Back in August, the OB VFW Outpost 1392 received notice from their landlord of 27 years that their lease would not be renewed. It was a “business decision” on the part of the owner, who had chosen to go in another direction with the property. I wrote about it back in November. Ever since, the group has been struggling to find a new home for their band of brothers and sisters.
Location after location that they inquired into was found to be out of reach, either for financial reasons (the rent was simply too high) or because of the stigma attached to the VFW.
About a month ago, Post Commander Bill Havrilla and Quartermaster Vic Tulsie entered into negotiations to rent a vacant building at 4705 Pt. Loma Ave., the former home of Rancho Natural Foods market and restaurant. The property had sat vacant for five years.
Just over a week ago, a group of “concerned citizens,” members of the neighborhood watch caught wind of the relocation and immediately decided that it would just not do. There was no room for a VFW outpost in their neighborhood. No way, no how. Their opinions were formed, and their minds would not be changed. NIMBYism at its very best, and they were very angry that they hadn’t been consulted before a lease was signed.
When Havrilla learned of the brewing storm heading his way, he called the meeting that was held last night so that the community could hear their side of the story. He was genuinely shocked and dismayed at the intensity of the opposition; at the knee jerk nature of the community’s reaction. “I never fathomed the outcry,” he said.
At issue was the canteen operated by the VFW, and the liquor they serve inside. That’s understandable since the property, while located in a commercial zone, shares the neighborhood with a large residential area. There is a pre-school and a church located a few blocks away, and the residents are afraid of exposing their kids to an undesirable element.
VFW Outpost 1392 has a bit of a reputation, and it’s an immensely unfair one. It comes directly from the previous location on Newport Ave., in the alleyway between the shops on Newport and the Apple Tree market. It was, by everyone’s admission, a bad location. It is well known that there is a huge vagrancy problem in that area, and the police are often called out to deal with problems in the alley stemming from homeless individuals.
Off duty San Diego Police Officer Ron Wise, whose assigned patrol area is the Newport Ave. district, was there to answer questions. He’s been on that beat, he said, for 3 ½ years, and for the first six months he was called to the alley on numerous occasions. After those first six months, and for the last three years until the outpost was forced to move, he told the crowd emphatically that there have been no problems from the VFW outpost. Not one.
I asked him to what he attributes the change. “Communication,” he said. He took the time to talk to the people he would be protecting, to get to know them. Once a repoire was established, a mutual respect and understanding resulted. Boundaries were established and never crossed.
He said the reputation attached to the outpost is an unfortunate one. “It was a bad location, and they’ve been stereotyped (because of) the transients in the area.” The transients, he said are usually mistaken for VFW members, which has brought a negative stigma to the group. But they’re not members. They have nothing to do with the VFW.
Another issue raised at the meeting was the assumption that the outpost is open to the public, a fear stoked by former city councilmember Michael Zucchet in a neighborhood watch email exchange. He cited a Yelp review as proof that anybody can enter and take advantage of the canteen’s cheap prices on alcoholic beverages.
But that is absolutely not true. I confirmed with Tulsie, the outpost quartermaster, that the occasion cited in the Yelp review was the day of the OB Street Fair, the one and only day of the year the canteen was open to the public. Not an issue for the Pt. Loma Ave. location, since it’s nowhere near where the fair is held.
A VFW outpost is a private gathering place for members ONLY. In order to become a member, you must have served in the Armed Forces during combat operations on foreign soil. There are no exceptions. There are about 160 total members at Outpost 1392, and not all of them use the canteen at once. Or at all.
The way these veterans were treated was disgraceful. There was a distinct “We don’t want your kind around here” feel to the gathering. Vic Tulsie, I could tsee, was absolutely heartbroken. These veterans have gone out of their way to serve the Ocean Beach community through many, many charitable acts: They provide Thanksgiving dinners to the needy; they facilitate communication between active military serving overseas and their families; they provide services and help raise money for families who have lost loved ones on active duty; they raise the 97 American flags that line Newport Ave. on every national holiday; they hold food drives and toy drives for Christmas. The list goes on and on.
They do all of this for the community, and have asked for nothing in return. And when they finally need the community’s support the most, they are met with comments like “we object to your clientele, not the VFW,” or “So many of the veterans have problems, are alcoholics or drug addicts. We just don’t want to expose our kids to that kind of element.” Another man called the outpost “a sketchy magnet of derelict activity.” I couldn’t help but wonder if this was how the returning Vietnam vets were treated.
Not In My Backyard
Toward the end of the meeting, one of the residents asked “everyone to raise your hand if you support our veterans.” Every hand went up. Then he asked, “Who wants a bar in the neighborhood?” All hands went down.
It’s really easy to say that you support our veterans, but it’s a lot harder to actually support them. As if merely saying that you support the veterans makes you some sort of patriotic hero or something.
They finally found a suitable place, and now they’re being run off like mangy dogs.
The OB community now faces a true challenge of character. The gauntlet has been thrown down. If you want VFW Outpost 1392 gone, then you have to help them find a new place to go. Otherwise you’re flirting with hypocrisy. It’s time for the community to either step up or step off.