Beaches should be ad-free zones

by on July 30, 2010 · 13 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Ocean Beach, San Diego

By Susan Wormsley / Comment to Sign On San Diego / Originally published July 23, 2010

By Susan Wormsley / Comment to Sign On San Diego / Originally published July 23, 2010

I read with extreme consternation the article last week in the Union-Tribune regarding the unanimous decision by a San Diego City Council committee to move forward with a plan to raise revenue by expanding corporate sponsorships to lifeguard towers, beaches, benches and walkways at city beaches.

Over the last 20-plus years, I have been able to stop the illegal use of corporate signage in and around San Diego’s beaches and bays.

The most recent threat, three years ago, was the attempted use of boats to tow billboards around San Diego and Mission Bay and off our coastline. During a similar attempt in the 1980s, I contacted the news media and got petitions signed, all of which directly resulted in preventing a Las Vegas company from using billboard boats in San Diego. For the 2007 attempt, I went directly to the City Attorney’s Office and it promptly issued a cease-and-desist letter to the offending advertising company, thereby halting the action immediately.

“San Diego would be very shortsighted to sell away our public spaces just to make a little money – it’s like selling our soul to the devil!”

Public open spaces in San Diego should remain just that. As a native San Diegan, born in La Jolla, it disturbs me that San Diego’s beaches and bays could be inundated with blatant advertising.

It is bad enough to have the planes flying advertising banners over our beaches (I decided long ago that that was a fight I couldn’t fight). The same argument mentioned by Councilman Todd Gloria saying that letting corporate sponsorship on structures in and around our city beaches will not be a precedent to a Pepsi banner being draped on the California Tower in Balboa Park was used previously, almost to the letter. I frankly don’t see the difference between draping a Pepsi banner on a lifeguard tower versus draping one on the California Tower. Both are equally offensive.

And using the guise of “public service announcements” to squeeze in corporate sponsorships is also offensive. We do not go to the beach or bay to see public service announcements! We go to see the scenery. Our lives are inundated enough by advertising (thank God for DVRs).

Making changes to the sign ordinance currently on the books will be opening the floodgates to corporations to trash our beaches and bays with unsightly advertising campaigns. San Diego would be very shortsighted to sell away our public spaces just to make a little money – it’s like selling our soul to the devil! There is no way to “tastefully” dress up what the corporations will want for their money. Shannon Brown, a board member of the Ocean Beach Foundation and founder of Brown Marketing Strategies, has a conflict of interest in saying that generating money through corporate sponsorships is OK as long as it is “done tastefully.” Her business directly depends on creating avenues for corporations to get their message out. She in no way can represent the Ocean Beach public interest on this subject.

The idea that San Diego will allow private companies to advertise on public lands as long as San Diego stands to gain money is hypocritical and not at all in the interest of why San Diego community leaders signed such an ordinance into law in the first place.

Wormsley, a resident of San Diego, can be reached at

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Editordude July 30, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Mindy Pellestier left this comment in our letters, but it really goes here:

Re: Commercializing our Beaches

Beware unintended consequences. Should the San Diego City Council approve advertising at the City’s beaches, then in addition to blight, small enterprises such as ours may need to rethink their position. In addition, the ongoing beach cleanup efforts of nonprofits — I Love A Clean San Diego, CoastKeeper, Surfrider, San Diego River Foundation, etc. — may be undermined.

Dog Beach Dog Wash, open over 17 years, has sponsored more than 200 beach cleanups. We have paid for and stocked more than three million (3,000,000) cleanup bags at a cost of more than $50,000. We have never sought recognition for our community activism. However, we will not participate if a corporate sponsor appears to take credit for our efforts, and the efforts of City beach maintenance crews and the thousands of volunteers who contribute to the cleanliness, health & safety of our beaches. A corporate “sponsor” would need to provide service and product (bags and trash disposal) on an ongoing basis. It is not enough to write a one-time check for $500,000. We hope the City Council will rethink this short-sighted “solution” for the current deficits.


