Interim District 2 Councilman Ed Harris, with his “aide” (young daughter Morgan) in tow, held an informal coffee outreach on May 31 at Coffee Method on Niagara Avenue in Ocean Beach to step up engagement between residents and city government.
Ocean Beach librarians turned out to pitch the lifeguard-turned-councilman on a plan to expand the outdated facility at 4801 Santa Monica Ave.
“We have the oldest library in the city,” said one librarian, as she unrolled a floor plan done for a revision of the facility, which she said has great potential to become a meeting place for the entire community.
Harris directed her to contact his staff and set up a meeting to talk about how to proceed from here.
One woman broke down in tears as she described a homeless man she’d encountered who voluntarily does his own cleanups around town.
“I wish there was something you could do to help this man,” she said.
Harris was sympathetic.
“Our approach is that we need to provide as much assistance as we can, but it’s not an easy solution,” Harris said. “There are big problems with mental health.”
He said “We need to find a balance” regarding giving handouts versus real help aimed at improving peoples’ lives.
Harris answered questions from all comers, thanking the dozen or so who turned out for sharing a weekend morning with him.
Asked if it will be hard to go back to being a lifeguard when his interim term as councilman expires in December, Harris said, “No” emphatically, with a smile and laugh.
Might Harris seek something in the way of higher government office at the state level?
“I’d be reluctant to seek a position that would take me out of San Diego,” said the veteran lifeguard. “I’m raising these guys (children). That’s my top priority. And I’ve got another five years on the beach and I plan to finish and enjoy that.”
Harris said he’s had a fun life, traveled a lot and done some purposeful things.
“That’s the OB way to live,” pointed out a constituent.
A former Marine, Harris talked about how he got involved in politics.
“In the Marines, you learn to take care of the people who work for you,” he said. “I had a lifeguard I guarded with for 15 years who tore his hip and had to have it replaced after a cliff rescue. The state put him on disability and took his benefits away from his family. If he’d been on that same rescue as a policeman or firefighter, [the family would] be covered.”
That led to lobbying and successful legislation being enacted in Sacramento to put lifeguards on par with police and fire personnel in benefits compensation. It also led to Harris becoming a labor representative to the city for 90 lifeguards.
Asked what his legacy will be, Harris replied, “I’m here to keep the roads getting paved, pipes getting replaced and keeping utilities undergrounding moving forward.”
It’s the little things he’ll be able to do in the limited time he has that will really matter to Harris.
“There’s a stop sign to make crossing safer near Loma Portal Elementary that people have been trying to get since my kid was in kindergarten, and they’re in fourth grade now,” he said. “We’ve got that moving forward and it’s on the 90-day list and will be installed.”
Harris said he’d also very much like see a reduction of plastic bags and other single-use plastics, adding, “It’s going to happen before I’m out.”
The councilman said the plastic “problem” hit him — literally — in the face when he swam into a black plastic bag out in the ocean recently.
Harris said San Diego police officers are underpaid, noting that’s become a top priority being addressed citywide.
Queried as to whether he had a take on the controversy over the view of some that SeaWorld San Diego is exploiting orcas in its live shows, Harris replied, “I can’t read a whale’s mind. I’m not a trainer. But SeaWorld is a huge economic contributor to San Diego and helps a lot of stray birds and marine mammals.”
Is it a good thing that the ethical treatment of marine mammals is in the conversation?
“People pushing back on all sorts of issues allows society to meet somewhere in the middle,” Harris said. “As long as we do that, I think we can keep moving forward.”