Memories of the Great OB Election of ’76

by on May 4, 2016 · 1 comment

in California, Culture, Election, Environment, History, Media, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Politics, San Diego

OB CPG Broc CandFoto

The candidate slate of OB Community Planning Group for the May 4, 1976 election. Doug Card is second from right.

Editor: We are continuing our celebration of the 40th anniversary of the popular vote in OB that established the Ocean Beach Planning Board with “Memories” by Doug Card. Doug was a member of the very first Planning Board and played a key role in the days up to and after that election on May 4, 1976.

By Doug Card

With the current bizarre national presidential election campaign, it’s good to reflect upon a true grassroots election in OB just 40 years ago – today – Wednesday the 4th.

To recall how, during a time of great national upheaval, a dedicated band of idealistic activists managed to create a permanent structure to maintain the integrity of the character of Ocean Beach in the face of heavy developmental pressure. And how the cooperation between OB’s traditional rival organizations and facets of San Diego City government ended a long-running conflict and worked together for the sake of the people and the future.

Having been an active participant in some of this progress I’m pleased to set down a few memories of that exciting significant era – both for personal reasons and for the sake of history. As an active social historian myself, I’d like to leave behind some material which would could be of use to any researcher in the future, for this event deserves historic recognition. Perhaps some local grad student is looking for a thesis topic….

Most of all I want to share the drama of this election in which a handful of votes altered the course of OB history.

OB CBG history district map

The then-Planning Districts of OB

Some caveats:
1. Be sure to first read the excellent history posted by Frank Gormlie here, it will give you a good background from the view of a man who was central to this struggle from start to finish.

2. It’s been 40 years, memories tend to grow dim. Though age may give us a wiser perspective.

3. While I’ll try to be objective, this is my own personal view of these events. Others would remember them differently. For me,this was a great learning experience, a chance to participate with a good group in something significant, and it was a lot of fun. One of my favorite experiences of my interesting 80 years on this Good Earth.

4. As I was only involved from later in 1974 when I moved to OB and had to leave in February of 1977 my direct knowledge excludes the periods before and after. I had nothing to do with the famous “Committee of 12” or the later, equally frustrating “Committee of 16” or the fight over the new jetty or the Collier Park riot, etc.

5. It was a very different time than today, hard to translate in to the present. (Except the Bernie Sanders movement?) Activists, mainly young, were eager and idealistic and really believed we could change the world.

OB CBG history PenInc slate

Slate of “The Opposition”

The Ocean Beach Community Planning Group (CPG) struggle was interwoven with the struggles of feminism, Civil Rights, race, the Viet Nam war, campus problems, environmentalism, poverty, and counter-cultural values. People were used to organizing protests, and other direct action. But around society there was violence, with a high level of tension between the left and right in San Diego. One group, the Secret Army Organization (SAO), even shot at a leftist professor. We were suspicious, and later proved right, that we were being monitored by law enforcement.

OB CPG broc coverHistory, the Background to the Election

As Frank Gormlie discussed in his history, during 1973 CPG was organized and was able to put enough pressure on the city to improve the plan somewhat. With leaders such as Gormlie and Tom Kozden, and an enthusiastic community, CPG carried a lot of clout.

However, the Committee of 12/16 still struggled to find a consensus. While by 1974 the plan had new improvements it still had two major faults– too much density and no democratic election to the proposed planning board. On the other hand Peninsula Inc’s supporters felt the new Precise Plan was too strict.

This was about the time I moved to Ocean Beach. Having moved to San Diego in 1971 to teach sociology at Cal-Western USIU located in Pt. Loma, I became somewhat aware of the interesting community of OB. One of my many interesting students there, Charley Nelson later introduced me to some of OB’s leading activists. I was especially glad to meet Kozden who was becoming well known by that time as a charismatic, populist leader.

I still remember being guided to the famous “Red House” where I met Tom, was impressed, and we were friends and fellow activists for several years. However, having arrived in OB after all that prior action, and being older – 40 – and an”authority figure” as a prof, I was sometimes viewed as an “outsider.”Red House was famous as a meeting place for radicals and activists in those days, not all of them who were involved with CPG.

OB CBG history july4 flier

Flier for July 4, 1976 celebration

I also remember the first CPG meeting I attended by Tom’s invitation, and I definitely felt “older”. I was particularly impressed at how Kozden encouraged everyone to be involved. Real grass-roots democracy. However, I was disappointed they spent SO much time deciding who would place the various posters around town. Seemed like a waste to me.

Later I was to understand the importance of this – it got everyone involved and actually was the best way for activists to spread the word in a tight community like Ocean Beach.

