OB Town Council Devolves Into Complaint Session Against the Homeless

by on April 25, 2014 · 23 comments

in Culture, Economy, Homelessness, Ocean Beach

OBTC 4-23-14 bh 02Report of Monthly Meeting of Wednesday, April 23

If you want to see a hundred people who care passionately about OB, come to an OB Town Council meeting. They may not all agree, but they let their opinions be known. Everyone is welcome – newcomers find out what is happening in our community, families bring their children, people come and go – it was more OB than ever.

And what is more OB than a community complaint fest against the homeless.

OBTC 4-23-14 bh 01

Western Division Captain David Rohowits standing on the right, Lt Stone on the left.

So, when the new Police Captain for the Western Division, Captain David Rohowits, was introduced, the tone of what had been billed as a “community meeting” appeared to devolve into a verbal complaint session against the  homeless in OB, and despite the chair’s best intentions, the regular agenda items were pushed to the end of the meeting and truncated.

Even newly-appointed Councilman Ed Harris – there to introduce himself – got into the mix.

The topic of discussion had many names: the homeless, vagabonds, travelers, bums, visitors … but there seemed to be a general consensus of impatience, frustration and outrage against what was felt were violations of the common civility of the community of those attending.

OBTC 4-23-14 bh 03

Councilman Ed Harris.

Captain Rohowits did ask people to differentiate between homelessness – which is not illegal – and breaking the law.  The first problem, he reminded people, is our climate. People who are given a free bus ticket to anywhere don’t choose Detroit, Chicago, or Phoenix in the summer. They choose San Diego.

Even breaking the law, such as minor littering, the Captain continued, would not result in a misdemeanor arrest, but might result in a citation for a small item. Arrestable offenses are either misdemeanors or felonies. He added that police have many different criteria to evaluate when to make an arrest.

Captain Rohowits also discouraged people from making citizen’s arrests, although these are permissible by law. He cautioned that although guns are not common, many transients do carry knives.

The perception this evening of those who attended is that people living on the streets in a transient lifestyle are partaking in various levels of crimes.

The Captain’s plea of insufficient resources within the police department did not elicit much sympathy from the attendees.

A number of community speakers got up and were to the point.

From the Point Loma Surf Team Coach: when the Surf Team comes to OB to practice, they get their backpacks invaded and items stolen while they are getting ready to surf, as their 6:00 am start time is just when people are starting to get up on the beach.

His students do not feel safe. A worried parent of a 15-year old daughter voiced the same concern. Merchants spoke of customers being intimidated by hordes on the sidewalks outside the businesses.

Council member Harris took over at that point, and he had a lot to say. He has already met with new Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman on the problem.  Harris – having been a marine – used military type language to describe going after the problems of homelessness, as he told the community he’d “bring in the air, land and sea – hit it from every angle.” People want protection for the neighborhoods where they live. This former lifeguard told us that lifeguards can and do make arrests.

There didn’t appear to be any advocates for the homeless at this community meeting.  And the complaint session was overly one-sided, with the Police Captain voicing one of the few of reason and compassion.This has happened before at community meetings that devolve like this.

The apparent consensus at this gathering of the irate was: the message needs to get out that the community no longer is tolerant of the illegal activities seen in Ocean Beach on a daily basis – drinking and drugs, sleeping in public spaces, defacing the cliffs, public urination.

There were some practical suggestions – enforce the Oversized Vehicle Ordinance, for one.  There was some support for locking the parking lots at night, as is done in La Jolla Shores.  People were urged to telephone when you see something illegal. Take a picture with your iphone, text it to the police, get involved.

However, there didn’t seem to be any collective-memory of the series of workshops on homelessness held in OB a number of years ago nor the results of those workshops. No one from the church-led efforts to feed and cloth the homeless nor those efforts were represented.

But it’s very OB to complain about the homeless.  It’s also very OB to feed and cloth and care about the homeless.

Whether organized or not, spontaneous or contrived, the verbal slug fest against the homeless that erupted during the introduction of the Police Captain and the new Councilman appeared to derail the regular agenda of the good Town Council. And the chair seemed to bend over backward to ensure that everyone had a chance to get their opinion out.

