Ocean Beach Town Council candidates make their pitches as board presses for action on sidewalk vending
A candidates forum featuring 17 aspirants vying for eight seats on the Ocean Beach Town Council’s board of directors dominated the board’s opening meeting of 2021.
The online meeting Jan. 27 also delved into several local issues with city government representatives.
Though winners of the board seats will be announced a day or two after balloting is closed Friday, Feb. 5, and will attend the Feb. 10 board meeting in their new roles, Town Council President Mark Winkie declared that the organization had already won by the sheer size of the field.
“The amount of talent and skill that I see coming on board from the candidates is really heartening,” he said. “Certainly the amount of people that are running, I think this is a record, which is a testament to what we’re doing. We must be doing something right if people want to join us.”
With voting starting the next day, candidates made their appeals at the meeting in three-minute presentations. They already had submitted statements and documentation that can be seen by OBTC members on the ballot.
“I’m hoping to get your vote and see how we can improve OB, but honestly, with all these candidates, I know we’ll have a great board next year,” candidate Stephen Johnston said.
Six of the 17 candidates were incumbents seeking another two-year term on the 16-member board.
Vice President Jon Carr urged candidates who don’t win to contribute to the OBTC’s efforts in other ways.
“With so many candidates for so few seats, not everybody is going to make it,” Carr said. “I really want to encourage everybody to keep in mind that we’re a volunteer-driven organization. Please, please, if you don’t make it onto the board this time, make it to meetings. Sign up for events. We need those core volunteers. Keep yourself in the loop. Don’t be a stranger.”
During reports by government representatives, OBTC officers pressed for intentions and timelines for protracted problems facing the community.
Winkie pleaded with San Diego City Council President Jennifer Campbell’s Ocean Beach representative, Teddy Martinez, for an ordinance to be rapidly enacted to regulate sidewalk vendors who local leaders say are overwhelming parts of the community, particularly around Veterans Plaza at the beach.
“We certainly don’t want to wait until the middle of summer to bring something in,” Winkie said. “You can imagine what that’ll be like to try to claw back a situation that would be sort of out of control [by then].”
Martinez noted that a proposed ordinance had reached the Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March, placing the issue on the back burner.
Meetings to gather community input on an ordinance are already in place, Martinez added, and he assured the audience that the issue is a top priority for Campbell.
“I think our office is pushing this as quickly as we can,” he said. “We want to make sure that we take that necessary step to get community input first so that we’re not doing this without the community saying what really needs to be done here.”
Winkie replied that “the original language that your office worked so hard to put together is pretty solid. We’re not reinventing the wheel here. We appreciate all the work you did in the past, but because we have a District 2 president of the council now, we’re really hoping that we can get this through sooner rather than later.”
Martinez also mentioned the damage inflicted on the Ocean Beach Pier when high surf broke off railing boards on a stretch of the south side of the pier Jan. 11. An assessment of the damage was in the works by the city Parks & Recreation Department, he said, but a conclusive evaluation would not happen until storms expected in the weeks ahead had run their course.
Winkie raised the topic of the pier with Kohta Zaiser, the District 2 representative for San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, stating that any damage this winter would simply add to defects already present on the 55-year-old edifice.
“The bigger story is that the pier is getting old,” Winkie said. “It will probably need some serious retrofitting at some point in the not-too-distant future.”
Though immediate repairs are at the front of the line, Zaiser said a major renovation of the pier dovetails with the city’s Climate Action Plan, which Gloria considers a top priority.
“We’re going to be looking for any type of community improvement, things like that, that fit into so many different aspects of our Climate Action Plan as well as general beautification,” Zaiser said.
Zaiser’s appearance at the meeting held the promise of great things to come for the community, according to Winkie.
“The good news is that we have a permanent representative from the mayor’s office that will be showing up,” Winkie said. “It’s a breath of fresh air that we finally have the mayor’s office being represented on a regular basis at our community meetings.”