Report on the Usual Suspects at the Ocean Beach Town Council April Gig

by on April 28, 2017 · 2 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Frank Gormlie

The OB Town Council held their monthly public meeting last Wednesday night – where they usually do – at the Masonic Center on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard.

As I drove into the Center’s parking lot from the alley between Santa Monica and Santa Cruz, I could see that something was up, as there was a crowd of people congregating around the side door that leads immediately into the community room. Oh, no. Another meeting outside? I conjectured, recalling the last time that the meeting was held outside on the asphalt, that summer night when the electricity blew a fuse or something.

Then right off – there was Officer David Surwilo, community relations officer for the Western Division directing traffic into the parking lot, helping some of the elders park their vehicles.

I did check out the crowd; saw Ed Harris with a pink tie and the other usual suspects who show up at these gigs. But no fire department officials were in view. The headliner of tonight’s meeting was to be a debate between lifeguard union leader Harris and Brian Fennessy, the new San Diego Fire Chief. Fennessy had recently stirred up a controversy with his unilateral change in how water-rescue dispatch calls are routed. Before,  a 911 call  would come in and if “water” or “drowning” or words to that effect were used, the dispatcher would forward it to the lifeguards. Now, under Fennessy, all such calls go to the San Diego Police Department and then to the Fire Department and then to Lifeguard dispatcher.

Within minutes the man with the key showed up and crowd swarmed into the large room, took their seats, and the meeting began with OBTC president Gretchen Newsom opening by leading the Pledge. I always leave out that phrase “under god” as I’ve been an atheist for quite some time. At least 2 TV cameras were in the room to video the lifeguard debate.

About a dozen hands shot up after Newsom asked who was here for the first time.

At some point, Newsom did announce that Chief Fennessy would not be attending and that later in the meeting, she would read his email response.

One of my favorites parts of the agenda is the non-agenda comment period that is at the top of the long meetings. This is when people in the audience get up and have 2 minutes to basically say anything they like. Usually, it’s announcements of upcoming events or specific complaints or community issues that people want to bring attention to. Once in a while, a candidate for office shows up and does a little grandstanding on behalf of their candidacy.

Here are some the announcements that were made:

Laura Dennison reminded the crowd of about 50 (not including the Board members) that the OB Library is having a book sale this Saturday, April 29th – out in front of the Library , from 9:30 am to 1pm.

Jeanie Brown raised her concerns about changes being proposed by the OB CDC for the Saratoga Park – not the re-naming to Ruth Varney Held – . She and a man who also stood up requested that the OBTC have this as their issue at the next meeting in May and that they would present alternative plans. This is unlikely as the Board usually decides months in advance what their agendas are.

Craig Klein asked the Council to weigh in on the re-striping or lack of re-striping of the newly repaved Newport Avenue on the 4900 and 5000 blocks. Presently the dotted lines in the middle run out after about 50 feet, Klein said. The City is apparently under taking a “trial” of the new design.

Bryan Pease reminded the crowd that he was running for the District 2 City council seat, currently held by Lorie Zapf.

Becca Taylor announced Saturday’s Peoples Climate March, which starts at 10am at the County Admin Building. The 29th.

Virginia Wilson introduced herself as the area’s future representative on the City’s board that oversees the trees. She and the People for Peninsula Trees recently held a workshop, and they’re using the feedback from that meeting, she said, for future workshops. She invited people interested to attend a meeting at the OB Green Center. They’re also formulating a “tree list” for OB, as they want trees to be planted in and around the OB Rec Center and the OB Elementary School. Sounds like good ideas.

Susan Winkie told the audience that the OB Woman’s Club is doing a fund-raising campaign in order to install new floors to their building at 2160 Bacon. It’s been estimated that the replacement will cost somewhere between $8,000 to $13,000. Susan then went into the Club’s amazing history, which was first established in 1924.

A young woman made an announcement about the Point Loma High School band doing fundraising (but unfortunately I didn’t catch any details).

Nate Bazydlo, vice president of the Board, made a comment as a private citizen about how he ran into an old friend who had just been evicted from her rented home of 20 years. This occurred after some guy offered her landlord hundreds more a month for rent than what she was paying; the landlord took the offer, kicked her out, and the unit was then made into a short-term vacation rental. Lots of moans from the audience. The guy didn’t even buy the property, just leased it without moving in and turning around and using it as a STVR. Nate was fairly disgusted.

It was also brought up that the OB Kite Festival is on May 13th at Dusty Rhodes Park.

Dan Dennison announced that the Point Loma Association is hosting a town hall forum regarding ‘journalism today’ (wonder if they’ll invite citizen journalists from the OB Rag?), which will be held at the Portuguese Hall on May 16th at 6pm.

Next up on the agenda were reports from the various Board officer’s reports. This went pretty rapidly as there weren’t that many reports. There was the usual push for memberships, only $20 a year. We know that Jon Carr is back as Corresponding Secretary, and Keith Fink, the treasurer, announced that the OBTC has consolidated its various bank accounts, and that now the total is $45,900. This money is used for high school scholarships, the funding for Holiday food and toy packages for 80 local families, and other various programs that they run.