Next time there’s a community-wide discussion on the homeless, let it be fair – allow all the sides to be heard.

OBTC 4-23-14 bh 04

OBTC President Gretchen Newsom and Vice-Prez Stephen Grosch.

The regular program topic of “Civic Engagement + Innovation” had been pushed to the end of the meeting.  Ilisa Goldman, from the City of San Diego Civic Innovation Lab, talked about turning troubled properties into usable spaces, and Rebecca Taylor invited everyone to join Nextdoor.com.

With the primary election coming up June 3, Jeanne Brown from the League of Women Voters encouraged everyone who is not registered to take that action. She encouraged everyone to get your neighbor who is an unregistered voter to take get registered.

Many council updates, announcements, many promised activities in Ocean Beach. President Gretchen Newsom, as always, managed to fit everyone in and stretched the time to accommodate all. Everyone who wanted to had their say and somehow it all got said. That’s the OB way.

OBTC 4-23-14 bh 05

Family new to OB at their first OBTC meeting – Glen Oliver, Margaret Colton and Teddy – lived here 3 weeks.

Glen Oliver”


 Lois Lane contributed to this article.  All photos by Lois Lane.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

obJamie April 25, 2014 at 12:49 pm

The push back is simply going to continue to grow against that particular niche group in the community as the yuppies continue to invade and buy/rent live in OB. Business here cater to these types, and property RENTAL rates have skyrocketed as the greedy slumlords get hungrier (they have to offset that lost equity somehow). This newer class/type of resident is simply not as tolerable, welcoming, friendly, or permissive as the older-guard type resident of the last 20, 30 years here. That is my opinion. Besides, being POOR is clearly the worst offense anyone can commit to a Pt. Loman…;)


voiceofreason April 28, 2014 at 4:13 pm

Another way to say what obJamie writes above is,

“The voices of those who work hard for the privilege of living in a beach community, and who contirbute to the well being and prosperity of that community rather than abusing its citizens and urinating all over the public spaces, will justifiably become louder until this problem is addressed. Perhaps one way to address that problem is through simple economics; supply and demand. By exercising their rights as property owners, landlords may raise rents as high as the market will bear and the more educated, civil and pleasant renters will drive out the lazy, drug using miscreants and OB will be transformed into a welcoming, friendly environment.”


Marc S April 29, 2014 at 2:23 pm

You mean raise the rents higher, like say San Fran or Manhattan? We all know those places have no homeless people. [rolling eyes] As if landlords aren’t already charging what the market will bear.

Rich does not equal educated or being a hard worker. Many property owners inherited their property and/or money and many graduate students are broke as a joke. Even if there was not a single a person living outside in OB there would still be public urination. Ban bars too if you want to put an end to that.


Marc S April 25, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Its much easier to complain about what other people are doing, than look at what you are doing. There are as many reasons people are homeless as there are homeless people. They are only a group in the mind of the people complaining about them, on the streets it’s everyone for themselves. Good luck to Ed Harris with his land, air and sea campaign.

I agree with obJamie. I feel like I made it to OB just in time to see the end of the “old guard OB” in the 90s. It’s hard to draw an exact line between old and new, but the last show at the Strand sticks in my mind. It was Godzilla in 1998 complete with rolling bottles and pot smoke. Things like the police trailer, Starbucks, condo conversions, have slowly turned it into what it is now.

It’s funny that Captain Rohowitz had to remind people looking homeless is not a crime. I guess the new OBceans who paid millions for their property expect a bum-free experience for all their money.


Frank Gormlie April 25, 2014 at 2:57 pm

These very same complaints were heard in the late Sixties. Same as it ever was.


