Early History of OB Rag Reflected the New Wave of Grassroots Activism in Ocean Beach

by on September 17, 2020 · 2 comments

in History, Ocean Beach

As we continue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Rag, we bring forth some of the early history of the underground newspaper – whose pages reflected what was going on in Ocean Beach in the early 1970’s. From the Save Collier Park campaign to the birth of OB’s “alternatives” to the anti-development movement, the OB Rag reported on the changes OB was going through. A new wave of civic activism and hippie businesspeople.

The volunteer and dedicated staff succeeded in helping to fuel the community organizing in OB during the first half of the seventies, taking on the establishment and giving voice to the burgeoning counter-culture.

The Collier Park Battle

One of the first major issues the OB Rag jumped into wholeheartedly was to join up with a new OB environmental group, OB Ecology Action, and lead a fight to save Collier Park, an urban patch of land in northeastern OB. Ecology Action.

Rag staffer Bo Blakey convinced editor Frank Gormlie that the paper had to get involved in the campaign to save the park. Blakey had been a veteran of the People’s Park battle up in Berkeley — and Gormlie had been at the take-over of “Chicano Park” on April 20, 1970, when the Barrio Logan community physically occupied a vacant piece of CalTrans land, turning it into what’s now a world-famous park.

Overlay of old Thomas Bros. map on recent Google map

The Rag staff then linked up with Ecology Action – led by Tom Bailey, the Ferris’ – a young professional couple -, and David Diehl, and began running stories and photos of the sordid plot to sell off public land for apartments. It was the campaign to “Save Collier Park.”

Collier Park – or at least the western portion – was the battleground. It was part of a large section of land that had been dedicated to “the children of San Diego” by a turn-of-the-century developer, D. Charles Collier – the real founder of Ocean Beach. According to the OB Rag (Mid-January 1972, Vol. 2, No. 4):

The land, which had been donated to the city of San Diego by David Charles Collier with the express purpose that it be turned into a park “for the children of San Diego”, was dedicated for park use in 1909 when the City Council passed ordinance 3664. The park, however, was not developed and in 1956 proposition L went on the ballot and voters passed the proposition for what they thought was the transfer of some property from Collier Park to the San Diego Unified School District. The deceptive wording on the ballot had, if effect, “un-dedicated” the park land. At the time the city promised concentrate on building another park at Robb Field.

With the electoral “authorization”, the City of San Diego carved up the land, enlarged the boulevard through the middle, handed off a good-sized section for the creation of Collier Junior High (later Correia Middle School), another chunk for the YMCA, and the western portion would be sold off by for the development of apartments. In the meantime, the land was vacant and unkempt. The Rag, in issue after issue, using photos of apartments juxtaposed with views of parkland, pushed the fight to save the parkland.

Opposition to the Sale of Collier Park Grows

Opposition to the sale of the land had been growing. In May 1970 the OB Town Council passed a resolution to pressure the city council to re-dedicate the land as park. The Rag began to spread the word in its pages with the December 1970 issue. In mid-January of the new year, OB Ecology Action jumped into the fray, as a campaign developed for parks for both the east and west portions of the area. The Peninsula YMCA and the Point Loma Garden Club climbed on the park wagon. At the January 21, 1971, meeting of the Town Council’s Board of Directors, then director Ray Perine, declared if any apartments were built in Collier West, “the town will rise up” and force their removal. (OB Rag, Late January 1972, Vol 2, No 5.) Yet, there wasn’t consensus throughout the community.

However, not all OB residents were working for the combined land to be park sites. In early February (1971), it became clear that Peninsulans, Inc., the Point Loma/ OB business-realty advisory group to the city council, headed by Helen Fane, was attempting to sabotage the movement for a Collier West park by intimatating (sic) and threateneng (sic) OB Ecology Action nad (sic) the Point Loma Garden Club into withdrawing their support from the western side. Fane, as president, dictatorially squashed discussion of Collier West in Pen.,Inc. meetings.