Susan Wormsley July 30, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Hi Mindy,

Thanks for your comment. I forwarded your email to Carl DeMaio who is driving force behind seeking revenue thru Corporate signage. Your points are very well taken.



brian wayne July 30, 2010 at 2:47 pm

if the city council is going to ram this one on us like all the other crisis solutions, we need to make them pay for the fire pits and build another bathroom at brighton. Mr. Faulconer’s folley is looking like the ob stonehedge. also there should be absolutely no alcohol advertising on the beach until the alcohol ban is repealed.


annagrace July 30, 2010 at 3:09 pm

How could we even consider littering the beauty of our beaches and parks with corporate graffiti? Four states had the good sense to ban roadside billboards and here’s why:
“Four states currently ban billboards: Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont. It is no accident that these four states are known for their scenic beauty. Businesspeople in these states recognize that an unmarred landscape promotes tourism and benefits them in the long run. Billboard bans also level the playing field between local businesses and national chains in at least one advertising medium.”


john July 30, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Not sure what the “offense” is that’s being committed that you’ve been so zealously fighting, Susan? If it’s a pristine natural beach experience you must have, devoid of mankind’s stain, surely you could pick a less busy stretch of coastline than that of
America’s former sixth (now seventh, did we slip more than that? get it back?) largest city.
As that is obviously an absurd endeavor, is it the message sent by “selling out” to a corporate message you strongly detest the capitalist nature of? If that’s the case again there are far more effective ways to further your cause of toppling the rat race for cash engaged in by humans who selfishly desire it to purchase their Escalades, their hillside and oceanfront homes in- where was it you were born, not getting personal but it’s glaring here, La Jolla? Or the rest of us trying to keep a hiccupping economy going to buy a loaf of bread.
I’m sorry and again don’t mean to get personal because frankly your position, not your person, offers so much material to rant about. This is disturbingly reminiscent of the rhetoric offered by those minority yet influential political activists telling us all they felt passionate about proposition D because they had the right to a quiet peaceful beach experience free from the crowds and noise- and they got it and have virtually shut down San Diego’s numero uno industry in the process.
So while I want to say “let’s not get personal” let me anyway stoop to saying those of us with more pressing matters than working to see signs are not part of our daily routine- like where is the rent coming from and toilet paper is a damn luxury- don’t care WHAT offends you, if it’s too crowded, or too many signs, there are hundreds of quiet little beach bergs up and down the coast you can damn near have for yourself. We’re just trying to eat and stay off being the poster boy for the next sticker the Black prints. Enough of this we must have peace and quiet and no filthy money symbols at our beaches crap. It gets any worse you are going to have to put up a wall around La Jolla to keed out those you starved with the ivory tower elitism.
Short version for everyone else: Prop D broke us. Opposing this is similar. If you’re too old for the ruckus of the beach, shut up and move inland and make way for the kids who belong here. Or kick down some of that cash you must be rolling in that you forgot we need to hustle or we don’t eat.
But reiterating Susan, I am not a jerk and I am sure you are a nice person but your comment about selling souls to the devil suggest a very detached viewpoint from where you are at economically and the bulk of the city-and nation. Maybe I’m painting an erroneous picture in my mind and you aren’t living excessively but it’s hard to think conversely you’re just scraping by. It’s hard not to get angry when you hear stuff like this and the pantry is bare, the bills are late and job prospects are slim meet Mr. None- and you can see walking down Newport, most everyone here is in the same crummy boat.


Chrissie Moses July 31, 2010 at 1:51 am

Amen. This really seems like a petty thing to get upset over. The beaches are beautiful and there’s MUCH worse out there to worry about. I just want to go swimming, forget about the recession for a bit, and enjoy the beach. Chill.


sunshine July 31, 2010 at 1:53 am

thanx, Susan, for putting decades of effort into these unsightly suggestions by SD politicians. big business has so much already that they never earned (except by slowing prying it from the workers hands via cut wages, cut health benefits, and cut pension & retirement funds) and I do not want to see their advertising anywhere near the beach whether it be signage, banners, painted on lifeguard towers, or on benches and trashcans.

