OB Town Council Takes on the “Marshmallow Wars” With Overflow Crowd

by on July 25, 2013 · 21 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Media, Ocean Beach, Organizing

OBTC meet marsh 7-24-13 crowd

An overflow crowd jammed the Masonic Hall Wed, July 24th, to be part of the discussion on the “marshmallow wars”. (All photos by Frank Gormlie)

To a standing-room-only crowd last night – Wednesday, July 24th – the Ocean Beach Town Council held an open town hall type of discussion on OB’s latest controversy: what to do about the out of control marshmallow wars after the July 4th fireworks display at the beach.

OBTC meet marshm 7-24-13 mediaWith cameras from five TV stations filming, council president Dave Martin explained that the board was not to decide on anything but would listen and encourage a community debate about the issue. He promised no final solution or decision would be made by the Council – by design – it was an important moment for the community to come together and air its feelings about the divisive issue.

After going through the usual reports and politicos’ reps spiels of their monthly public meeting,  Martin opened up the floor for people to give their two-cents and recommendations on what to do about the infamous OB tradition.

And speak they did. One after another, folks got up in front of the overflow audience and made their case.  From calls to contain the event and make it safer to calls to shut it down and ban it – the suggestions ran the gambit.

Gary Gilmore, OB jeweler, started it off by calling for a “keep it on the sand” perspective, encouraging “voluntary restraint”, and a PR campaign prior to the 4th of July, from social media to lifeguard announcements from the loudspeakers.  He said it would be an exercise in futility to try to stop the marshmallow fight.

OBTC meet marshm 7-24-13 FireFtrThe SurfRider rep, Laurie Jones, reminded the audience of just how much trash – and what kinds – were picked up off OB’s beaches the next day after the 4th. She emphasized that 168 volunteers showed up that morning to help clean up.

“I’m done. Let it die a natural death,” Craig Klein exhorted the crowd, as he cited examples of the out of control event. “Marshmallows got into the neighborhoods,” he said, and called for OB residents to just say ‘no’, “I’m not going to play [marshmallow wars] any more.”

Resident John Amber wanted to rejuvenate the “respect OB” campaign. Another resident, Shawn Atkin has friends come in from out of town to the marshmallow event. “Kids see it as ‘Christmas’. Don’t take it away,” she pleaded.

This writer also got up and delivered my presentation that can be summed up as “Keep the tradition; contain it, hold it for one hour and before the fireworks.” I have been inspired by what other countries do – like the Battle of the Oranges in northern Italy and the Battle of the Tomatoes in Spain. (See the entire OB Rag recommendation.)

Calling for no marshmallow guns and no slingshots, Julie Klein said it should be kept on the sand as it’s easier to clean up – as she should know; Julie has participated in just about every July 5th clean-up on record and always brings the “big tools”.

OBTC meet marshm 7-24-13 board

Members of the Town Council listen to an OB firefighter.

A current resident of Clairemont, Sabrina Hamon described how every 4th of July she does a beach party at OB – and has been doing it since she was 19 – she’s now 54. She had grand-kids and other young relatives in their car attacked by marshmallow throwers. Car windows were  hit, she said.  She added that she can’t see the area cordoned off, but this year she left the fireworks early to avoid the marshmallow war.

One brave soul got up and declared “I am a marshmallow thrower!” Mary said she does got out and participants in the next day clean-up. “It’s not just outside people,” she said, in response to an earlier speaker saying it was all “outsiders” doing the damage. “Let’s find something we can all agree on,” she summarized.\

Ty Smith got up and told the group that he had been “hit right between the eyes” the night of the fight – “by a grown man.” He wanted to start the rumor that the marshmallow wars were over. “It’s not just kids doing it,” he said.

“OB is environmentally conscious and believes in peace,” Lilly Riley started out saying. “But I don’t come to OB on the 4th of July,” because of the marshmallows. “I’ve gone to the merchants and complained,” she said. Riley then reminded the crowd that with the issue of the loss of sand from our beaches is affected, as “lots of sand is lost when marshmallows are thrown away,” and she added that they go into our sewers and water drains, and clog them up, “making an environmental nightmare.”