On February 18, the OBTC passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on any sales by the city on portions of Collier West.

Tensions were rising. In early March, the city property department recommended to the city manager that the City sell or lease the western side. In response, the Ocean Beach Recreation Board voted on March 10, to recommend that both sides of the Collier land be designated as park.

Three days later, on March 13th, an all-night vigil was held in Collier West by residents, trying to bring more public attention to the pending sale or lease. Under intense community pressure, the City of San Diego’s Park and Recreation Board on March 17th voted to retain both sections as natural park land. Finally, the issue went before the City Council. The Council ordered the City Manager to make a recommendation, who in turn, ordered the Recreation Department to do a study. The issue was to return to the Council in early April.

collierpark1.jpgcollierpark3.jpgCampaign Becomes a Riot

The campaign to save the parkland was brought to a head, when on March 28th, San Diego police attacked a demonstration in support of the park. A large demonstration in support of the park — but also against the Vietnam War was planned – for weeks. Rag staffers and Ecology Action teamed up with a group of anti-war students and faculty from San Diego State to play this duel demo: it was to be an anti-war rally, then a march up to the park, where free food was to be distributed, music provided by a local band, and everyone was supposed to then lend a hand and clear the park area of debris.

Hundreds of people gathered on the grassy area next to north beach – now Dog Beach – for the event. After speakers, guerrilla theatre, and songs, the crowd very peacefully marched up the sidewalks of Voltaire Street to the park. It was about a mile from the beach to the intersection of Soto and Greene Streets. As the hundreds of people filtered into the park, the free food line and a rock band were set up.

Text & photo montage, OB Rag Vol 2, No 8 - early March 1972

Images from clean-up week after the Collier Park Riot.

collierpark4.jpgThen the famous Collier Park Riot broke out when a platoon of San Diego police officers charged the crowd and broke it up. However, rock-throwning and other forms of street fighting continued on into the afternoon.  Fifty people were eventually arrested. The riot was on a weekend. That Wednesday, a picket line circulated in front of the OB police store front on Newport, protesting the police attack. On the following Sunday – April 4th, a week after the riot, several hundred people returned to the vacant land with shovels, picks, wheelbarrows, flowers and plants and finally cleared the park of debris and started a park. The Rag reported later, ten months after the riot (Vol. 2, No.5):

After the demonstration/riot the city dispelled any talk of sales or leases and OB was flooded with rumors that our government had finally come to the conclusion that Collier West should be a park. Part of its fence was taken down and children began to plan (sic) on the land.

In August, four months after it was due, the city manager made his report. The only advice given was for the eastern side to be designated a park site. Collier West was noticeably absence (sic) in any recommendation. The council so designated Collier East. Collier West remained in limbo, in a ‘hold’. No plans for a western park were made. In fact sometime around November of ’71 the sale of Collier West almost became a reality. The details of this are known to only a select few.

Eventually, the City relented, and built a park. A huge grassy lawn was put in. Donated playground equipment – since eroded and removed – was installed. And to this day the park exists, in northeast OB, a block north of Voltaire and bordered by Soto and Greene Streets – next to the Community Garden, and adjacent to the Native Plant Garden.

OB Rag V3No1

The OB People’s Rag, Vol. 3, No. 1 – September 1972

By Fall of 1972 the OB Rag and Other Ocean Beach Alternatives Were All in Full Swing

By Fall of 1972, it was the OB Rag’s second birthday – the beginning of its third year, and the community-wide effort to develop alternative institutions was in full swing.

The OB Community School was a year old. A childcare center had arisen among needy parents who were assisted by activists. The OB People’s Food Store had opened in a storefront.

And finally a new grassroots urban planning organization was in the process of forming, which eventually paved the way for a community frontal attack on the developer-driven Precise Plan.