At times in CPG I was upset that too many times people just didn’t listen to me when I explained the situation. I remember once saying “No, you are wrong, the right way would be…” and someone cut me off with “Whoa, you aren’t the teacher here, don’t tell us we are wrong…”

After years of having the floor for myself as a prof, I now had to learn how to be persuasive with my ideas rather than my position. Still, I’m afraid I’m remembered by some as being a “stubborn and domineering old guy.” Fortunately my partner at that time Paula Horan, who was also a CPG supporter, was able to give me tips on being less autocratic.

So, we got to work on organizing to improve the Ocean Beach Precise Plan. We formulated our demands, lobbied the City Council, and set to work gathering thousands of signatures on our petition. Finally the Big Day of the Council hearing, July 3, 1975, arrived. Now, we had appeared before the city many times but this was different!  We created a list of speakers, grabbed our petitions, and car-pooled to City Hall.

The Greatest Activist Presentation to Government I’ve Ever Witnessed

OB’s People turned out with passion and numbers and we just overwhelmed Mayor Pete Wilson and the City Council, and our unprepared opponents. Perhaps the most effective was Frank Gormlie, always a powerful speaker, with his simulation of a slide show of OB’s happy citizens – click click, there’s a mother with her baby, click click, a contented old retired couple at their cottage; click click, a healthy young surfer on his skateboard … who would want to destroy such a fine community?

When the pile of petitions with over three thousand signatures was dumped on their desk, that was about the final straw for old Gil Johnson, genial councilor from La Jolla, whose eyes lit up as he pronounced that “these young people” represented the best of American patriotism, and he could almost hear the ring of the Liberty Bell.

Our Pen-Inc / OBTC opponents had been caught flat footed, unprepared. We won the vote, our amendments to the plan were adopted, and we began to plan for the big election. I was so happy I threw my last pack of cigarettes over the fence – I was a two pack a day smoker who couldn’t quit – and have never touched nicotine again, Praise God!

Naturally we’d organized a big 4th of July celebration at the beach  – it was a blast, a blend of joy, fun, relief, pride, hedonism, and yes, patriotism for the best of America’s spirit. One important transition occurred there – Gary Weber, our very serious, professional City Planner, attended and became imbued with the true character of OB. He was a great friend ever after with our Precise Plan and it’s successful followup work would not have been nearly so good without him.

Thus we embarked on our plans for the upcoming election and the planning board with excitement – but whoa, slow down there, it wasn’t going to be so easy.

The Pen-Inc and OBTC folks were terrified at the though of an open election with all our “hoards” of young people and renters and were willing to do anything they could to block it. Soon after our big victory, I dropped in on the City Council meeting just to check on progress – and was horrified to see our opponents back with a full court press, lawyers and all. They’d done their lobbying, claimed the previous hearing was illegal, and it appeared the Council was about to give in and reverse itself. This time we were the ones caught flat-footed, nothing I offered made a difference and we seemed to be in trouble. While we escaped this time the pressure continued.

We had rounds of more meetings at the city and in OB. The free election was the big issue and various of our councilors, including Tom Gade and Bob Martinet, if I recall correctly, pushed their tepid plans of an informal group meeting instead of a real election. I should add Maureen O’Connor, who had been our councilor and who went on to bigger political roles in San Diego, was generally supportive, as was councilor Floyd Morrow and his aid Paul Shaffer. While we did get quality professional support – and more – from city planner Gary Weber, his boss, departmental head Jim Goff, though a real professional, was not always so supportive. But of course he was feeling his own pressure from development and political interests.

So this struggle over the election went on and on. There were often hearings to attend, sometimes to speak at. The people wanted to know what was happening but we could only shrug and smile. Often we met at my place at the duplex back of 5015 Saratoga, we’d plan our strategy, and pack in to my VW van for the trip downtown. Afterwords we sometimes ended up back at my place, to “debrief” and to unwind. Sometimes a joint with some weak Mexican leaf would be passed around, and somehow after a couple of tokes we all felt fine.

The Election

Finally, the city and our opponents gave in to our pressure…”The People United Shall Never Be Defeated.” Actually, the media and even the politicians had enjoyed dealing with OB, which was, in their words,”pretty sexy.” (True, the beach was by the pier was an attractive place to be on a nice day.) The election date was set for May 4, 1976, and we began to prepare. If money is the root of the evil in politics we didn’t have much to worry about. Koch Brothers never called.