Then president Martin asked Council board members to give their views. And they also added to the discussion [editor: I did not get everyone’s last names, so I apologize for that].

Trudy also agreed that the wars were out of hand. But she liked the idea of a marshmallow “superdome” – and by containing it, it would avoid injuring people.  Heather added that stopping the marshmallow wars “is not the right idea.”

Gio Ingolia stated: “I’m not a big fan on a ban. Contain it on the beach. I also like the ‘thunder-dome’ idea.”

Next up, Dave C, who told the audience that right after the 4th “OB was   on every major media outlet,” due to the trashing of the beach and the marshmallow mess.  He had heard comments that kids and people were hurt in the eyes. “No more marshmallow wars!” he declared. “It has to stop. Don’t trash our collective yard,” he said after offering that no one would want to  have this type of event in their living-room or back yard.

Board member Gretchen Newsom said she was offended by the disgraceful way the Veterans’ Plaza was left after the 4th. “The mess is still there,” she said. She had spent 4 to 5 hours as part of the clean-up the next day.  “The streets were a mess. I got stuck [in the street due to the stickiness]. I couldn’t move – almost got hit,” she said.

Steve Grosch stated that the event “used to be a lot of fun. Now it’s dangerous.”  He’s concerned with the cost of the clean-up. He didn’t see how the community could put something else together. He didn’t think the ‘keep it on the beach” was a good message.

He was a past participant of the marshmallow wars, Jon Carr said. And he spoke of how proud he was of being an OBcean with the great response from the community. “Look at this turn-out,” he said, praising the civility of everyone’s response to differing opinions. He was impressed with all the good ideas. “I’m still not a fan of the marshmallow war,” he added. “Tone it down. Keep up the energy,” and he advocated a social media campaign to inform the city of what OB was going to do about the issue.

Council member Melinda Therkalsen then spoke briefly: “If you want to ban it, I don’t think you can do it,” she cautioned. “Don’t advertise it,” she added.

Jen Ryan told the meeting that she never has participated in the event, but that “the end of Orchard was covered,” she said.

Former council head, Jim Musgrove praised the audience for “a lot of great comments.” The tradition,  he said, has got to change. “Can we stop it? I doubt it,” he said. “Can the police stop it? I doubt it.” He continued: “Don’t promote it. This year it was being promoted. Needs to be toned down, keep it on the beach.” He ended by saying that OB needs “to get the clean-up together.”

Current vice-chair, Brennan Bazar added his thoughts. He “made a conscious decision as a parent not to go” to the event. The costs of the clean-up, he said, is not being discussed and needs to.

Police captain Mills was in the audience, so Dave Martin invited him and Lt Natalie Stone up before the gathering to giver their perspective.  Capt Mills stated that he doesn’t “want the police to be the target, be objects” for the marshmallows.  Several times, he reiterated that the police are there to work with the community to reduce the craziness of the wars. He would arrest someone for throwing frozen or flaming marshmallows but “we can’t send officers chasing someone into the crowd of thousands,” he said.

Mills also addressed another concern, the bottleneck of traffic trying to get out of OB after the fireworks. He responded: “Between Northern Division, OB and downtown, 1 million people are trying to get on the freeway,” and cited what a few other cities do to mitigate their similar problems, such as restrictions on alcohol sales, parking.

Finally, at the end of the comments, Dave Martin said he was especially proud to be an OBcean, as he was “proud tonight of being a member of t his community.” He said, “the OBTC cannot solve this problem; OB has to solve it.” And with those words he thanked the audience, and proceeded to move the meeting back to its usual agenda.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Debbie July 25, 2013 at 5:39 pm

If parents think the marshmallow war is such a great event, host the war at your kids birthday party in your backyard and see what a mess it makes and you may re-think what a great idea it is.

Who cares what they do in Spain or Italy? If Tommy jumps of the bridge will you do that to?

All the events hosted in OB are too big….advertised all over the county. It’s not community oriented and only a few make money off the events. Those that make the money need to pay for the clean up…..don’t expect those who live here and not participate in the activity to do it. When you poop, wipe your own butt :-)

Aren’t there better ways to have fun that do not litter our streets?