Again, the Rag was on the front lines promoting all of these alternatives, as many of the paper’s staff were involved in these efforts. By now, the paper had taken on more a “professional” look; it was printed on newsprint with 16 pages – for a while it even had justified columns – but usually the text was simply typed out on typewriters. It had more photos and local news, along with poetry and artwork by local residents.

For example, the “birthday issue” contained a half page of local news, two-thirds page of national & international news, a half page of “the people answer” – a periodic poll by Rag staffers with photos and direct quotes of those polled; a page of local poetry, called “the Poet’s Circle”; a back page devoted to a detailed daily calendar – called “Goodvibes” and a “community bulletin board” of classifieds.

Articles included one by Kathy Doyle on her recent ‘natural child-birth’, a “open letter to the male residents of OB” about rampant male chauvinistic behavior in the community; several pages devoted to a Rag staffer’s personal account of the 1972 Republican Convention protests in Miami; an interview with a local progressive concert producer; and finally a fictional piece about the disappearance of the OB Pier.

SStaff Meetingignificantly, this issue also contained two pages worth of advertisements – a clear indication that the paper was being sustained by the businesses that catered to the hip and young. The paper was also sustained by donations — cans were set up adjacent to stacks of issues in 18 stores within the beach area.

The Rag was publishing 5000 to 10,000 copies twice monthly (or at least that was the goal) and was being distributed throughout OB, in markets and stores — at one point, it was in 18 local businesses – and informally on a couple of college campuses, and in a few stores in Mission and Pacific Beach.

Importantly, the Rag had established itself as a regular periodical, and its pages contained many ads from local businesses – as mentioned – but this was very significant as it meant that the “hip-eoise”, the hip small to medium businesses, supported the paper and perceived the paper as reaching its potential clientele.

As part of the Rag’s philosophy, issues were mailed to jail and prison inmates free of charge. In addition, the paper was tied into a couple of news services, including LNS -Liberation News Service – an information distribution system outside mainstream media that regularly sent the Rag news, photos, and graphics pertaining to national and international issues as viewed from a progressive perspective.

 Decision-making on the Rag’s staff was usually by consensus, as the core folks worked together as a collective. At staff meetings, still held at someone’s house, while they consumed gallons of coffee, the collective discussed future articles and other material, tasks divided-up, and then usually everyone would hand address copies going out to the growing subscriber list.

After the articles and graphics were completed, it would usually all come together in one long all-nighter, with the entire production staff joining in to do the final editing, typing, and cutting and pasting.

As the Rag evolved, it went from the use of student newspaper lay-out facilities at UCSD to owning its own light tables and having its own office – major evolutionary stages. These were the days of old school lay-out production, pre-computer and desktop publishing, where sharp x-acto knifes and messy glue were the tools by which publications were crafted.

Once finally laid-out, “put to bed” as it was called, the production staff would collapse from exhaustion, and the designated drivers – the ones who drove the copy to the printer – would take over. At one point, newsprint became so expensive, staffers were forced to drive up to Riverside to have the publication printed – what with the paper’s shoe-string budget.

As soon as the paper was published, staff members and a few trusted friends would grab stacks and stand at busy Newport Avenue corners and in front of OB’s then two major markets, Safeway and Mayfair, selling copies. The Rag was becoming popular and was being supported by the community with donations, subscriptions, and written contributions.

Free School Begins Second Year

OB’s free school, the OB Community School, began its second year in the Fall of 72. The local branch of a network including hundreds of free schools across the state and nation, OB’s school had become a non-profit corporation with state tax exemption, and was granting legal high school diplomas. Run by a collective that tried to make decisions on a consensual basis, the free school had opened up in an older, one-story house on Voltaire Street. Dennis Doyle, Tom Kozden, David Diehl and Linda Taggart were some of the original members of the collective and nominal “teachers.” In a Rag article, the collective ran a statement:

The sun is rising again as O.B. Community School begins our second year of alternative community education. We are not the ordinary school. We are a place where learning takes place. Learning how to live in harmony with life. Not how to control or be controlled. That is our theory, that is our structure, that is our life.

