More on the fire pits: the City has been trying to close them for years and it’s not about money.

by on December 15, 2009 · 22 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Environment, Ocean Beach, Organizing, San Diego

fire pit shot 420 06

The City of San Diego has been trying to close or remove the fire pits at the beaches for years.  This is the only conclusion I can reach after reviewing a 3 page memo that has crossed my desk that was given to the Peninsula Planning Board way back in May of 2003 – over 6 years ago.

The memo is from the San Diego Police Department Western Division and describes a power point presentation to be given to that planning organization that calls for the “Seasonal Removal of the Ocean Beach Fire Rings.”  The proposal called for the removal of OB’s fire pits from October 1 to April 30th each year.

At the time, I was on the OB Planning Board and now I do recall a similar proposal circulating at our Board as well.  I remember at the time that we felt the City and police were trying to remove the pits for good, despite their “seasonal” gameplan.

And it’s not about money, either.  It wasn’t about money back in 2003. It was because the fire pits were perceived to be the source of pollution and crime in northwest OB.

A number of problems were identified in the memo due to the use of the pits:

  • “Trash and garbage is being burned in the fire rings”
  • “Vandalism to nearby Public Restrooms”
  • “Thefts from nearby homes for things to burn in the fire rings”
  • “Crime occurring in and around the fire rings”

The memo continued and “proved” these problems by citing police statistics from 5 to 6 specific blocks in NW OB, such as “5100 Saratoga” and “5100 Voltaire” and so forth.  This was explained in the memo with the following:

Because this area [the area of the fire rings] is a beach with no addresses for any particular fire ring, we were only able to use commonly known locations to obtain our statistics.

In other words, the stats used to prove the problems were caused by the fire rings – or pits – crime numbers were grouped according to the block – not the fire pit itself.

So, for the locations, there were 70 arrests in 2002 and 387 citations issued. In that same period, there were reportedly 11 violent crimes and 31 property crimes.  The memo also stated:

We are aware that some incidents begin at the fire rings but the actual crime is committed at a different location.

Attempted murder – a victim got into a fight with another male at a fire ring, the victim knocked the suspect down and walked away.  The suspect came up behind the victim in the 5000 block of Newport and stabbed the victim in the back.

As noted, the memo called for the “seasonal removal” of the pits from October 1 to April 30th.  As anyone who has been at the beach knows, it’s still “summer” at the beach in early October and it’s nice and warm usually by the end of April.

There’s no talk in the memo about how expensive maintaining the fire pits are. Of course, this was before the huge budget crisis of 2008-09.

The City – and the police – have been trying to close down these fire pits for awhile. And it’s not about the money.  The money issue is a subterfuge.

Some of our readers and bloggers agree. Commenter fstued stated to a recent post:

Bottom line the city doesn’t want them [fire pits]. It has nothing to do with budget cuts. If they thought about [it] they could make money on the pits [and] require a permit that you get from the life guards $5 or $10 that would be nothing to most folks having a fire. I am sure they could sell plenty of permits. …

Our blogger Doug Porter wrote:

the firepits are being used as a symbol or metaphor to help persuade the populace that the City’s budget crisis is real, even as they proceed with big ticket items whose only long term benefit will be for the owners of the construction companies (et al), real estate speculators and the politicians that do their bidding.

We agree.  Removing the fire pits has nothing to do about money. The City and police want to remove an icon of beach culture, the fire pit because the fire pit is viewed as a nuisance.  First, no alcohol on the beach, no cigarettes on the beach, – now no fire pits on the beach.