gristmiller April 26, 2014 at 5:43 am



Jon April 25, 2014 at 4:01 pm

A few brief thoughts on this…from my own personal perspective…

A) not sure where the yuppies were that are being spoken of. I saw a lot of local OBceans, hard working people who care about the community and quality of life. As usual, the best dressed in the room were our representatives from the county and state.
B) This idea of old guard vs. new guard is preposterous. Almost everyone who stood up to speak has lived and/or owned businesses in town for decades.
C) many speakers tried to be very thoughtful in persuading the police to not focus on homeless, but rather “bad behavior.” Obviously the challenge is that the travelers in town that cause problems and leave trash, needles, and filth on our doorstep, mingle with the truly homeless and disadvantaged. Tough dilemma.
D) I was mostly disappointed that the groups who came to voice outrage, said their piece and then promptly left without a care for anything else happening in the community or to listen to any of the guest speakers who were there to present some reasonable, common-sense ideas to improve quality of life, enhance community dialogue and beautify neglected spaces. I understand, but it’s still disappointing. At the end, we went from a packed room (100 people??) to a small handful of regulars and other community leaders.

I believe we can overcome these challenges while keeping OB a mix of safe, weird and awesome. But we have to work together and stop name calling.


want2surf April 25, 2014 at 7:37 pm

Thanks, Jon. I haven’t been an Obcean as long as many, but some of my close friends who have lived their whole lives in OB (50+ years) are concerned about the lawlessness of homeless people, not simply the fact that there are many homeless here. And this isn’t just the nouveau OB wanting OB to become a less expensive version of Encinitas… it’s people who love OB for being OB, wanting to preserve it while at the same time wanting to feel safe and have others cherish all that is OB. Many of the homeless aren’t even from here and don’t cherish OB.
Are the Point Lomans invading over the crest to OB and complaining …? Maybe that explains the Zapf signs in OB….


Marc S April 26, 2014 at 10:48 am

I’m sure there were people complaining about the homeless long before I got to OB, but the old-guard/new-guard thing is far from preposterous. OB is no longer affordable for many people who used to be able to afford it. Many of the things that made OB special have changed or are no more. Other elements are still there, like long time residents, like the OB Rag, like the OB Historical Society.

It’s a cop-out to say kids are on Newport because they just don’t want to go home. I’m sure some of them don’t, but why? It doesn’t take long living on the street for the novelty of playing homeless to wear off.

It’s not just the weather that brings people to OB, it’s also being at the end of the 8 freeway. What Seth says is true, but I don’t think it’s a ‘community problem’ the problem is much bigger than OB. Local solutions usually amount to little more than pushing undesirables to the next community and making it someone else’s problem.

Every one of these people has a story. Many of them heartbreaking. The majority have serious mental health problems, including addiction, that aren’t solved by a handout or a Town Council complaint session. Many older people who have been on the street a long time have little hope of reintegrating into society and are resigned to dying on the streets.

I lived outside for short periods in my early twenties, in San Diego, LA, and other cities. It’s a very harsh reality. There are a lot of serious crimes committed both by and against the homeless. I witnessed some shocking events and had my safety threatened constantly. It’s almost impossible to reason with someone who feels they have nothing to lose.

During my years in OB I knew more than a few ‘homeless’ people. All very different people, with different reasons for living outside. One girl in her late teens twenties, was living in the parks and by Sunset Cliffs because she had been molested by multiple male family members. After knowing her a while I met her family (in Point Loma). She was better off on the streets.

Another guy in his early twenties was going to university on a sports scholarship. He came to OB, got caught up in meth, and rapidly went from normal fit guy to desperate sickly street addict. Guys from up the hill would drive down to the wall at the foot of Newport, pick him up, and he would perform oral sex for meth money. He was not gay.

I also knew some of the Rainbow Gathering people, mostly out of towners. Some of whom were very disrespectful of OBceans and OB and aggressive panhandlers. The type of behavior that no one appreciates.

To the casual eye all these people are simply “homeless”. In reality they all have very different stories and have nothing in common other than being outside. There is no one solution to help them… or to scare them away from OB. The SDPD shot and killed at least four homeless people in and around OB during this time.

The root cause is people not caring about each other. The people who come to meetings to complain and leave are part of the problem the same as the aggressive panhandlers. All the intervention options include counselling – someone who will listen.


Seth April 28, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Thoughtful post. Thanks.


Steve April 25, 2014 at 8:51 pm

My problem with the “homeless kids” hanging out on Newport is that they aren’t even homeless. They just don’t want to go home. I’ve walked by and seen them using their iPhones and such. I even heard one of them tell his friend to “put it on my credit card”. They get no sympathy from me.