We are an alternative to the public school. Our students are not students, our teachers are not teachers. We are all friends and we depend on that relationship for all our mutual learning. We talk with each other about our desires, our problems and our adventures. We learn about ourselves and life by being together and sharing.

We do things. We garden, we build structures, we travel, we become a part of our community. You have probably seen us before.. We have been to city council sessions, to the libraties and bookstores, we have picnics at the ocean and the parks. We get involved in our community and learn first hand.

We are a small school – and more important we are a happy school. We like to make new friends. Soon we will be starting a new school year. If you are interested in becoming a part of a significant, for real learning situation, come over and talk with us.

high-rise-rally.jpg

OB Free School & Ecology Action take to the streets in anti-high rise demonstration, fall 1972.

Food Co-op Moves Into Store Front

After about a year of being a food co-op operating out of sheds and houses, the OB Food Co-op in August 1972 made a huge move and opened up as an actual food store – still a cooperative – in an older house at what was then 4859 Voltaire Street. With regular hours, a garden in the backyard, shelves and counters built by local carpenters donating their skills, and staffed by volunteers, OB People’s Food Store sold inexpensive organic foods. Its opening had been a major leap and accomplishment for the alternative network in Ocean Beach, not to say a major plus for the community – as there was no other organic food store around. The Rag wholeheartedly supported it, and in the birthday issue, ran a page and half article about the store opening and encouraged people to shop at the storefront. The article recounted:

The original food co-op had emphasized 5 basic principles, which were: (1) break down the alienation that exists in our community; (2) Do away with hierarchy; (3) Operate on non-profit basis; (4) Give the small farmer and gardeners a chance to sell their produce; (5) Try to offer organically grown food at the lowest prices possible.

At the outset, the store could not afford to pay for any staff. Some volunteers were “paid” with food, but the non-profit market only marked wholesale prices up by 20% as a general rule. Basic items, like bread and milk, had only a few cents added to their wholesale cost. Its plans were enumerated:

Soon the OB Store, if every thing goes well, will be able to drop down to 15% or even 10% mark up. The store wants to charge just enough to support three or four full time people, who get just enough to eat and a place to live.

The store’s basic aim is to get away from the corporate stores and agribusiness; at the same time supporting small farmers and OB people who want to sell their garden crops through the store. The store collective also will be making homemade granola and yogurt.

OB People’s Food Store
4859 Voltaire Avenue, Ocean Beach California
Volunteers in front of People’s, c. 1972)

Image of the plans for OB’s waterfront – from original OB Precise Plan

The Anti-Development Movement Intensifies

Back in the early 1970s, the ecology movement was very young. The first Earth Day was held in June 1970. Just eight years earlier in 1962, biologist Rachel Carson had published her “Silent Spring” in which she described a possible environmental scenario that due to the collapse of the songbird populations from DDT and other poisons, the spring was “silent.” This first inkling of environmental consciousness in this country began the transformation of how we think about and act within our ecology.

One of the ways this new ecologically-minded thinking took hold in Southern California was in a high-tide of pressure for public access to the Pacific Ocean. There were plenty of areas where there were wall-to-wall expensive homes that literally sealed off from the public direct access to the coves, cliffs, rocks, sand and water of the coastline. Clamor for this increased public access to the coast developed in San Diego as well., resulting in the passage of the 30 Foot Height Limit in 1972. Led by a genuine grass-roots movement to place it on the ballot, the height limitation was voted into policy for the City. This tremendous victory for quality of life politics meant that for a certain yardage from any coastline or waterway, no buildings could be built above 30 feet – or roughly three stories. This was very significant for future development at the coast and in Ocean Beach.