Reports from political reps were next, and Newsom verbally checked off all those who didn’t attend, allowing those who did their brief spotlights. No firefighters were there. And no rep from the Mayor’s office – again. This has been a thorn in the council’s side for months.

Conrad Wear from Councilwoman Lorie Zapf’s office was there, and in rapid-fire fashion, he ticked off a whole host of issues, monies, and other accomplishments of his office. He first spoke about the budget and the $63 million pension cost increase, which has meant cuts across the board. There is a $20 million special fund set aside to maintain all lifeguards, all park and recs and all libraries. Ed Harris, in the back of the audience, told Wear that he believed that 3 seasonal lifeguard positions were cut; Wear will check it out, he responded.

Wear said there is money for the repair of the stairs at the foot of Bermuda; exact dates will be known in a couple of months, he said. Also the completion of the OB Entryway Park is “fully funded”, but there is nothing in the new budget for OB’s lifeguard station, built in 1983.  On May 15th, the City Council is holding its public budget hearing at 6pm, and Wear invited everyone to attend.

The council rep did field a question about short-term rentals, and added that the city’s code enforcement is not currently enforcing the code prohibiting STVRs (City Attorney Mara Elliot had ruled that they are illegal in San Diego) – except for noise complaints – because the Council is currently debating the issue and looking at the 3 options for STVRs being proposed by staff.

There were more reports from reps, but I didn’t really take notes (have  you noticed – the more into the meeting, the less reporting?).

Representatives from the Police Department were up next. A lieutenant spoke (didn’t catch his name) and he introduced Lt. Matt Dobbs who is the new guy for the area from Western Division.

The first lieutenant then made a short presentation about the effectiveness of the police surveillance cameras installed over a year ago, at the request of the Town Council. He said department crime analyses focused on areas around the cameras down at OB’s waterfront and made a comparison with the same time a year earlier. They found there was a 19% drop in crime within a block of the cameras. Exact effectiveness, he said, is difficult to determine or quantify. He did cite one incident anecdotally; last November there had been a victim of an assault under the Pier. Videos were reviewed, the suspect was identified and was then arrested.

Community Relations Dave Surwilo reminded everyone that a shift change is coming up, and that the officers of the different shifts would be moving into the others, but that no new officers were being added. He reiterated that the people and issues of one shift are not the same as the others and that the officers now moving to the day patrol, for example, haven’t been on the day shift for 8 months. He also said that the PD will be “beefing up the beach teams”.

Coming next was a report by Principal Drapeau of the OB Elementary School. Lots going on, special honors, no lay-offs of teachers, but the issue that caught by ear was the School District’s testing of all school water for lead; OB has yet to be tested, and in the meantime, the administrators and staff run all the water fountains for one minute before being used.

Head librarian Matt Beatty spoke next and he recounted an incident at the library that made the news; a homeless guy was bothering other patrons inside when he was asked to leave by staff; once outside however, he pounded on the sturdy front door and threatened to burn the place down.

After very short committee reports – none of which this reporter noted – Newsom guided the meeting into the main agenda item – the public safety forum on policy change to water 911 calls. This part of the meeting was reported on elsewhere yesterday.

The meeting ended with a lot of energy still in the room, as people gathered in little knots with animated discussions, as the metal chairs were stacked. There is a rumor that the issue at the Town Council’s May meeting will be a forum on short-term vacation rentals. Very timely.

About a dozen of us filtered down to the Culture Brewing Co. on Newport – as is now the tradition after OBTC meetings –  including Harris and some Town Council officers and members. We closed out the place (10:30).

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page April 28, 2017 at 3:22 pm

You’ll have to excuse me if I express some extreme skepticism about the cameras leading to an arrest for an assault under the pier. I will look when I’m running tonight, but I wasn’t aware of any cameras that are pointed under the pier. What time of day or night did this occur? How were they able to identify the suspected assailant? Perhaps editor dude, who has a good working relationship with Officer Surwilo, can get some more facts about this incident? Officer Surwilo offered two incidents at an OBPB meeting a year ago as reasons why the cameras were needed but did not provide enough facts to check it out. When I could not find anything in my research, I emailed him and got a brief response that didn’t help, so I emailed him again and got little more. I got the impression that there was not a willingness to provide the whole story so it could be checked out. Now we have a “success” story and I’d like to hear some real specifics rather than a general account of the incident.


A. Pauling April 30, 2017 at 7:32 am

To Geoff’s point; the whole damn camera project, in fact the whole damn city, is being run like the Land of Oz with some Wizard at the controls behind a curtain. What is going on in our city politics is absurd. Pull back the curtain! Someone with a law license and big brass balls ought to sue the hell out of the wizards and get transparency. Another budget shortfall for the city? Does that surprise anybody? Shit.


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