It was about 6:30 pm and I was driving south on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. Wanting to ensure a parking space at the Masonic Center for the Ocean Beach Town Council’s mayoral debate Wednesday night, I slid into the lot adjacent to the building owned by the Masons. It’s a massive white two-story building at the dangerous corner of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and Santa Cruz – I know, I lived for nearly a decade in that neighborhood and we’d be sitting around usually in the early hours of the evening and hear those sounds of screeching brakes and then the distant din of breaking glass and metal.
Anyhow, I parked behind a large truck with a guy sitting in it playing on his smart phone. As I walked by, I recognized Jim Grant in the truck, we exchanged friendly greetings and chitchatted for a moment. He is the best sunset photographer in San Diego, hands down. I was there to take photos of the debate between Congressman Bob Filner and City Councilman Carl DeMaio for our blogs, the OB Rag and the San Diego Free Press. So, I guess the photogs get there early. Yet, I didn’t see one television truck.
Looking from the edge of the parking lot through the large plate glass windows of the auditorium, I could see that there weren’t that many people at the 7:00 event yet, so I decided to mosey down to the Olive Tree Market and kill time. Most OBceans, I thought, if they’re out at all, they’re over at the OB Farmers’ Market on Newport – for it was Wednesday afterall. And OB is, afterall, a laid-back community – even a debate between a flaming liberal and a raunchy conservative couldn’t bring them out, I bet to myself. We’ll see, the other part of me said. Afterall, OB was the citadel of liberal politics in San Diego
Chris Starvos’ beer-tasting room was closed, and as I had just eaten pizza over on Abbott Street, I was soon bored with anything at the busy intersection of Narragansett and Sunset Cliffs, and began the climb back up the hill. I could see some folks gathering at the entrance to the Temple. Once up there, I found the front doors locked, yet I could see people inside. Strange, I said out loud to the few others milling about.
I started walking around the building and almost ran into Andy Cohen, our blogger from the Free Press who was there to cover the debate. Upon my observation that there weren’t any TV trucks, Andy said, “They won’t cover it. It’s not a real debate.” It was true – each candidate was to give a five minute presentation on their stances and then there’d be questions from the floor.
“Hey, there’s no Swat Team – that Doug Porter had predicted,” I said to Andy and he laughed. In his daily column yesterday, Porter had mused whether the police would have to muster their elite due to an unruly OB crowd that was likely to show up. That Porter, I thought, is always trying to instigate something. I remember when he wanted to announce that the Grateful Dead were playing at the foot of Newport Avenue back in the early Seventies – they weren’t.
“I’m not ready to go in, ” I said as Andy started for the side door – which was open.
Turning and facing downhill, I could see the backseat door of a car that had just pulled up to the curb was opening, and a man stepped out. It was Bob Filner, the Congressman, himself. A couple of people walked up to him and shook his hand. I went up to shake his hand also but he gave me a big half-hug and said, “… for your endorsement.” The OB Rag had endorsed Filner back before the Primary and I had written the article – which he apparently remembered. Sweet.
Once inside, I noticed that someone had unlocked the front door – the hall was beginning to fill up. The Board members of the Town Council were taking their seats – but I still didn’t see any TV media. Maybe Andy was right. And there was Jim Bell sitting in the front row of the metal chair convention. Saddling up to him, I began to expound on the virtues of his writing for the OB Rag when Filner sat down next to him, but then got up right away.
I asked the Congressman if he had ever met Jim Musgrove – the head of the Town Council; he hadn’t so, I led Filner over to the Council’s long table and introduced the two to each other. “Bob,” Filner said to Musgrove once I had given the more formal intros, and they shook hands.
A couple of the new Board members were kind enough to come up to me and introduce themselves; Gretchen Newsom, the Recording Secretary and Ann Kelsey, the Corresponding person – who had sent the OB Rag the announcements for the even. I asked Ann if she had seen the Rag announcement for the debate – she had, and thanked me. “I sent out several hundred emails for this,” I told her. I also met a couple of Filner’s staff who were milling about. Diane Lane was there, as well as Stu Seymore, and Norma Damashek.
Finally, a few minutes after 7, Chairman Musgrove knocked on the table with his gavel, and brought the crowd to attention so we all could swear to uphold the flag for which it stands. I never repeat the words “under god” during the pledge but most did say it – did they really mean it?