Largely we “bankrolled” our campaign while signing up new voters – California paid ten cents a head for new registrations, and with all the unregistered young folks in OB we “made a killing” sitting in front of the old Mayfair Market [where RiteAid is] all day.

Truthfully, we had other sources of campaign cash as well. We sometimes picked up a little money when we held our big concerts at Rob Field or elsewhere. In fact, Chris Bystrom actually found a $50 bill when were cleaning up after a big event. We once had a movie fund raiser at the Strand but as I recall it was a nice afternoon and everyone was at the beach. In any case we didn’t need much. I can’t recall us spending much of anything except on our posters, leaflets and flyers, some of which were pretty cool.

I hope everyone has a chance to read our platform, history, and see the photos in our campaign brochure. That’s an interesting cover photo, though I admit though I’ve become a historian in my old age, I didn’t resonate much with OB’s history at that time. (Today it fascinates me.) It was a group effort, well done by a very diverse collection of talented and outspoken individuals. Remembering the evening we all sat around the back room of the Peoples Food Store and created our common platform, I’m proud that we, with our diverse band of unique characters, could hold together our cohesion as we worked to unite on common values.

It would be interesting for today’s OBPB to look over our platform, seeing what has been accomplished or remains to be done. Or what may have been unwise. Seems to me it is very forward looking, almost contemporary, with ideas being worked on today.

Perhaps the one area we were off the mark was on the role of the Planning Board– we had very   grandiose plans for all the things it could do and be. Whether for good or bad, today’s OBPB seems to have become little more than a planning commission, with the more exciting community issues being discussed at the private OBTC. (Wait, who won that election in ’76?)

And yet the Board, with its Precise Plan, remain as they were in the beginning, a bulwark against uncontrolled expansion– as we saw a couple of years ago when the community– a bit older perhaps– rose up in protest against the latest city plans to devour OB.

The CPG Candidates

With the upcoming election, CPG had to fill a slate of 14, two candidates for each of the seven districts which had been created. Actually, we helped make up those districts, and if they still work, we’re proud. But in carving up OB we faced a couple of problems. One was residential segregation. Because of  residential clustering some neighborhoods of OB are distinctly different than others. As a result 5 of the 7 districts were revealed to be one sided, either mostly CPG or else mostly Pen Inc. Only Districts 4 and 5 proved to be balanced, or competitive. We also failed to create equal sized districts, as 2, 3 and 7 had several hundred more votes than 3 and 5.

Thus, we had plenty of good potential candidates where our supporters mainly lived but had a harder time filling the slots in the precincts up the hill, especially 3 and 6.

With the candidates, it wasn’t just about organization and ideology, it was about real flesh and blood people who helped make history happen. Many had long been active in CPG but not all. There was a wide range of views and personalities, with me at 40 possibly being the oldest. It was actually a great crew, one of the best groups I’ve ever worked with in my life. In my recollections I find no fault with any of them.

Here are my memories of our team, and others have the right to record their own thoughts of me!

District I North end on the beach. Maryann Zounes and Rich Cornish made a perfect pair. They were destined to be our strongest team in the election, and benefited from an excellent electorate there. Maryann was a professional, owned her home where we sometimes met, and was a good single mother. She was both very competent, knowledgeable about land use, and good natured, easy to work with, so exerted strong leadership. Politically she and I were close, as we jokingly referred to ourselves as the “Radical Moderates” Or was it the Moderate Radicals?

Rich Cornish as I recall was quite different, younger, very long haired, creative, very radical, maybe more of an anarchist, cheerful and enthusiastic. He worked hard, was cooperative with us more centrist folks yet was also involved with more activist community movements.

District II Also on beach, just south of District I. Lars Tollefson and Tom Kozden were another great pair campaigning in a supportive neighborhood. Tom was possibly the best known of all the OB activists. He was an excellent leader, charismatic and considerate of all. I liked him and was impressed with his social skills though didn’t always agree with his ideology. I still remember as he strolled slowly down the aisle to the mike at the front of the room at a hearing of the California Coastal Commission. It was silent, as even the CCC Board members leaned forward expectantly to hear what Kozden would have to say… Tom was a true grass roots activist in those days.

Tom was a pure radical, and sometimes to keep up our friendship I felt the need to join with him in endeavors I’d otherwise have avoided. I recall once we joined strikers in a picket line to protest scabs at
an industrial plant – the sort of thing I’d like to see the Left get more involved with these days. It went fine, the police chief chatted with us, to sort of “cool the boys down.” He said we could protest but
not let it get too violent. He warned us that if we got out of hand he would raise both hands in the air which would be a signals for his men to move in. Fast.

