The controversy over the proposed relocation of the Ocean Beach VFW Outpost 1392 to a new home on the corner of Pt. Loma Ave. and Ebers St. rages on, pitting residents concerned over the reputation of the outpost’s previous home against a VFW post that suddenly finds itself without one. The primary concern centers on the canteen operated by the VFW, and worries over the clientele and the characterization of the members as a source of problems.
That identity is derived directly from the previous home of the post for 27 years on Newport Ave. The central business district of Ocean Beach is well known for the litany of bars and clubs lining either side of the street, but also for the dense homeless population found in the immediate area. It is that high incidence of vagrancy that has come to define the entire Newport Ave. district and all of the businesses located there.
That stigma has followed the OB VFW to their potential new home. The common perception seems to be that the VFW is synonymous with the problem of homelessness on Newport, and that the issues that plague the Newport business district will follow them wherever they go, as if the two were inextricably intertwined. Residents fear that should the VFW move in, they will see a dramatic increase of disorderly conduct incidents, of public intoxication, drunkards passing out and sleeping in doorways, and a high occurrence of urination—or worse—in the streets, alleys, parks, and front yards of a peaceful residential neighborhood. All of which are issues closely related to the high rate of homelessness along Newport.
According to David Surwilo, the community relations liaison for the San Diego Police Department’s Western Division, that is not the case. “It is unfair to attribute the VFW with the homeless issues and the public intoxication issues surrounding Newport Ave.,” he said.
Surwilo did note that in the past there had been leadership issues at the post, stating that it wasn’t as strong as it should have been. That situation, however, has been rectified, as was pointed out by Officer Ron Wise at a community meeting last week. Wise and Surwilo both said that once the leadership of the VFW post was confronted by the police several years ago, any internal problems were cleaned up and the group has effectively policed themselves ever since.
In fact, when looking through incident reports for the last calendar year (the only data immediately available), Surwilo found that there have been no arrests made in or around the post’s Newport Ave. location. He also said that “the issues that were there were not of the magnitude of other establishments” along Newport.
The police department cannot take an official stance on the relocation until paperwork from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) is filed with the SDPD vice unit, and a subsequent investigation is conducted into the viability of a liquor license for the group and the new location. However, Surwilo said that his personal stance on the VFW is a favorable one.
“The VFW has a history of being a positive entity in all communities from what I’ve seen.” He said that there are other VFW posts that are located near parks or schools, specifically pointing to the VFW post in Lakeside. That post, he said, has been a model example of management, and does not attract “riff raff.” Neither post has been a “problematic public nuisance,” he said.
Ocean Beach Elementary principal Margaret Johnson, whose school is located right on the outskirts of the Newport Ave. district, said in an email that “the bars and clubs on Newport do not generally pose a problem during the week. However, we have occasional weekends or O.B. special event days that we find more trash on the outside of the school which necessitates extra cleaning of the perimeter of the school.”
But there are dozens of bars, clubs, and restaurants along Newport. There is only one VFW post, and it has a very limited and exclusive membership.
Surwilo said that he has spoken to representatives from both the VFW and the community group to get their impressions of the meeting from last Friday. Both sides characterized the meeting as a positive one. The community has some valid concerns, he said, and there are some things that need to be addressed. Some of the unease, however, are past concerns that would not apply to the new Pt. Loma Ave. location. “The burden is upon the VFW to reassure the community,” he said, and there is a lot to overcome for them to gain the public’s support. It is his hope, though that the public will keep an open mind on the issue.
Further meetings between leaders of the two groups are expected this week. Councilmember Kevin Faulconer’s office is currently working to get the two sides together. According to Tony Manolatos, the Deputy Chief of Staff/Communications Director for Councilmember Faulconer’s office, the councilmember himself is expected to meet with the two groups to discuss what options, if any, are available, including whether or not it is feasible to find another location for the VFW.
Manolatos said that former councilmember Michael Zucchet is to be among the small group representing neighborhood residents.
The councilmember, like the police department, has not officially taken a side in the controversy. Manolatos did note, though, that Faulconer’s office has been in contact with the State ABC regarding the VFW’s liquor license. And while Faulconer himself did not attend last Friday’s gathering, Matt Awbrey from his staff did and has briefed the councilmember on the questions and concerns raised by those in attendance.