By now, it was pretty much standing-room only as most if not all chairs were filled. Some people lined the back wall. Why do they do that, I asked myself. Why do some people never sit with the rest of us, but stay detached and lean on unsteady tables and against walls. Ask yourself, part of me said, for I do it to, and did it that night in fact.
“Where’s Carl?” I asked Kathy Blavatt who was sitting next to me at that point. She shrugged and smiled. Looking around, I was surrounded by members of the former group, the Ocean Beach Grassroots Organization – there was Colleen, Rio, and Kathy. Pat James – the head of the OB Historical Society was sitting on the other side of Kathy.
Board member Ann Kelsey had earlier asked people to turn in questions for the candidates, so OB Ragger Chris Dotson was kind enough to take a whole handful of slips from our part of the crowd up to hand them in. “I don’t want to be seen handing in my question, ” I whispered to him, loud enough for a few giggles from those around. To be honest, I had had my run-in with the Town Council last year, but enough of that now. I was totally civil and polite all night. And I didn’t want my slip with my question to be questioned.
The chair was calling on various secretaries to give their reports. The wound their way through the agenda. Obviously, most were here for the debate. But Musgrove had his agenda to get through. Still no sign of DeMaio.
Councilman Faulconer’s rep gave his report. The stall doors, he said to applause, would be installed in September; he was talking about the new Brighton beach comfort station’s lack of doors on the stalls – which had been a major complaint of the new artsy-fartsy public restroom on the beach.
Other reps from the various politicos who have jurisdiction over OB gave their spiels – those that were there. No one ws there from County Supe Ron Roberts’ office. Tony Atkins and Chris Kehoe had folks there, but no one stood up when Musgrove called for reps fomr Susan Davis or City Attorney Goldsmith or Dumanis’ DA dept.
Four firefighters who were there and standing close to the sidedoor were the only uniforms in the room. Captain Brian Wiener gave his report.
Now on the printed out agenda, after the politicos’ reps gave their reports, the guest speakers came next – Filner and DeMaio. But still Musgrove moved on down the agenda; he kept saying ‘it’s not time yet for the debate’. So he had reports from all his committees heard. People were making things up to kill time. Perhaps Musgrove was covering for DeMaio – stalling to give the Councilman time to arrive.
Yet they were keeping a US Congressman waiting. Filner had been there all along – since before the beginning. Musgrove began taking announcements from the crowd. Denny Knox, head of the OB Mainstreet Association outlined their schedule for the next couple of months. So did OB historian Pat James. Pat did mention that the community had just lost Ruth Valen, who was 106, and who had lived in OB for a hundred years. “She’s the last person probably,” James said, “who remembered Wonderland.” A number of oohs and ahhs.
Musgrove finally arrived at the “Community Enhancement” time per a report, but committee head Nancy Vaughn said she didn’t have anything. That’s when I decided to stand up and ask my question about the community vote on the new designs for the OB Entry sign, that has deteriorated. The Town Council was leading the movement to either repair the current one or allow for a new design all together, and there had been statements to the effect that the community would vote on any new designs – but it wasn’t clear who would actually vote and when.
Jim answered that there had been 14 design entries, and that those would be pared down to 5 and then those options – plus the option of keeping the original design – would be put for a community vote. I asked him who would vote and when. “Anyone,” he replied, and mentioned something about social media. It sounded like the Council would set something up at their next meeting in September.
Musgrove finally moved to the big event of the night, the so-called debate. He asked the candidates to take chairs that had been set off to the side – and Carl DeMaio came flourishing in from the hallway. He had arrived and used the moment to make a grant entry into the packed room.
Counting the 13 Board members, the candidates and their staff, there were 80 humans in the room, with more hanging on the edges than ever. I moved about taking photos – and as the presentations began, scribbled some notes into a pad I clung to. But Andy Cohen’s account of the debate is excellent and to the point, and I will refrain from repeating what was said by the two candidates. Except ….
Aha, you say, he couldn’t resist. But no, just wanted to mention that my question was the second one picked from the audience. It was “What current government services to the citizens of OB would you increase or reduce?” Cohen called their responses the key difference between the two. Have to agree here.
So, the OB crowd behaved themselves. After DeMaio’s initial presentation there was polite applause, which was clearly more hearty once Filner gave his. And throughout the non-debate, Filner would get an occasional clap here and there, with it being obvious that the room was mainly his. No unruly rioters here, no sirree. No swat, no diss, no problems.
The only sparks last night were between the candidates.