Seth April 25, 2014 at 10:54 pm

Thoughts on homelessness from someone who has spent most of his life living in cities/neighborhoods with way more of them…

It’s a complicated issue that takes place on a national scale, yet many of the perceptions about it are oversimplified and narrow in scope. For most of these younger kids, it’s less a rational decision to “live free” than some sort of circumstance that put them there. Perhaps poverty, but more often, some sort of trauma, addiction or undiagnosed mental illness. Some grew up without parents, other have parents who don’t know how to help them, and a sadly large portion of them grew up without parents or were molested or beaten, or have PTSD from seeing combat, or grew up too gay in too conservative of a small town, or whatever the hell it was that put them on the outside of life.

Similar to the “welfare queen”, people have this need to create this worst-case archetype of the privileged homeless kid with an iPhone and a credit card, but that is really just whitewashing the fact that it is a pretty rough and unforgiving life they are leading out there. Also think that the homeless make easy targets for any and all community ills. Front of your shop smells like urine every Monday morning? Surely couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that we have doubled our “bar capacity” in the last 5-10 years, it must be the dirty-looking kid sitting outside.

With that said, there is a limit for what a community needs to tolerate. These are not the freewheeling homeless of the 1960s. Different drugs, different attitudes. A lot of these kids are out-of-town tweakers who roll in with their half-starved dogs, and do nothing but disrespect everyone here and detract from the communal quality of life before they go to the next stop on the traveler network. I don’t mean to paint with that broad a brush, because this is not true of the majority of them, but for those who don’t think that this is an issue in this community, I really don’t know what to say. A lot of the people I talk to that are very frustrated by this are actually quite compassionate and not at all unsympathetic to these people, they have just had enough and feel like it has all gone over a certain threshold, or critical mass, if you will. That’s a very real and valid opinion in my view.

As to solutions, let’s just say for starters that giving them clothes, food or money is absolutely the least humane, least compassionate and most unproductive thing you can do for them. Less so with the older, long-term homeless crowd that we have all seen around forever, but for the younger crowd, it only serves to facilitate a lifestyle that will lead them further and further down the path towards long-term homelessness and increasing mental health and addiction problem. The only person it serves to benefit is you and your guilt or ego or morality, not them.

The solutions with the most efficacy concern early intervention with services that address the root causes of what caused most of these people to opt for this lifestyle, which again, are usually some combination of mental health issues, addiction, abuse or what have you. This needs to happen everywhere in America, and not just the 100-200 urban neighborhoods that the country has chosen to outsource the problem to.

And for those further down the path towards long-term homelessness, assisted living programs and supporting housing that has these types of services on-site for residents that they are trying to transition back into functional roles in society. Many people balk at the taxpayer cost of these places, which is fair enough if only a few places are doing them, but overall, they are a lot more cost-efficient than the alternative of constant first responder calls and emergency room visits and property crime that is created by allowing homelessness to fester unabated.

Just my two cents, I’ll stop before I get to the dime.


Tyler April 26, 2014 at 8:43 am

Perfectly said, Seth. You said my thoughts in a far more eloquent manner. This are indeed NOT the same freewheelers of the 60s indeed. I wish some of the stubborn old timers would realize that.

OBs long time homeless (years in OB) do NOT = the bums that invade town for a few weeks, wreak havoc on our beaches, streets, homes, and visitors, then either move on or sometimes taken care of by the police. I’ve seen a transient man and woman shooting each other up with heroin inside the Bathrooms at the end of Brighton. I’ve seen a woman in her RV beat her child, and another beating their malnourished dog. Iv had to call many out for never picking up their dog feces countless times. I’ve rarely ever seen one use a trash can for their trash.

I have zero more tolerance. Maybe it’s because I live smack in the middle of district 2, but I see a lot of these examples in various forms several times daily.

Seth really is spot on about continuing to feed and clothe the younger transient population. You are encouraging them to continue to be a net netative for the community. And the people who largely seem to be the ones feeding and clothing them never seem to be around for any of the negative actions of those they help (probably because many of those who work at that church don’t live in OB).

