The community’s demographics also include a healthy dose of travelers and transients. Some pass on through. Others stay — oftentimes creating controversy.
It’s a pharmacological mix of free spirits, hometown turf, live-and-let-live mantras and the poisons of life on the street — all injected into a single beach haven — leaving a community to grapple with a means of healing and an antidote.
On April 24, residents, merchants and community leaders gathered to begin the march toward a panacea, declaring to those who thumb their noses at permanent residents, the law and common courtesy that one primary prescription is in order: “If you want to be accepted, you must respect OB.”
The battle cry of the “Respect OB” rally was met largely with praise, although some questioned the lack of voice for the local homeless and traveler population.
One “Respect OB” supporter, Dave K., who declined to give his last name, said he lives on Voltaire Street between Cable Street and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. But not for much longer.
He said he is moving because of the transients, whom he calls “junkies.” He said he’s tired of the nightly disturbances, with people rummaging through his trash outside.
“I’ve had enough,” said Dave. “Those people are total crackheads. They’re mean and nasty, making all kind of noises at night.”
Dave also cited what he called a lack of interest by local law enforcement:
“That’s a big problem, right there,” he said. “They [police] just won’t even come out anymore, especially at night. I’ve called many times to no avail. I’m moving. That’s it for me. It’s sad.”
Police officials were on hand at the April 24 rally.
“We’re here to support the movement ‘Respect OB,‘” said Western Division Lt. Kevin Mayer. “These guys got a lot of great ideas. We have an ongoing partnership between law enforcement and Ocean Beach to improve the community.”
Mayer said he doesn’t necessarily think Ocean Beach has extreme problems with transients.
“We have a specially-assigned team of officers, the OB Task Force [overseen by Sgt. Jack Knish],” said Mayer. “That team is always looking for ways to help people get off the streets. Unfortunately, we’re finding out that a large percentage of transients choose homelessness as their way of life. We call them ‘chronic homeless.’ They don’t want help.”
Mayer said his officers try to balance the public needs and those of transients.
“Of course, sometimes we have to enforce the law when it’s being ignored,” Mayer said. “But our ultimate goal is to help them. We come out with plenty of resources to show people that there are ways to get off the streets, and we are here to help.”
Randy Mason, formerly of National City and Paradise Hills, said Ocean Beach represents his own form of healing. He said he has lived inside his van for three of his nearly five years in OB.
He said he was surprised by the tone of the “Respect OB” rally.
“I expected it to be a typical homeless-bashing,” said Mason. “But it turned out not to be one. It was more of a get-together of concerned citizens, sending their message out to folks. Some people seemed to start going into the direction of accusing the homeless, but nothing was really substantiated.”
Mason said he wondered, however, about the timing of the Tuesday-evening rally, when most of the local homeless go to the church for free food. He also wondered if the deck had been stacked.
“Where was [the homeless representation]?,” he asked. “That could’ve been a perfect time to share a view from the other side. It seemed that organizers only chose their people to speak about their concerns. I would have liked to have been asked to share my concerns. I observed a big difference in statements and attitudes between locals and non-locals.”
He said the problem lies in a lack of communication leading to misconceptions.
Grace, who also asked not to have her last name published, lives in a motorhome in Ocean Beach.
“Because I’m out in the element around the clock, I’m exposed to everything that’s going on” said Grace, “the good, the bad and the ugly. I see a lot of disturbing things, like drug use, alcohol abuse and terrible violence. People constantly beat each other up.”
But Grace said she has also noticed more out-of-town gangs in Ocean Beach that appear to be bringing in more drugs and crime.
According to Grace, there are also other factors at play in the local dynamics.
“There are a lot of people out there with mental disorders, alcohol addiction and drug addiction,” she said. “We need to find a way to help them, rather than just trying to shuffle them around or arrest them every so often. Jail sweeps and radical ticketing are only temporary solutions.
“There is no [homeless] shelter in OB,” Grace said. “There is nothing supervised available to sleep at, no place to gather. This is where we all need to step up. If we would show more respect for each other, people wouldn’t feel the need to drive us out of their town. We all need to show more respect for community property and the people we come in contact with.”
Listening to the rally from across the street at Shades Bistro was a group of six Obecians. They said they unanimously agree with the ideas promoted by the “Respect OB” movement.
Among them was Ruben Flores, a property owner and director of operations for Keen Properties and Rentals:
“I have over 250 properties here,” said Flores. “Rules are always necessary. The guys from OBMA [Ocean Beach MainStreet Association] came door to door in my neighborhood, distributing flyers for this gathering. I love it.”
Not everyone agreed their views were being represented.
Robert Stolz said he has commuted on foot between Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach for the last six years. Originally from Virginia, Stolz said he was shocked by the scant number of homeless present.
Like Mason, Stoltz said he, too, expected the rally to be a homeless-bashing session and was pleasantly surprised.
“Instead, it turned out very civil and very interesting,” he said. “Mainly locals rallying for a safer and cleaner town.”