No, not the killer whale in the 1993 film “Free Willy,” but “Shoeshine” Willie Washington, who was released from City-imposed red tape.
The 79-year-old Marine veteran, who is considered the “honorary” mayor of Ocean Beach, almost lost his business recently due to alleged city code violations.
“Inspectors from the City of San Diego Code Compliance Division approved the clarification of storage use for Willies Shoe Shine Shed in Ocean Beach at 4905 Newport Ave. and Cable Street,” said Washington's landlord, Michael Haas. “The case is now closed, and the shoe shine shed complies with all land-use regulations.”
Former City Councilman Byron Wear is among those who deserve credit for lobbying the city on Washington's behalf.
Haas noted Washington's shed is on the property where Mallory's Furniture Gallery is located on Newport Avenue. Willie operates out of a storage shed and also is responsible for checking vehicles into and out of the parking lot.
“I heard through the grapevine that Mallory had gotten a notice that (Willie's) shed was not in compliance with the City's Municipal Code,” said Haas, adding Mallory had been in the process of attempting to rent a spot in the corner of the lot for a mobile coffee stand.
“When code compliance came down and checked it (parking lot) out, they noticed the shed and said it wasn't in compliance, even though the shed has been there for more than 35 years and there's been no problems with that,” Haas said. “Apparently, they felt (Willie) was running his business out of that shed, so they said he had to work together with the city to come into compliance.”
Haas said the city told Washington he was “supposed to have electrical and plumbing in the building, which also needed to be securely fastened to the ground.”
When he found out about that, Haas said, “I took action with a couple of Facebook groups in Ocean Beach. I got on there and posted about Willie, and someone came up with the idea of starting a Go Fund Me page to raise money for Willie.”
The subsequent petition Haas started on Washington's behalf collected more than $3,000 and garnered more than 900 signatures in a couple of weeks.
With the help of former Council member Wear, who was able to lobby City Hall, Haas said code compliance was able to determine that the building was “just a storage shed and not an official place of business, as people never went into that room. The (city) lifted the citation and (Willie's) going to be able to stay. We were able to resolve it.”
Described as private and low-key, Washington’s been characterized as a “local OB landmark” and is “considered the unofficial Mayor of Ocean Beach.”
“Funds raised will be used to paint and repair the shed and to provide financial assistance for Willie,” Haas concluded.