The transients (Not OB longtime homeless) CONTRIBUTE NOTHING to OB. They don’t respect us, and don’t respect our neighborhood. We can be funky and awesome like we always have without catering to a complete degenerate lifestyle that only serves to stress and worry those that have and want to put roots down.

We aren’t yuppies. We just aren’t stuck in 1965 like some of those on the other side of the coin.

This isn’t over. I hope those of us who are sick of this continue to fight for our neighborhood. Let me know what I can do beyond giving them more handouts after they basically shit all over us.


objamie May 5, 2014 at 10:20 am

Oh one thing you forgot in your post is that street types, oddballs, homeless, traveler, transient etc are part of the social fabric and attraction of OB. People come here to see the freak show.


ob girl May 5, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Yes– love the freak show. But then there’s the super freaky freak show. Don’t like that so much.


Debbie April 26, 2014 at 10:13 am

They are now living behind the Old Portugalia….saw them this morning. I wonder how much poop and pee the Cohns will have to clean up.

This town will continue to be inhabited by bars if these conditions are tolerated. These people are able and should be working. Churches should be hosting lunches and dinners teaching them respect and job skills.


obracer April 27, 2014 at 10:26 am

My home overlooks the parking lot, the ” wall” and the fire pits, I know first hand who and what the problem is in regards to bums in O.B.
The problem is S.D.P.D. WESTERN DIVISION !
We need a police department that WANTS to help, tired of hearing Lt Stone say ” it’s not illegal to be homeless ” but it IS illegal to wear a badge and NOT ENFORCE current laws.
SDPD has protected the bums in Ocean Beach for at least ten years.
It’s a choice not agreed to by the residents of Ocean Beach, I urge everyone to report crimes, illegal camping and follow up OUTSIDE of western division, call the chiefs office 619-531-2727 AND contact other divisions, YOU WILL NOT FIND SOLUTIONS AT WESTERN DIVISION ! Lt Stone is the area Lt. , the same Lt that gives the homeless living in their vehicles copies of emails sent to western division, Lt Stone is part of the problem, many, many, many people in law enforcement are aware and are working to change this. My email and photo was given to a homeless mental case living in his truck, I was harassed every morning as I walked my dog , he showed up at the planning commission meeting on the trailer alongside Lt Stone, he was holding my email in his hands, identifying him as a problem in the parking lot.
The OBMA supports this activity, if fact Mr Kline, the husband of OBMA VP Julie Kline, showed up to support and advise the bum on obtaining a restraining order against ME for answering back . I have photos of the Klines mingling with the homeless at the wall in recent weeks. I have said for years that the OBMA wants and promotes Ocean Beach to be FREE, no laws and encourages & organizes the bums in O.B. , thank you Mr & Mrs Kline for helping me prove my point.
Days later the same mental case was yelling information at me I had given to Sgt Knisch when I was issued a driving citation, why would a mental case living out of his truck be getting my information from SDPD ?…………. THAT’S WHAT THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT WANTS TO KNOW !
I clean up the feces, bottles, clothes and other trash left behind in our yards and
bushes , it’s the big fat rats I need to shine the light on.
Bottom line, having bums or travelers in Ocean Beach is a choice , SDPD chooses to help them and ignore the residents of Ocean Beach. We have police in the area EVERY NIGHT ! they write citations on EMPTY cars in the parking lots while piles of bums sleep at the wall in front of the trailer ( the trailer that provides a police presence, remember that story ? ) or in their vehicles 30 yards away, it’s easy to write a citation on an empty car, an empty car left in the parking lot perhaps because they drank too much and did the write thing, SDPD will make sure you don’t do that again !, DRIVE YOUR CAR HOME DRUNK ! or SDPD will write you a parking ticket ! whats wrong with this picture ?
Imperial Beach had similar problems until S.D. Sheriff’s moved in, we need S.D. Sheriff’s department in O.B. to clean out the trash at western division.
I’ll continue to do my part by contacting as many law enforcement agencies as possible OUTSIDE of SDPD WESTERN.
Eventually SDPD Western will make the right choice, I promise.


