeless, urinated on her patio. Her point was that we should not point our finger at the homeless. That we should instead concentrate on providing more restrooms all over the beach front so people don’t use our property as their toilet.
Next Sunshine brought up a piece of cardboard as her “visual” of the homeless issue. On the cardboard were the words Merchants, Property Owners, Customers, Homeless visitors and tourists and a few others. She had the word “issue” in the middle and flipped it over to show the word “solutions” to show we all had a stake in finding solutions to common issues in our community and she again pointed out that we shouldn’t say that it’s the homeless causing problems. Again we heard the words “self police” being asked of our community.
The ad hoc committee speakers were followed by varying forms of tolerance and intolerance.
Pat Phillips who said he grew up in OB, lives with his kids and wife here in OB and who owns a construction company, was the official “loose cannon” of the evening. He started off by saying he was going to be non-PC and boy, was he not joking! Pat said he wanted the police to ship all the homeless out of this town, that they make our town dirty, that there was not a homeless problem when he was growing up, but now the homeless aggressively panhandle, defecate and pee in the alleys, throw their trash on the beach and sell and do drugs. His vigilante attitude ignored the requests earlier by the young men representing homeless youth to coexist and not to lump all in one targeted group.
Town Council member David Martin ended the meeting by saying that the homeless committing criminal acts in Ocean Beach (defecate/urinate outside of restrooms, aggressively panhandle, scare away customers to stores, vandalize, buy/sell/use drugs at the beach) are not wanted in OB. David said he wants everyone to just be fair and play nice in the sandbox we call OB. He ended by saying if the homeless are disrespectful, [we] want you to GET OUT!
He hit and missed the mark–it’s not just the homeless doing the acts that brought up this “issue” for Town Council. We need to be sure Mr Martin that we are not targeting homeless and let’s ALL focus on addressing issues with peaceful negotiations, not vigilante style police force that involves say, one drunk guy swimming naked and 20 officers and a taser.
After the meeting, members of the ad hoc committee got together with the youth who had spoken and attended the meeting to ask them how they felt. They are still concerned they are being targeted and they want to ask the community of OB to be tolerant. They also want more restrooms and propose tent and van/RV camping in Robb Field parking lot for Travelers. Now that’s two ideas I as a resident of OB can get behind!