To all politicians out there … These areas are public (you know, we the people, remember us?) and their natural beauty is NOT FOR SALE at any price. They are not areas for corporate profits and big business interests. If it pisses you off that we will no longer stand by and let you take over all you want, ruin its natural beauty to line your own fat pockets, good. No one, until now, has told you to stop. Stop acting like big babies whining about not getting your multi-million dollar profits this quarter and grow up. Look around you next time you’re driving your loaded SUV or Lexus or Range Rover through town. Look at us. Look at our faces. Look into our eyes. We’ve been pissed off at your greed and blatant disregard for us for a long time. It stops here and now.


john July 31, 2010 at 4:12 am

Sunshine, were talking about Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Fiesta Island, South Shores Boat Ramp…. you know, the sites of the old toxic waste dump from the cold war, the sludge fields where they used to sun bake all the feces and other human sewage from all over the city until the state shut it down… what’s this “selling out our natural beauty” place you are going on about? Mission Bay park didn’t even exist until- you got it, piles of money, surely from corporations, ponied up the funds for the Army Corps of Engineers to develop it.
I mean seriously, stop lashing out at every entity you perceive as evil and look deeper into the history of things.

These “politicians” you malign for selling out our “natural” assets that didn’t exist until they legally set them aside to build them, were able to do so because CORPORATIONS bought the land that mission bay park now sits on and DONATED it to the people.

This is funny because I set out to lay down short quip to you and stumbled upon that, initially having no idea how absurd some of the stated positions here are about corporations and their role in the history. I knew mission bay was a mess that had to be built but please, read that history page and return and look at your rant in a new light.
Okay so mother nature is responsible for some dramatic coastlines at the Cove and such but the dynamics of it preclude much public access. The beaches at mission, the aquatic park, even OB’s sand, are manmade or augmented by man after storm erosion. Left to “nature” there’d be nothing but dunes, sand flies and rotting kelp.

However back to that short quip. Sounds like you want to punish corporate greed and that’s fair enough, I am not the capitalist pig you may associate with pro war opinions, I espouse greed and though I do wish I could have more man toys I live fairly humbly these days, having reached an age where I appreciate things money cannot buy even more.
I don’t see this as rewarding corporations or watching them cart away wheelbarrows full of gold on this deal. THEY are paying out funds to US, the people who depend on the services the city provides to us and is cutting back on in an alarming rate. We’re talking the fire truck and ambulance that is dispatched at 3 am should your son suddenly wake up blue and has a few minutes to get CPR or is dead.
That recently happened in Mira Mesa. Due exactly to budget cutbacks, and a two year old boy living a block from a fire station with EMT’s is dead because the city has to shut each station a month every year to save money, and EMT’s had to come from SOUTH BAY 20 minutes away instead of one city block.
The story was covered on SignonSD or TenNews recently and is factual (not linking as more than one link holds up the comment).
Let the city, run by the people, for the people, engage in business, that is vital for the people’s welfare. Puts food on the table, puts EMT’s in our firehouses and a lot more. If there is greed going on that is an issue you can pursue- rationally and intelligently, and that usually entails paying qualified people in watchdog roles.
Thank you for considering my position and motivating me to research Mission Bay’s history toward education surely to our mutual benefit.


sunshine August 3, 2010 at 10:34 am

in your continued need to be right….fine. you’re right in all your opinions and no one else’s matters. why do the rest of us even bother to share an opinion that differs from your obviously impeccable moral & political compass. in fact, you are so consistently right you should be in charge of fixing everything so all can live by your sage wisdom & standards.

as for me…i’d rather be happy than right. i will not be voting for you this november.