John Filthy April 28, 2014 at 7:53 am

So what is your solution? When the SDPD cites someone living outside for illegal lodging they can’t pay the fine. When the fine goes unpaid they go to jail. Then they get out and the cycle begins again. The Sheriff’s don’t have any other tools.

The OBMA and the Kleins are not encouraging homelessness by any stretch. If they were out talking to people like you say then kudos to them for being part of the solution. Actual conversations are where any solution is going to begin.

This ‘bum’ you speak of who attends planning meetings and addresses complaints made against him sounds like less of a mental case than you. People have aright to face their accuser. Welcome to America.


obracer April 28, 2014 at 8:09 am

Mr Filhty,
Thank you for the response, it’s very funny.
” When the SDPD cites someone living outside for illegal lodging they can’t pay the fine. When the fine goes unpaid they go to jail. Then they get out and the cycle begins again” so you do understand it’s not solving anything !, should sdpd keep doing nothing instead ?
The bum only attended the meeting for the trailer at the planning commission to support the Lt that gave him my email.
Why would a homeless man living in his truck want to support a trailer that is meant to keep people like him out ? it is illegal to live in your vehicle, the bum openly admits what he does in our beach parking lots ? Mr Kline showed up to support this mans illegal activities, call it what you want , I have seen what the Klines do at the wall for many years.
Mr Filthy , If you identify someone committing a crime to your local police, would you expect that person you reported to get a copy of your photo and email ? don’t be foolish Mr Filthy. The Feds and police chief don’t think that’s the way it should work either.


John Filthy April 28, 2014 at 11:23 am

I’m still waiting to hear your solution. I only highlighted the cycle of ‘citation-jail-back on the street’ to see if it was the solution you were advocating. The SDPD have more options than that or nothing. They have the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), and the Serial Inebriate Program (SIP) for example.

If you have a dispute with someone and involve the police the first step is usually mediation. People need to work out their differences without using our taxpayer money to go to court. If you identify someone committing a crime and it goes to trial than you have to be a witness. That’s how the justice system works.

I’m sure people sleeping in their cars is a big priority for the Feds.


John Kitchin April 29, 2014 at 7:35 pm

Both the HOT and the SIP do not work very well, and are based upon assumptions that are widely taught in school, but are not true. Locking people up for being homeless costs $150 per person per night when all the expenses are added up, a motel room $30 per night for possibly more than one person, and the rubber shelters cost several dollars per person per night. Since there are Court Orders that the City MUST have the rubber shelters, they do. And, since San Diego has been to court against the homeless and lost, they must allow all homeless to sleep on any City property. In other Cities, this is not so, but this is San Diego.


John Filthy April 29, 2014 at 8:14 pm

I know they don’t really work that well. I’m not advocating for the SDPD, just trying to get people like obracer and voiceofreason to tell me what their solution is. HOT and SIP are better than beating or shooting people though. Really it shouldn’t be a job for the police in the first place.

County Medical Services seems to be where more of it is dealt with, and they are underfunded and overwhelmed. To get help there you have to be a danger to yourself or others. The faith-based and volunteer groups are the ones left to do the real work of caring for people who slip through the massive cracks in the system.

If I recall San Diego was sued in 2004 for issuing illegal lodging citations and ordered by a federal judge to stop giving tickets between 9 at night and 5 in the morning. So obracer’s talk about contacting the Feds seems ludicrous. Even if you can’t see the moral reasoning for helping people before locking them up, it still makes good financial sense as you pointed out.


Dr. John Kitchin April 28, 2014 at 10:13 am

I will mention this in the upcoming early May San Diego Homeless News. We should at least have a representative of the homeless at meetings such as this, as most allegations and even feelings are purely bogus. I am one of the homeless reps, but generally do not have time for additional meetings. We meet with the MAPSS, Metropolitan Association of Providers of Social Services, every 4th Wed., 10 Am, First Lutheran Church at 3rd and Ash in Downtown San Diego. We also meet with the Girls Think Tank, a group of judges and lawyers, the first Thursday of every month, 6 PM, 330 A Street, also downtown. I would also be happy to try to answer complaints by email at nz9f@hotmail.com. Thanks. Dr. John Kitchin, Publisher, San Diego Homeless News


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: