Police Trailer Removed From OB Pier Parking Lot After 20 Years

by on April 17, 2019 · 12 comments

in Ocean Beach

Photo by Tony de Garate

By Tony de Garate

When word got out that the Ocean Beach police trailer was going to be removed from its long-standing spot in the parking lot at the foot of Newport Avenue, OB’s most notorious spot for aggressive panhandling, open drug use and violence, some were skeptical when the announced date was April 1.

But it was no hoax. Bert’s Office Trailers brought a giant flatbed and carried away their trailer as advertised, ending a police brick-and-mortar presence that, in all, had lasted nearly five decades in this funky beach community.

For nearly 20 years, the idea was simple. Give police a space in Ocean Beach to work on a report, stow gear, microwave a snack, plug in a computer or just use the restroom, and the increased presence would have a scarecrow effect. Some say the idea came from convenience stores advertising “free coffee for cops.” Who’s going to hold up your gas station if police are likely to come around for a free cup of joe?

The trailer was installed in 1999, when police lost a 29-year lease and were forced to give up a community relations storefront at 5025 Newport Ave., a location that has since become a barbecue restaurant. Residents, visitors and merchants complained the sea wall at the foot of Newport Avenue — a favorite hangout for the homeless — was increasingly riddled with crime, according to a fact sheet from the Ocean Beach Mainstreet Association (OBMA), an organization that represents more than 500 members. Bert’s offered the trailer for a mere $200 per month (eventually upped to $500), and the OBMA readily agreed to foot the bill. Illegal activity decreased immediately, OBMA said.

In the long term, there was a $4.56 million plan to replace the aging lifeguard tower on nearby Abbott Street with a structure for joint lifeguard-police use. But in the interim, many community leaders agreed the trailer would work nicely as a temporary police outpost.

The trailer was not without its detractors. Some charged it was an eyesore, took up valuable parking and hindered views of the break from nearby Surf Check Alley. Even some among the Ocean Beach Planning Board (OBPB), a locally elected body sanctioned by the city to make land-use and quality-of-life recommendations, had misgivings about the trailer’s “temporary” status. When it came time to renew the Ocean Beach Community Plan, a document intended to guide growth for 20 years, language was included calling for the trailer’s removal.

But the biggest threat to the trailer emerged in 2012, when the California Coastal Commission, responding to citizen complaints, issued a Notice of Violation and told the city to get a permit. The commission said legitimate concerns had been raised about public access and visual impacts and chided the city for allowing it to be placed without permission. In its biggest eyeroll, the Commission rejected the city’s contention that a structure unmoved for 12 years could be considered “temporary.” In 2014, with the somewhat reluctant support of the OBPB, police obtained a permit that would be good until March 18, 2019.

For the past two years, discussions had been ongoing with police about renewing the permit, OBMA Executive Director Denny Knox said March 27 at the monthly meeting of the Ocean Beach Town Council. But during that time, it appeared OBMA board members were growing tired of funding the full cost of the trailer — which included not just rent but also utilities, waste disposal and insurance.

Last November, a request to help out with funding made its way to the agenda of the OBPB. No action was taken, but Craig Klein, OBPB member and Newport Avenue property owner, predicted dire consequences if the trailer were removed, even invoking a 1980s, post-apocalyptic movie starring Mel Gibson to make his point. “If the trailer is gone,” Klein said, “that parking lot is going to turn into even more of a Mad Max (Beyond) Thunderdome than it is today.”

But in February, with just one month remaining before the permit’s expiration, the OBMA Board of Directors voted to abort the effort. The board decided its budget would be better spent on efforts like its Clean and Safe Program, which provides things like graffiti abatement, sidewalk cleaning and private security. Furthermore, with the increased reliance on mobile devices, it seemed police were finding fewer reasons to get out of their cars and use the trailer, Knox said.

“Times changed,” she said. “Burt’s gave us a fantastic deal, (but it was still) way too expensive for what it was bringing us.”

Community Services Officer David Surwilo told the Town Council police will still use the parking lot as a command post during events like the OB Street Fair and Chili Cook-off, utilizing canopies, quads and recreational vehicles.

“The amount … we were using it compared to the past just didn’t justify it anymore,” Surwilo said. “It was a burden (OBMA) had shared on behalf of the community for way too long, and for that we thank them.”

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

OBKid April 17, 2019 at 1:02 pm

this was the worst winter of the past 10 years at the base of the pier as it relates to homeless outside travelers, panhandling, violence, drug use, litter, etc.

Don’t think the trailer has done much, but it was something.

Let’s face it the pier and seawall (and run down silver spray apts, run down empty lot south of pier, broken stairs leading to cliffs, etc.) all look like absolute garbage and impact the quality of life in OB.

Why must our waterfront look like a derelict lawless land of destitute junkies??


