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.
With 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.
The 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”.
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.