Save the fire pits. Don’t let the City remove them.  Adopt one instead.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

annagrace December 15, 2009 at 1:58 pm

This is a story about Mayor Jerry Sander’s relentless pursuit of Uniformity&Control, although the report you alluded to Frank came out before he was elected.
I am very reluctant to bandy the word “fascism” around. It is too meaningful of a term to use in a thoughtless, hyperbolic fashion. When I say to you that this is how fascism begins, and takes root, around something as seemingly innocuous as a fire ring, I mean it.
Democracy is messy. OB messy. City Heights, where I live, messy. Democracy is the antithesis of Uniformity&Control. Think herding cats.
How do you create a willingness to start giving up bits and pieces of our democracy? Create an environment of fear and create an enemy- in this case, the criminal element, the homeless, who lurk around Votaire and Saratoga- ie our own citizenry. Score 1 for fascism.
Take away fire rings, and public benches, and all the amenities that make our public spaces meaningful, so that no one wants to be present in those spaces and we become isolated from our fellow citizens. Score 1 for fascism.
I have attended public meetings in which the police chief loyally, cheerfully, accepted the cuts the mayor proposed to her department. A good soldier, in a top down hierarchical structure. Get the police/military on the side of the power structure- score 1 for fascism.
So far- 3 points for fascism.

On the other side- we continue to exercise our right to pursue happiness, which includes fire rings and marshmallow fights and cleaning up the mess afterward and of course our beloved hoopers – 1 point for messy democracy.

We continue to talk to each other on this blog, because community is important- 1 point for messy democracy.

And we speak truth to power. Always. That is priceless. That has to be worth 2 points.


Pat Herron January 2, 2010 at 2:30 am

This is just one example of why it was so imortant to the “powers that be” (developers, corporate business interests, etc.) to ram through the “Strong Mayor” form of government.
It’s just so-o-o much easier when you have fewer city officials rubber-stamping their agenda.
Have you noticed how they don’t allow City workers to comment on anything? City officials won’t talk to the press or answer questions from the public. There is a total lack of tranparency.
I agree with AnnaGrace. We have to keep calling them out and demanding that they act in OUR best interests. Score 2 more points for messy democracy!


annagrace January 2, 2010 at 10:00 am

Pat- your observations are on the mark. We all need to make sure that the strong mayor system is voted down this year. I hope this becomes our #1 City issue in the upcoming months.


Larry OB December 15, 2009 at 3:49 pm

The city used that 1st seasonal removal to reduce the total number of firepits in OB. I’m not sure how many. Were there pits at Dog Beach? Mostly I noticed the loss of pits around Cape May.


Frank Gormlie December 15, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Larry OB – this memo from May 2003 lists OB as having 10 fire pits in the winter; 2 in Dog Beach; 8 between Dog Beach and Saratoga Park. That’s 10, and then an “increase in the summer time to 16 fire rings”. So, as late as summer 03, OB had 10 regular fire pits and another 6 for the summer. But it does count 2 at Dog Beach and our reporter / investigator could not find any. Perhaps they have been moved.

The memo compares this with Mission Beach and PB having no fire rings in the winter, and that “In the summertime there are five fire rings in South Mission – none in Pacific Beach.”


Danny Morales December 15, 2009 at 4:02 pm

No Anna, the Mayor is too small a person to be cast as the protagonist of this story. Doug correctly indentifies this as a dynamic flow of forces but the scale is bigger still. The universal clarion of liberty and justice for all is vibrating off our time, place and circumstances asking, “which side are you on?” Like Malcom, we must be willing to go to the hospitals, jails and morgues to take those steps for human progress. But not just yet. The climate is changing and we know which way the wind blows. We know where we stand but what we do when the thunder and lightning comes will be the measure of us all. Until then I remain,



annagrace December 15, 2009 at 4:32 pm

No Danny- this is a strong mayor form of government- which BTW we get to weigh in on in 2010. A strong mayor who has said that the budget just adopted on 12/14 is through 2011.

Think locally. That is the way we act globally.


Danny Morales December 15, 2009 at 4:49 pm

I’m sorry for the confusion Anna. I learned it as “Think Globally, Act Locally”. I appreciate your correction. – Danny


fstued December 16, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Who was the Chief of Police in 2003?