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avatar John July 25, 2013 at 10:06 pm

I think you touch on the real problem and that’s that the most enthusiastic participants live no where near the mess they create and thus have little reason to care about it.
Just end it. It might seem absurd to criminalize marshmallow possession but walking on the corner of Newport and Abbott on July 5 reveals the very definition of absurd. I live at dog beach and had birds dropping them in my yard the next day, probably on their way to their death and that my friends may be the way to define the criminal aspect of all this:
It’s against the law to feed wild birds in coastal waterway areas and that is what you are doing throwing marshmallows on the beach! So there’s an existing law to deal with this and if the police choose to they can enforce it.

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avatar obracer July 26, 2013 at 9:44 am

Debbie- You hit the nail on the head, it’s all about the money.
Look whats coming in October, the very limited beach and pier parking that we have will be taken over by the same organization that hosted the 4th of July fireworks, the sole purpose of this event is to fill the parking lot with people and sell tons of alcohol. Drunkfest is coming soon.
The organizer will clean the parking lot, but the rest of the neighborhood that is thrashed by attendees is our problem. Sound familiar ?
It’s taken many phone calls and emails to the city’s Special Events office to limit the frequency and length of events in Ocean Beach.
Has anyone noticed we had fewer events this year ? your welcome.
The O.B.M.A. refused to address the issues , so the city took care it.

On another subject that involves the O.B.M.A. , please attend the Ocean Beach Planning Board meeting August 7th , and tell the planning board what YOU think about the 40 ft trailer the O.B.M.A. placed in the parking lot blocking ocean views and taking up 4 valuable parking spots without a single permit.
The O.B.M.A rents the rarely used trailer from Bert’s trailers, it is NOT an S.D.P.D. or city of San Diego trailer, it is a $ 600/month ” gift ” from the O.B.M.A.
Yes, it provides a restroom for one or two officers that dare to go inside the eyesore, they can also use it if it was at Robb Field or the Lifeguard station.
The O.B.M.A. claims it provides a ” faster response ” , really ? an officer on the toilet with their pants and gun on the floor is going to respond faster ?
The Coastal Commission issued a notice of violation to the City of San Diego & Park & Rec. for allowing this illegal conversion of public property by a private organization.
The Coastal Commission determined it blocks views of the ocean from various locations, and takes up valuable parking space, duh !
The community plan update also cites the lack of parking and the need to protect PUBLIC ocean views. The plan specifically calls for the removal of the trailer sooner than later, but the O.B.M.A. and S.D.P.D. refuse to listen and want to shove this illegal eyesore down the throats of the residents of Ocean Beach.
Cpt. Mills of western division wants to hear from locals please email your polite opinion to amills@pd.sandiego.gov, whether you are for it or against it he wants to know.
Peace.

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avatar john July 26, 2013 at 8:06 am

Too bad all these people couldn’t be meeting up to think of a way to help the homeless or something.

I’m so sick of hearing about this, can’t we talk about something important.

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avatar Debbie July 26, 2013 at 8:38 am

The positive point about ending the wars …IS to ask all those volunteers that spent HOURS of their personal time …. to volunteer to clean up the beach or OB area to make it BETTER than it is or teaching the street people how to get a job. For that …. I will pitch in!

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avatar Frank Gormlie July 26, 2013 at 9:16 am

Perhaps you can actually offer someone a job … remember we’re still in a recession and check this out at San Diego Free Press: The US Has Not Created ONE Breadwinner Type Job in Over 10 Years – http://sandiegofreepress.org/2013/07/the-us-has-not-created-one-breadwinner-type-job-in-over-10-years/

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avatar Debbie July 26, 2013 at 11:45 am

As you know, I have employed several OB residents. Some turned out to be great and long term employees. No need to comment on the others :-)

The church that is feeding people should hold workshops on the benefits of work and how to get work and how to keep your job. Most receive this information from their parents and/or school but some do not so the church could play an important role for people that need guidance.

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avatar Frank Gormlie July 26, 2013 at 11:49 am

Blaming the homeless for lack of jobs is like blaming the sick for being ill. At least the churches are demonstrating a Christian approach to this issue – which is city-wide and nation-wide.

Do we have to have this conversation everytime the issue of homeless is brought up???

How did we go from discussing marshmallow war solutions to the homeless, Debbie???

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avatar Debbie July 26, 2013 at 12:21 pm

How….volunteers

Instead of cleaning up sticky stuff off the street, they help those ON the street….as John also suggested.

ok, I too am done with marshmallow talk

Have a great weekend everybody.

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avatar Tyler July 26, 2013 at 10:56 am

Right, because safety of residents/visitors and the environmental impact on our beaches and neighborhood is totally a superfluous topic.

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avatar Obecian July 29, 2013 at 8:50 pm

I couldn’t make it to the meeting but enjoyed reading Frank’s article. It’s hard to agree on much of anything in OB but the majority of responses called for controlling or eliminating the mm wars. Did anyone else notice that OBMA, the sponsor of the fireworks, has no opinion or solutions to offer? I guess if the merchants are making money, it’s ok for the residents to deal with the mayhem and aftermath. It’s time for OBMA to show some leadership. Am I alone in calling for the OBMA to step up and tell us where they stand?

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avatar angeroo July 30, 2013 at 9:28 am

You are not alone. I only saw one member of the OBMA at that meeting too. Was disappointing and she didn’t even say anything. :(

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avatar Frank Gormlie July 30, 2013 at 9:40 am

The OBMA does not sponsor the marshmallow wars; no one does – it has a life of its own.

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avatar Gary Gilmore July 30, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Thank you Frank. Regarding the last two comments from Obecian and angeroo. I’m chair of the OBMA’s Economic Restructuring committee. I attended the OBTC’s meeting and was the first to speak. I presented a proposal to keep the MM fight and the fireworks alive. The president of the OBTC, Dave Martin, who is not only the OBTC president but also on the OBMA’s Board of Directors, asked for a copy of my proposal. In attendance from the OBMA Board Of Directors was Craig Gerwig, Chris Wilmot, Mike Akey (past president), Julie Klein, chair of the Crime Prevention committee, her Vice Chair, Mary Orem, both spoke. Julie’s husband Craig Klein, who is a member of the OBMA spoke. Roy Orem, Mary Orem’s husband, and an OBMA member, was in attendance. Liz Greene, the OBMA’s creative director, who is not paid to attend meetings, was in attendance. The chair of the OBTC’s Public Relations, Dave Cieslak, is also a member of the OBMA as is his wife Ms. Cieslak. Dave Cieslak spoke. There may well have been other OBMA members at the meeting but, I did not have a chance to do much socializing so I may have missed them.
The reason I am taking my time to reply to these comments is to impress upon those who cast disparaging comments towards the OBMA that the merchants of this community care. We’re involved. Yes, we need to make money & we know the way to do so is to give Ocean Beach’s image a positive spin. We want the public to know that this neighborhood is safe. We spend a lot of time, money and energy on making it clean. We promote festive events. We champion the arts & crafts. The vast majority of the businesses are owned by the people who work in the shops. A significant number of business owners live in the neighborhood & a significant proportion of the employees are locals. Greed is not what motivates us. We are motivated by our collective affection for this community and a strong desire to give back. I love this place.

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avatar obracer July 30, 2013 at 7:18 pm

That’s ridiculous Frank !
What are the other dates for marshmallow fights in Ocean Beach?
It’s that ” hide your head in the sand” mentality that got us into this mess .
The sponsor of the fireworks , the OBMA, is 100 % responsible and perhaps NEGLIGENT when it comes to the damage left behind.
Who was surprised at the mess July 5th ?
The suggestions to control the event are the best chance to keep both the fireworks and the marshmallow fights, it’s worth a try.

I also noticed the OBMA had nothing to say at the OBTC meeting.

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avatar Gary Gilmore July 30, 2013 at 8:35 pm

obracer, please read the post above yours. As for your opinion on who is responsible for the MM fight & the aftermath I have to respectfully disagree. A debate on who is right is of no importance. In my opinion, a productive discussion would focus on how to best control the activity. I believe it is possible and outlined my proposal at the OBTC meeting on Wednesday July 24. I welcome rational discussion and logical solutions.