Things went fine, we banged on the buses and screamed profanity. The scabs inside scowled. But then the Chief felt a need to calm us down so to get our attention, signaled for us to listen up – by forgetfully raising both hands in the air! So there they came running, a whole swarm of cops with helmets and clubs a swinging … so Tom and I , we took off running, guys were falling down all around us, but somehow we escaped.

One other time I remember, we engaged in some direct action, this time in OB. It seems we had heard that a certain property owner, a Mr. B., had rejected a black person’s rental application. Well, I never knew if that story was accurate but I do recall CPG felt compelled to act. So we formed sort of a snake line and wove our way down the sidewalk and in and out of stores, all the time chanting “Racist B… out of OB!”

Try repeating that fast and loud, it’s not easy.The result was that we were largely unintelligible – so people just stared at us in confusion and astonishment as we marched by chanting. I felt sort of embarrassed and wanted to stop and explain but we kept moving. In fact, we then marched over to this Mr. B’s house on the cliffs, still chanting, but nobody came to the door. [To be clear, I’m not suggesting this particular foray was Tom’s idea, but he did keep us active in many ways.]

Tom’s running mate here was a fellow who was sort of new to OBCPG but became a strong participant and supporter, Lars Tollefson. He was young, cheerful, bright and educated, nice looking and likeable. He also liked working on the details of land use and politics, so we spent a of time working together. We also liked to hang out together at Lucy’s bar playing shuffleboard.

District III North end of OB east of Sunset Cliffs This was a tough one as we recognized we didn’t have much of a chance up the hill here. Still we found two qualified candidates, Ed Reil and Jerry Hildewine, both of whom would have been great in friendlier climes than in this conservative neighborhood; both also happened to wear full beards. I’m afraid I don’t recall much of them – Ed, I remember was very sharp and serious but was cheerful and likeable. Jerry was a true hippy in the best sense of the word, long haired, cooperative and mellow, worked at the Peoples Food Store.

To be continued?

Doug Card’s Bio

Prior to Ocean Beach I grew up in Oregon, graduated college, served in the army in Germany, married a German woman, attended grad school at the University of Oregon, taught sociology at Ohio State then moved to San Diego to teach at Cal-Western USIU at Pt. Loma, giving me my first glimpse of Ocean Beach. After a divorce, I ended up in OB.  Because of a family health emergency I moved back to Roseburg Oregon “temporarily” in February 1977 and took a leave of absence from the Board. Never been back to SD.  Up here I soon became active in community planning issues, thanks to my experience in OB.

I became a chair of a county planning committee and led efforts to preserve history and legalize marijuana while also teaching at Umpqua Community College. In 1986 I moved back to Eugene to finish my interrupted sociology program. Finished my dissertation, got my PhD, and taught at the UO til I retired a few years ago. Continued community activism in Eugene in leading neighborhood groups and historic preservation activities. Again, all thanks to what I learned in OB! Getting more involved with history I authored a local history book and led other historic activities. Eventually I moved out here in Veneta, and continue blending history with sociology to create a social history supporting social justice. Looking back on these 80 long years, OB ranks as one of my favorite experiences!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Frank Gormlie June 1, 2016 at 4:40 pm

Received from Hugh Brenner – an old Ragster from way back …

Wish I’d saved my old copies of the Rag. Thanks to a great public defender, Peter Speyer, I remained a free man after the Collier Park Riot Trials although I’d been targeted by SDPD’s Red Squad as an apparent leader, which shows how lousy their intelligence was.

Many interesting stories from that time. The Rag was a seminal influence in the wild days in O.B. Feel free to contact me anytime you’d like some additional info on those days.

We hung out by the Wall in both it’s tall and short incarnations, attended all the Hole parties, and formed the nucleus of the Naked People at Garbage Beach, our homegrown version of Black’s Beach.

I remember the Long Branch riots around O.B. Sheriff’s place; the Co-op; when the American Nazi’s did a drive-by shooting on the Organizing committee’s house when we successfully forced the Republican convention from the Sports Arena to Miami; how we blew George Wallace’s speaking engagement (and mind) by drowning out his speech with cheering every time he tried to speak; and thousands of other details about the concerts, the people like Spaceman (I still have my Interstellar Communications Service card) Officer Ladd and yes, Frank Gormlie too, he was a year ahead of me at PLHS.

One common saying about the 60’s is if you remember them you weren’t there, but I cheated…I remembered. Even after all the hundreds of gallons of Ripple and Red Mountain.

In those days O.B. was all about four things; sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and politics. Glad to have been there and done that. OB Godamit.

Hugh Brenner Maui


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