Yet for most of 1972, there was no 30 foot height limit, and there was no OB Planning Board, there weren’t too many controls or restrictions on development, and there weren’t the widely held beliefs that most hold today about saving the environment, preserving openspace, recycling, about global warming.

However, Ocean Beach was in front of most communities in terms of the ecology. There had been OB Ecology Action Committee, begun in 1970, that had been instrumental in halting the jetty project; there was the on-going movement to save Collier Park; there was a general dislike for higher density, traffic, etc., and by the point in the early seventies, there was a resistance growing to the urban plan for Ocean Beach, the Precise Plan, which was promulgated by a financial elite association.

One of the first organizational manifestations of OB’s resistance to the Precise Plan, was the formation of the OB Planning Organization (OBPO). The main contribution that this group provided to the community was to conduct a door-to-door poll of OB residents to garner their opinions about a variety of development-related issues.

As the mid-June 1972 Rag (Vol.II, No.12) reported:

The following statistics were taken from the survey that was conducted by the Ocean Beach Planning Organization (OBPO). Results were released this past April 1972. 8,500 households in Ocean Beach were hand-delivered the surveys and 2,805 of those surveys were returned, i.e., a return of 33%, an outstanding return by any statisticians analysis. The percentages given below are from those surveys that were returned.

  • 90.4% like small town character of Ocean Beach;
  • 83.8% feel there should be population limit in Ocean Beach;
  • 90.0% felt “high rise” should be prohibited in Ocean Beach;
  • 87.3% favor a moratorium on all new building construction in Ocean Beach until a comprehensive plan is approved by a majority of the residents.

Flushed with such substantial support among OB residents for the anti-development positions of grassroots activists, as clearly evidenced by the survey’s results, there was a surge in educational and organizing efforts by OBPO, Ecology Action and the Rag. In October 1972, the Rag – in conjunction with the ecology group – published a special issue, slim but on special paper, which was more of a broadside against four particular apartment developments either then under construction or soon to be.

It was a call to arms for the community to come to terms with the rate and scope of apartment development. It decried the evictions of those whose homes were being replaced by apartments. On the front cover was a mock “special invitation to land speculators and developers” to come to OB and make big money by investing in high density development, and “just buy the land, evict the present occupants, (mostly working people, retired elderly, and ‘hippies’), sell their outdated houses to the Mexicans, then build on up to your heart’s content.” The Special Issue was hand-delivered to every house from the beach to Ebers Street.

obraggreenobswindows.jpg

OB Rag collage of “Green OB’s” in windows of various houses and apartments.

The “Green OB”

Inside the special October ‘72 issue was a loose poster-sized sheet, blank on one side. The other side had the large OB initials popularized by the Rag, with the peace sign inside and fist gripping the top of the”O” , in green. It was the “Green OB” – made famous over time by residents and activists. The special issue proclaimed: “Help keep OB Green – Display the Green OB”.

There had been an earlier version of the Green OB, distributed by a group calling itself the OB Collective. In May of that year, they put out their version with the intent it was a “people-helping-people” poster, as reported by the mid-December OB Rag (Vol.III, No.6):

the green OB was to have been a “people-helping people” trip. A person who was getting hassled bay the Police could come to a nearby Green OB house and get a witness and support, a woman who was getting hassled by some man could seek refuge in a Green OB house. If your dog had just been run over, if your child had just banged up her knee, help could be found in a home displaying the Green OB; hopefully most houses. Unfortunately, the project never received the necessary energy and was put aside.

But the Rag announced “a rebirth” of the Green OB, as so many had been distributed in the Special Rag issue, that dozens of the posters were been displayed in windows across OB. It was now being a symbol of “community support and togetherness, and unity against the developers.” The Green OB had be come a symbol of OB’s solidarity against development. A windshield survey was once conducted by Charlie Marshall and Frank Gormlie, and they counted about 80 posters being visibly displayed, mainly in windows on residences and apartments throughout OB.