Donna Lee April 18, 2019 at 4:39 pm

You OB Kid are really neubies to OB community, it’s too bad, if you think this has been the worst wunter in the 10 years you have been living in OB. I lived in OB for
years almost 20 years, ’93- ’13, rented my home for 7 years and owned for 13 years. The “wall” area at the foot of Newport Ave has always had it’s share of visitors, travelers and resident homeless people and always seemed to sustain little of the ugliness you say infilitrated the area this past winter. Panhandling,violence, drug use, littering, yeah these may have been evident in this area for years but not as obscene as you make it out to be. In the 20 or so years I lived in OB I can ‘t think of even one reallyhorrific scene at the “wall”. As far as drug use goes, there is far more alcohol intoxication there than any other substance and it’s not surprising when you can look up Newport Ave for 3-4 blks and only see bars and clubs, which is where people with alcohol are strolling down to check out the “wall” during band breaks, sports event halftimes or just jonesing for a “smoke” outside of the smoke free establishments.
I say OB Kid if you feel the look surrounding the “wall” are bad and ugly, the apts, broken stairs leading to cliffs(I don’t know what stairshere??) all look like absolute garbage and impact the quality of life here in OB, I think you are a little bit off here. For one thing how would all these problems of yours be remedied by having the cop trailer returned? No way, all the things you find so distasteful are repairs that are needed to the infastructure of the community and SD and also the property owners themselves who don’t to well in maintaining their property.
If these things are that important to you why don’t you get involved with the governing people in OB and the SD City Council and have them take a look at what iprovements are sorely needed inMY OB!



OBKid April 19, 2019 at 11:43 am

Not a newb and I still call OB home. This winter was bad – ask any local still living here. It has been nothing like the years you lived here – maybe the late 90s are a good comparison.

The vagrancy is not caused by bar patrons on smoke breaks, that is nonsense.

No the police trailer did nothing to stop this and wouldn’t, BUT look at how derelict the area has become – sea spray apartments look terrible, empty lot on the ocean in front of sea spray looks terrible, stairs from there down to the cliffs is broken/closed/looks terrible, pier has been closed for months – it’s not wonder the criminal activity and shady characters are through the roof.

In the “OB society” ‘s efforts to strangle any kind of growth or development they have left a void right where the heart of our community should be.

Long story short – the pier area and boardwalk look like absolute trash so don’t be surprised that people treat our community like a garbage can.


Bearded OBcean April 19, 2019 at 1:42 pm

At no point is this even a response to OBKid. We are all worse off for having read it. May God have mercy on our souls.


Geoff Page April 18, 2019 at 9:03 am

I worked on that wall when it was built many years ago. I was a backhoe operator and I dug much of the trench the wall was placed in. The wall panels were 15 tall at least. They had this odd shape at the top and I asked the superintendent why they were shaped that way. If you look on the side facing the water, you’ll see the upper part is curved. The idea was that the water would hit the wall and be thrown back toward the ocean. His last remark to me was, “We’re just building a home for the homeless.” This was either the late 70s or early 80s. His prediction was spot on. I’ll never forget one morning as I reported to work and saw a man and a woman on top of the pump house. They were facing each other and he was holding her elbows as she crouched and pissed on the roof. The homeless problem around the pier has been around for a very long time. The trailer had no effect on this. Modify the wall so no one can sit on it, that might help. It would be a shame for regular folks who would sit and watch the ocean but fewer and fewer do because of the scene down there now.


Donna Lee April 18, 2019 at 4:03 pm

As a long time residentof SD, specifically OB, all I can say to Geoff Page’s comment is you and I think pretty much alike. There is nothing wrong with the “wall” ast the beach, near the pier. With all the years of weathering it has endured it has come out in pretty good shape. As far as it being nothing but an eyesore and haven for the homeless, I say so what; sure there have been instances like you mentioned about but people just arbitraiolly relieving themselves is not common and rare and why would this be necessary when there are public restrooms about a blk away that are always open.
As far as modifing the wall to keep the homeless from sitting on and along it is selfish and stupid; homeless people aren’t the only people that come to this aream now regular residents of OB and visitors to SD …won’t be able to sit a spell on this wall, either.


Dave April 18, 2019 at 11:13 pm

I don’t know how anyone can think what’s happening at the wall is new, or in any way affected by the police trailer. Hell, the wall is where I went back in the 90s as a kid to meet sketchy people and buy drugs…now that I’m officially old and a much less prolific user of said drugs it certainly seems more sketchy to me, but I’m able to comprehend that while I may have changed, the wall abides.

Also, the police trailer did nothing. I know it’s gone now, but my sentiment still kind of applies: the next time I see anyone using it, that’ll be the first time.


OBKID April 19, 2019 at 11:50 am

The Wall Abides…Amen.

But it doesn’t have to – how the heart of OB is still such a mess I have no idea.


thequeenisalizard April 19, 2019 at 9:22 am

Gee, now that the trailer is gone who pray tell, is going to monitor all those beach cameras that no one wanted except the Merchants on Newport. I’d really like to know how many crimes were stopped by using the cameras that wasted everyones money, rather than be used to “beautify” OB?


triggerfinger April 19, 2019 at 5:08 pm

The beach cameras are supposedly connected to a computer system in the lifeguard tower. Whether they are even in operation, who knows, the police sure aren’t saying.


Tony de Garate April 22, 2019 at 10:42 am

And what’s going to happen to the cameras that were attached to that trailer (I counted three at one point)? I do recall the plan was to install at least 10 cameras along the shoreline and I would think they’re now short of that number with the removal of the trailer.


Vern April 22, 2019 at 2:23 pm

“… Police lieutenant William Carter said the cameras are fixed in position and police do not have capabilities to pan or zoom, with adjustments in focus accessible only to the private contractor who installed the system.

Authorities say the system won’t typically be monitored and that recordings from the cameras will last from a few days to two weeks; older recordings will be erased to free up memory unless they’re needed to investigate a crime.

Carter did hold open the possibility that on busy beach holidays someone may be assigned to monitor the feed to better direct police on the ground to trouble spots…”



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