Your right Anna, Democracy is messy Watching government has often been compared to watching sausage being made. It is painfully apparent as we watch the government debate building a stadium, new city hall or library decide to remove fire pits to “save money” If it wasn’t so sad it would be laughable.

OB is a state of mind. It doesn’t matter what your zip code is


Danny Morales January 2, 2010 at 10:41 am

OB a state of mind? What might that be, Mister Fister? Is Shawn Conrad a real O’Bcean? “Revolution appears in material flows”-Che


creamspyder December 28, 2009 at 4:06 pm

May I just say how impressive this article , and the intelligent comments are! I live in a small town in Scotland, UK, I have been thinking for some time how wonderful a strong local community would be. An aquaintenance on my rarely used ‘facebook’ page, posted this link to your Paper with a comment about her short visit, and the special feeling of the place. What about an ‘unofficial’ twinning with Angus? :)


Debbie December 30, 2009 at 7:43 am

FYI, while on the web I found more support for the pits . If anyone has the desire and time they can address this issue with our OB Town Council you just have to following the instructions below, get a finger print and credit check and join the club….just being sarcastic! Here’s the instructions just in case: The Ocean Beach Town Council meets January through October on the 4th Wednesday of each month at 7:00 pm at the Masonic Center located at 1711 Sunset Cliffs Blvd. If you would like the opportunity to speak at a Town Council meeting, please download the pdf* below, fill out and mail to: OB Town Council Attn: Request to Speak PO Box 7225 San Diego, CA 92167 *Request to Speak Forms must be submitted at least 3 weeks prior to the desired date to speak. Speakers will be scheduled on a first come first served basis. Every effort will be made to honor your requested date. You will be contacted as to the actual date you will be placed on the agenda to speak. Jeezzzzz didn’t know this council had such a full dance card :-)


Debbie December 30, 2009 at 10:09 am
Shawn Conrad December 30, 2009 at 11:21 am

I say we burn these fire pits to the ground!


JPinSD December 30, 2009 at 11:28 am

Screw it. I’m just gonna make my own very large “personal barbecue”.


GJ December 31, 2009 at 12:54 am

No booze , no cigs. The beach is becoming enjoyable for a change.


Danny Morales December 31, 2009 at 7:48 am

GJ-…& no firepits, no freaks, no politicos nor upity women?” Peace On You!”-Sunuva Beach


Danny Morales January 2, 2010 at 10:13 am

Pat H.-Look at Debbie’s comment above. U must ask the TCncl to speak 3 wks prior!. Th PlngBd also reqrs written permission for 1 three min stint as well. Lets cut to the (Dave) chase here…You et. al are RIGHT!…the governing class is creating a dynamic tension with the governed…this class tension (struggle, war, jihad, what have you) is becoming sharper and more obvious as more and more people are aggrieved…DON’T TOUCH THAT DWARF, STAY TUNED IN AND TURNED ON TO… “Viva la Revolution!” with your host Karl Marx (sounds -* heads exploding, shrieking, wailing, knashing of teeth etc*>)


mr fresh January 2, 2010 at 10:51 am

re: don’t touch that dwarf. it’s “don’t crush that dwarf, hand me the pliers.”

mr fresh, legal department
dewey, cheetum & howe
firesign theater eternal trust & savings
gilroy, ca.


Danny Morales January 2, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I stand corrected. My only solace is that we’re all bozos on this bus! (*|* hope *|*got that write)-Thnx Mr. Fresh


tennyson January 14, 2010 at 9:51 am

A friend and I are ready to adopt a firepit, what do we need to do and before we commit, what, exactly, are we committing to


Frank Gormlie January 14, 2010 at 10:30 am

tennyson – I just sent you a personal email with details. At this point, all 8 of OB’s fire pits have been “adopted” but we putting new folks on a waiting list, as we will probably be dividing up responsibilities because there has been so much interest. If you wish to get on the list, please be a resident, property owner or business person of OB – or part of a civic group, send us contact info and we’ll be in touch.


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