Postscript: The Green OB has lived on. It is embodied in the masthead of the blog you are currently reading. It was also adopted by OBGO (Ocean Beach Grassroots Organization) during its run of the early years of the new millennium.

From the OB Rag underground newspaper of the 1970s back to the OB Rag blog of today.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Peter Bohmer September 17, 2020 at 7:30 pm

Very important history! It would be great to get it out for general distribution in OB.

Reply

Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie September 21, 2020 at 9:43 am

Michael Steinberg left the following memories:

OB Daze Michael Steinberg Black Rain Press

I first got ahold of the OB Rag in late 73. A high school buddy from Connecticut had to go in the Navy because he got a low draft lottery number (mine was 288, how about you?). He invited us to come visit him in San Diego. We drove there non stop in less than 3 days, including a detour to the Grand Canyon. We were in our mid 20s. We got off 8 in OB.
Turns out my buddy Buzz was working as a teacher at the NTC. I checked out a few of his classes. The Navy was having a problem with low morale and hired Stanford to find out why. They concluded it was because the Navy sucked. So the Navy set up what they called sensitivity classes. That’s what Buzz was conducting. He’d play a Jimi Hendrix song, his version of Star Spangled Banner, or some movie and then ask the jarheads what it was about. His students were required to take the class but didn’t want to be there. Neither did Buzz but he did want to be a teacher. So he’d just get blank stares. Then he’d explain, in a low voice, that the song or movie was a critique of the Vietnam War.
Buzz lived near OB, so we spent his time off at the beach, going to the Strand to see Billy Jack and a costume party on Halloween there. On weekends we’d explore Cali, Death Valley one time, climbing Mt. Whitney another.
All this is to say how I literally got ahold of my first OB Rag. The story I remember was about how the US was getting ready to invade some other country at the behest of Henry Kissinger (written by Helvarg maybe?).
I only stuck around a few months then headed up to the Bay Area and then back East.
I ended up in Baltimore where I helped start a food coop, Uncle Sam’s Belly, and worked at Bread and Roses Coffeehouse. There I met MES and eventually we decided, at my suggestion, to move to OB. I dug up one of those Rags and wrote a letter to its address inquiring about housing. Not too long later we heard from Norma and Bill Eddy. We talked and they invited us to move in with them on Cape May. Fond memories of our Dinner Collective and Denny scolding Cow Kid that if he didn’t behave he’d make him get a haircut like Bill Eddy’s.
Fast forward to 1984. I’d been living in SF and decided to return to OB. I got a job at OB Peoples and moved into Rock House, which had all different residents. I left for a summer to visit Ireland and support the freedom struggle there. When I got back I got a call from Denny letting me know Rock House had been evicted but that he had saved my stuff.
Upon my return, thanks to George Kats, I moved into the house on Muir that Maria and Austin had lived in, and where Billy Nessen, who started Rebel Bakers was already living. While there we started the San Diego Military Monitoring Project, which investigated the involvement of the US in Central American repression, the development of new cruise missiles, and the presence of
nuclear weapons on North Island (Helvarg started that).
I’d been in that house before, doing childcare for Tony and Domi, which involved not getting too carried away during their wrestling matches. Frank lived across the street and I got involved in contributing to The Whole Damn Pieshop and attending great parties at his house, which I somewhat remember.
Starting in 2014 I began Nuclear Shutdown News, a monthly report that chronicles the decline and fall of the nuclear power industry, including the San Onofe nuke. I would always send these to Frank at the Rag, and after a while he invited me to make it a regular thing, which continues.
These days I live at the Purple Rose Collective in SF, and when I’m at the beach here (which is called Ocean Beach) it’s not unusual to see a vehicle with a bumper sticker still proclaiming, “Happiness Is in Your Reach, When You Live in Ocean Beach.”
Congrats on 50 Big Ones for the OB Rag, with many more to come!

Reply

Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: