Riverbank fencing, fish farm, school plans and holiday events are topics at Ocean Beach Town Council meeting
Much of the Ocean Beach Town Council’s October meeting was dedicated to discussion of two proposed developments affecting the local environment.
A plan to fortify fencing on trails along the south bank of the San Diego River estuary in Ocean Beach to limit human activity that can damage the delicate ecosystems there was received enthusiastically, while a proposed offshore aquafarming operation, the largest in California to date, was described as a threat to local wildlife.
In the last Town Council meeting of 2020, San Diego park ranger Araceli Dominguez described harm to habitats in the coastal scrubs, sand dunes and especially the salt marshes along the San Diego River bank east of Dog Beach caused by people inadvertently trampling on the sensitive terrain because the fence is dilapidated.
“The fence right now is just a post with rope,” she said. “It was put [up] prior to 1990, so more than 30 years ago. There are big openings ... some of the rope is missing. So people, I guess, get confused that you can go through there or that their dogs can go into the vegetation.”
A proposal developed by Dominguez and others calls for installation of inexpensive fencing popular in other beach communities that has sturdier posts and slats that allow wildlife to pass, along with more signage.
Dominguez said plants can’t grow in the ground where people constantly step and highlighted bigger problems caused by dogs that people bring with them. She said members of the San Diego River Park Foundation recently counted about 260 piles of dog feces in the area in a single day.
“Dog feces have a bunch of bacteria,” Dominguez said. “If it gets contaminated with water, once the [tide] recedes, all that’s going to go back into the river mouth and then affect our recreation, our health, our dogs’ health and what-not.”
Moreover, she said, unleashed dogs often harass the birds there — some of them threatened species that rest, feed or nest along the banks.
“If a dog is running loose ... if it stomps or tramples on ... the chicklings that cannot fly or on the eggs, that’s really going to cause a problem to our bird population,” Dominguez said.
San Diego Natural Resources Manager Mark Berninger said the city is seeking grant funding for the proposed fence from several state and county sources. Extra fencing would be purchased to replace any sections that are vandalized or otherwise destroyed.
With positive responses from the audience, Town Council President Mark Winkie requested and received a vote of support for the plan from the panel, joining the Ocean Beach Planning Board in its recent approval of the project.
Proposed fish farm
Lucero Sanchez, community policy coordinator for San Diego Coastkeeper, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the county’s waters, gave a presentation to the Town Council on the group’s issues with a 719-acre aquafarm proposed off the San Diego coast that would raise yellowtail fish used in sushi.
The proposed Pacific Ocean AquaFarms would be in federal waters more than three miles from Ocean Beach.
A local research institute has proposed a new fish farm in the ocean off Bird Rock and Mission Bay, and some in the local fishing industry are unhappy about the prospect.
“There are no comprehensive federal regulations,” Sanchez said. “This project is moving in a very different direction than the state, which wishes to be more protective of our environment. Thus, the current administration has placed it in federal waters.”
The project is a venture of the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and Long Beach-based investment group Pacific6 Enterprises, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration serving as lead agency.
Sanchez listed concerns including disease from densely packed yellowtail; the release of excessive fish excrement, antibiotics and other chemicals used, as well as dead fish, into the surrounding ocean water; and the possible killing and behavioral disruption of natural predators such as sea lions and birds that would be attracted to the site.
Noting San Diego County’s 11 designated Marine Protected Areas, Sanchez said: “The plan is three miles away, but that definitely is going to impact those closer California waters. ... The environmental impacts are countless. At 11 million pounds per year [the projected production], the associated impacts would be enormous.”
Sanchez also said the aquafarm would be visible from the beach and is generally opposed by local commercial and sportfishing enterprises.
“We really want to make sure that we stand up for our coast and stand up for the area and say we don’t want this here,” Sanchez said.
School reopening plans
Principal Marco Drapeau of Ocean Beach Elementary School noted that the San Diego Unified School District was planning to reopen classroom instruction as early as Jan. 4, after the holiday break.
The earliest all elementary school students could return to campuses is Jan. 4. For middle and high school students, it’s Jan. 25.
Elementary school students would attend school in person for a half day four days a week, while middle and high school students would attend two days a week for four hours a day. During the other hours, students would continue distance learning from home.
The earliest that elementary students will be allowed to return is Jan. 4, and the earliest that middle and high school students could return is Jan. 25, district officials said. Any parents will be able to keep their children home in distance learning if they wish, officials said.
The plan is being called Phase 2 of the district’s reopening from coronavirus-related campus closures. In the current Phase 1, some elementary students who are experiencing learning loss or who have special needs can meet teachers on campus for limited in-person support sessions.
To lessen possible transmission of the virus during Phase 2, windows and doors in each classroom would remain open to generate better air circulation, Drapeau said.
But that raised alarm among some at the meeting because of the winter reopening.
“My concern is for kids who don’t have enough warm clothing to sit in a classroom during the day,” said Town Council member Arlene Fink. “How is that going to be managed? I’m just really worried.”
Though Drapeau said school furnaces would be turned up, he added that the Ocean Beach Elementary building is old and more difficult to heat.
“The devil is in the details,” Drapeau said. “So part of the planning has to include the cold weather that we’re going to come up against. ... If we have the doors and windows open, even with the heat cranking, we’re going to feel it. So that’s one of those things we have to have a plan for. We have a target [date]. There’s a lot that has to happen before that.”
Town Council community events coordinator Grace Quigley announced the calendar of holiday events that will be held, although in modified form due to the pandemic.
They include the Restaurant Walk Takeout Edition (Nov. 9-12), the Holiday Tree (Dec. 1), the Holiday Parade (to be determined), the OB virtual Gala and Auction (Dec. 12) and the OB Food & Toy Drive (through Dec. 19), which will benefit 150 families, up from last year’s 100.
“We’re going to keep moving forward,” Winkie said. “We’re going to have these events. We’re going to bring some holiday cheer to Ocean Beach and give away food and toys to needy people. That’s what we do this time of year.”
To learn more about upcoming holiday events, visit obtowncouncil.org.