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avatar obracer July 31, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Mr Gilmore,
I did read the article, NOT ONE person at the meeting said they represented the OBMA, they spoke for themselves, and they made good points.
I think your proposal is a great idea, if half the people that attend follow the rules it’s a win, then the following year we adjust as needed.
There is a big difference between supporting local business and supporting the OBMA.
Thank you for what you are doing to make a difference.
I’m ready to help in any way I can.

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avatar Obecian July 30, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Thanks Gary for your response. I’m out of the country for a a few more weeks so getting information about the meeting has been difficult and frustrating because I too care about the community and am interested in solutions. While it sounds like many from OBMA were in attendance I still haven’t read an official stance from OBMA as to what their role is in containing the madness. I’m not anti-OBMA, I’m just asking for the organization to acknowledge that the fireworks and marshmallow madness are related and inseparable. If OBMA is going to sponsor the fireworks, they need to have a plan to contain the mm wars. Otherwise, reconsider the cost/value of sponsoring the fireworks. Maybe your proposal will work. Maybe OB merchants stop selling marshmallows (the day before) and slingshots as well. That would certainly help limit the mess. Please have this conversation with your members and let us know what your group decides is the best approach.

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avatar Me August 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Any other town would have figured out how to make major coin off this foolishness and would have paved the way to easy street and econ growth with marshmallows by now. Find a genius to organize the thing on the beach; hype it, hire the locals to keep it on the beach and off the streets, let the hoi polloi go ape with the marshmallows, get a contract with some candy company that produces those things to pay you for using their products, stock up on all the crap your stores sell in summer and make a buck…and use it to hire more locals to clean the beaches afterward. If the Spaniards can make a ton of money off dumb Americans by running the bulls in Pamplona, OB could make money off dumb Americans right here at home. Rock on.

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avatar RW August 4, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Jesus…..almost fell asleep with all the boring rhetoric…except….. the following being the only thing that has merit for a solution:

“It’s against the law to feed wild birds in coastal waterway areas and that is what you are doing throwing marshmallows on the beach! So there’s an existing law to deal with this and if the police choose to they can enforce it.”

…..along with Animal Reg and Fish and Game to think of others. Even the Feds if endangered species are adversely affected.

I must ask…..Since when does a small skirimesh between two neighboring families constitute a ….”tradition”. This fracas evolved as a lark. It only grew by accident, yet, even then, it was small and insignificant in scope. The problem began when the media began hyping it locally at first….to where it stands today…nationwide. It’s no longer an OB thing….it’s a sensational 30 second filler for the mainstream media; as with all public gatherings, it’s always the locals who suffer the consequences of unruly public behavior in the aftermath.

The issue here is not about tradition, but more about disrespect for an entire community which suffers in the wake of the irresponsible behavior of visitors from all the outlying communities of San Diego; the irresponsibility of our own Community leaders who elect to promote the fanfare for profit ; and even our own locals. This disregard for our environment is reflective of our ignominious transient populace who don’t give a ratt’s a$$ for anyone …or thing….and those who actually are selling this distructive behavior to their children as acceptable behavior….you are the worst.

Perhaps we locals should make it a point next year to reciprocate our concerns by targeting prominent inland communities with the “traditional” marshmellow fight and see how they like the day after. Charter busses and hit four or five good outlying locations. Share and share alike. Maybe then we would gain some city wide clarity here.

As for the insta-locs who poo-poo the ban, pimping on about freedoms, rights, and “tradition”….what do you know about anything….you people left from somewhere else because it sucked there, only to relocate here….and now you want to recreate a similar shite hole here in our quaint community. Why don’t all of you KooKs just split and save us the trouble of running your sorry a$$es out of town. YOU people are the problem….not us. DON’T LIKE IT….THEN LEAVE…NO ONE INVITED YOU HERE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Yeah I got an attitude…..I’m not alone…..just direct.

The best solution…no fireworks = no crowds = no mess. Most of us see enough Sea World razzle dazzle year round, year after year as it is. It really isn’t necessary for the local community….it’s more about getting the inland empire into town to drop some money…..and that has nothing to do with the symbolism of the 4th by a far cry…..it’s merely self serving greed wrapped up in the Stars and Bars.

Thank You

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avatar CM August 7, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Well said RW!!

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