An ever-present demand of Ocean Beach residents since the mid-1970s has been to be granted “independence” by the City of San Diego. OB tenants, property owners, and businesspeople have been clamoring for the village to be its own city for all these years.
Well, it finally happened behind closed doors on Friday. City officials met and decided once and for all that the sea-side community of about one mile square with roughly 15,000 residents should be its own municipality. The announcement was met with cheers from the Planning Board to the Mainstreet Association, from southern OB where the breakers beat at the cliffs to the northern climes where musicians, ex-hippies, bikers mix it up with students, elderly, sailors and working class families.
Members of three community panels rushed into emergency meetings to determine what should be done, now that Ocean Beach no longer has the City and its lean budget and conservative mayor to deal with.
The effects of independence have been immediately felt. Especially along Santa Monica Avenue.
For starters, the OB Recreation Center staff announced that the facility would be open 24-7, around the clock and everyday. The night time hours would make the Center available for all OB’s night owls and late-night partiers trying to sober up; one of the meeting rooms has been converted to a computer lab – again, open around the clock. The lab has already been filled up with two dozen computers – donated by the Mainstreet Association.
This was happening when the principal and PTA of OB Elementary announced that the school would be now open at night for adult education. Classes in computers, car-repair, beer-brewing, hemp-growing, wind and solar power, and how-to-fight-back against foreclosing bank classes will be offered, along with sensitivity training for former police officers, social workers, landlords, and corporate managers – as well as the standard fare to enable people to achieve their GEDs.
The gigantic asphalt parking lot inside the gates of the school will be turned into a community garden – with organic instructors at the ready – for community residents to supplement their dinner tables with fresh vegetables. School-aged children will also be available for consultations by the community gardeners.
Across Sunset Cliffs Boulevard from the refurbished school is the OB Library. Its hours also have been extended by staff – and now will offer round-the-clock access to books, magazines, community meeting space, and of course, more computers. And plans for its expansion – on the books since the early years of this century – have been dusted off, and a local OB construction contractor has been hired to do the improvements.
The Federal Post Office down the street from the library will remain a post office, however, space has been opened up in order to house a full array of government services, such as foreclosure assistance, federal health care services, job-employment help, legal help, and counseling.
A block away at the corner of Newport Avenue and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard – the ARCO station once stood. The BP (British Petroleum) station had to go under due to the extraordinary pay-out that the parent mega-corporation had to make to all the victims of the Gulf oil spill. In its place, a station still stands – called The People’s Pumps, but now run by a consortium of local OBceans who have altered what is being pumped into vehicles. One pump, for instance, only offers used-cooking oil collected from local restaurants. Another pump is loaded with hemp oil – found to be a wonderful and efficient fuel.
The original ARCO had to be closed after it put up signs that gas was $5 a gallon and was subsequently taken over by irate motorists who demanded relief and evolutionary progress away from petroleum products.
Down Newport Avenue, other changes were evident. Business after business were constructing wind-power and solar-powered capacitors on their roofs (the small wind turbines had bird-friendly screens). These projects were generating a lot of employment for locals, and so there was much activity along the main commercial street. Not to mention all the business generated by those now working on the alternative energy projects – some of whom were formerly homeless, drug addicts and alcoholics.
The Mainstreet Association has also declared that one block of Newport would be permanently cleared of cars and would be a pedestrian-only area. By time of this report, it had not been determined which block this would be. But the new pedestrian area would also be able to hold a permanent farmer’s market on that block. One of the differences implemented was that Newport businesses could also set up stalls and tables from their stores.
Meanwhile, activity was seen at the former Strand building. All the tourist-oriented ware was being removed, while engineers and construction workers busied themselves. It appears that a collection of new owners had decided to bring back the old Strand movie house – but in a new form. The old seats would be replaced with pillow-filled lounges and group-seating arrangements, with plenty of Indie films on the agenda. Musical groups could also perform from the new theater stage being built.
Across the street and down the block, another two-story building was undergoing changes. That ugly, orange-stucco structure – which was to be a fancy Italian restaurant with views of the ocean – never got off the ground. In its place, the Mainstreet Association and the OB Town Council had plans; they have decided to buy out the owner and install a round-the-clock homeless shelter, complete with showers, beds, storage facilities, and meeting rooms. The top floor is being reserved for the new VFW chapter digs.
Across the street from there in the former Starbucks building – it had closed due to a long-standing boycott by locals – was a new bank – the OB Village Bank, run by locals for locals. The entire purpose behind this endeavor was to fund local businesses and generate loans so that shops and stores with credit problems could withstand the bad economic times.
In another innovative measure, all banks and corporate franchises will have a special “local-employment” tax; they will be subject to either a special tax designed to improve the community or they will be required to hire local OBceans as their workers.
Down at the Pier parking lot, that old trailer structure had been removed, allowing for additional parking space. But more changes are being planned for OB at the water’s edge. The weed-filled and sandy bed of the ancient salt-water pool was being rehabbed with plans for a new covered swimming pool, complete with several jacuzzis, tables, umbrellas, and chairs that would surround it.
From the OB Pier, one could see the brand, spanking new lifeguard station. It had lots of space for the lifeguards, plus a small but well-staffed emergency room – open to all. And next to the new station was a bank of freshly build public restrooms, with plenty of interior space for bathers to change and dry off. The parking lot had been repaved with an organic, non-corrosive and weather-proof surface.
With this new independence from the old constraints of a City mired in conservative politics and old-ways of doing things, Ocean Beach has taken on a new face for its future. Not all the changes were material.
For instance, the San Diego Police Department has been barred from operating in the community. A platoon of all-women trained volunteers has taken its place, based on the premise that it takes women to run a village. A ‘no-weapons’ rule has also, in fact, been instituted for the community. All incidents of domestic violence and wrongful evictions will be thoroughly investigated by the new female patrol.
And starting Monday, Ocean Beach will be run by a General Assembly that meets every weekend at the Masonic Hall – which in a spate of neighborliness has turned its building over to the village. The OB GA is open to all residents, property owners and business-owners, and decisions will be based on a 99% consensus.
All the changes that greet Ocean Beach are the result of locals taking upon themselves the task and challenge of doing it themselves. This renewed community spirit – alive since the 1960s – has rejuvenated residents and shopkeepers alike to believe that Ocean Beach is indeed worthy of their sweat, blood, and tears – and that the collective dream for the quaint seaside village is indeed worthy of the vision that they were enabling.