john August 3, 2010 at 11:19 am

I didn’t know I was running for anything!
Look, I’m pretty sure I tried to present this in a diplomatic, positive manner, as evidenced by this:
“Thank you for considering my position and motivating me to research Mission Bay’s history toward education surely to our mutual benefit.”
Translation, maybe I’m right but don’t think of it as you being proven wrong, just think “wow, today I learned something I did not know before. Mission Bay Park and the surrounding low lying beach sands are not naturally formed and are there as a result of visionary men in San Diego’s history.”
Finally you might be surprised to know my morals are a little better than you’d expect.
Please click on the “letters” link on the header a the top of the page and see the letter (at the bottom) I wrote this morning.
Not many things would cause me to reverse my position supporting the war for the last 7 years. Yesterday I found that we deposited 4 million pounds of deadly material all over a country, it will stay that way for 4.5 billion years, we knew long ago it was deadly… and may have done so on purpose.

Today I truly, really, truly am thoroughly disgusted with my country. We really ****ed this one up bigtime.

A compilation of damning data that reveals they knew long ago this was very unsafe. And covered it up and did it anyway. You think signs at the beach are a big deal, go to youtube and search “deformed babies fallujah”. Wait till the lawsuits hit from this….


BillRayDrums July 31, 2010 at 8:46 am

Were these ads to go up I would welcome the “defacement” by graffiti artists. I’m sure that OB would find a workaround to these ads; boycotts of said products, etc.

The ads. “Bring ’em on”, to quote a poor misguided mental midget who happened to ruin a country for 8 years.


btym August 1, 2010 at 11:49 am


Yes, politicians did push through the beach and bay development processes. And yes, corporations are often the funders behind these developments. Cool, thanks guys. However, when you look at policy regarding public space there are a few fundamental ideals you’ve got to understand.

1.) Beaches, parks, and natural areas are beautiful.
2.) Allowing people to freely and openly enjoy these areas is conducive to public health and community relations. (i.e. – they make people happy)
3.) Public space, natural areas, reserves, parks, beaches, etc. should be governed and maintained in a way that allows (1) their natural beauty to be preserved and (2) people to openly and freely enjoy them.

So if advertising is going to (1) compromise any natural beauty or (2) take away from the way people enjoy the beach, then they should simply not be allowed. If those corporations were going to clean or maintain those areas in any way though, then this debate would be different.

Whether or not these areas were funded by corporations at one point in time, and whether or not you believe they’re not naturally beautiful – you need to realize that NOW they’re public, and NOW they public thinks they’re beautiful.


john August 2, 2010 at 12:36 pm

If “preserving nature” is the mission why aren’t you complaining about concrete sidewalks and benches being there? The streets you drove on to get there? Fire rings? Lifeguard towers? If you want to go to a nature preserve, those spaces are available and nobody is proposing any kind of advertising there.
I don’t think the city is going to let giant billboards go up everywhere. We’re talking about logos on lifeguard towers that are already there. On benches that are already there. The most obtrusive, probably 1’x3′ signs on a walkway by the bay, within eyesight of the Bahia hotel.

” Public space, natural areas, reserves, parks, beaches, etc. should be governed and maintained in a way that allows (1) their natural beauty to be preserved and (2) people to openly and freely enjoy them.”

What public policy or legal code book did you get that from?

“Public space should be my private racetrack to take my monster truck out and do doughnuts on”

The same one those kind of people get theirs from? (just making fun that you are implying your opinion on parks and recreation property is policy, I don’t think “preserving their natural beauty” applies to every facility-nature preserves, sure, but beach parks in an urban area of a million people? Please.)

All joking aside, and I hope I didn’t sound too much like a tool there, within your statement also lies a big part of the problem here. “Governed and maintained”. They can’t afford to maintain the parks with the drastic loss in revenues from the economy. We’ve got to accept some compromises, if we don’t let them do this it will come to closing parks or cutting back more vital services. I don’t think a few signs or logos are that big a deal.


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