Street vending, palm trees, homelessness and Facebook are prime topics at OB Town Council meeting

Sidewalk vendors set up shop at the foot of Newport Avenue at Abbott Street in Ocean Beach in 2019.
Sidewalk vendors set up shop at the foot of Newport Avenue at Abbott Street in Ocean Beach in 2019.
(File / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

For its final public meeting of 2021, the Ocean Beach Town Council packed the October agenda with presentations on a broad spectrum of key issues.

The meeting touched on topics including a proposed San Diego street vendor ordinance, threatened palm trees, homeless people and Facebook foibles.

Street vendors

Teddy Martinez, representing City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, whose District 2 includes Ocean Beach, Point Loma and other nearby coastal communities, said a proposed ordinance sponsored by Campbell to regulate street vendors would go to the City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 14.

Legislation has been sought by merchants in downtown and beach areas.

Because the ordinance is based substantially on a draft by former Mayor Kevin Faulconer that passed the city committee process in late 2019, it will go straight to a full council hearing, Martinez said.

“In a nutshell, we’re trying to get at a lot of issues that we’ve been talking about here for a long time,” Martinez said. “I’m confident that we’re going to be able to find that middle ground to not only support the communities where vendors are but support the vendors and bring them into the formal economy, providing rules around what they can do ... and also protect the park space for communities that use them.”

Though people at the meeting who have been wanting street vending regulations were pleased by the news, some pushed for copies of the draft ordinance to be released. OBTC board member Gary Gartner said the actual language in the draft is needed.

“We have a lot of ... people who want to help get votes from ... council members who may not be on board” with the ordinance, Gartner said. “But when we’re just talking in generalities, it’s not as helpful.”

Martinez said he had not yet seen the language himself, since the ordinance was being scrutinized by the city attorney’s office and going through the normal legislative docketing process. He recommended that interested parties read the 2019 draft ordinance to understand the gist of the new one.

But Ocean Beach Planning Board Vice Chairman Kevin Hastings argued that the 2019 draft doesn’t address the current situation. For instance, he said, some vendors at OB’s Veterans Plaza are leaving their tables and other gear overnight to reserve prime spots.

“If vendors are going to be permitted to operate in any kind of public space, they actually have to be vending,” Hastings said. “Not sleeping there. Not using it for storage. Not reserving. ... I hope that ends up in there and I hope that we can see something, anything, as soon as possible on this.”

Martinez suggested that local advocates can lobby city officials without a copy of the draft by describing the consequences of street vending for the community and even inviting City Council members to OB to see for themselves.

The latest hurdles in drafting a San Diego street vendor ordinance had many people attending the April meeting of the Ocean Beach Town Council bristling at the possibility of delays in the city taking charge of a situation residents deemed chaotic.

“In OB ... the impact is on Veterans Plaza,” Martinez said. “The impact is on the environment. The impact is on the safety and well-being. ... It’s a different issue in District 2 than it is anywhere else.”

But Hastings expressed concern that the ordinance may be released too late for the community to respond.

“I’m afraid of having three days to corral the troops and mobilize the outreach to council members with some actual information to go on,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the best time to be trying to hash this out two years after something else was shelved [and] just go roll right into a City Council meeting with the minimal notice.”

Palm trees

OBTC board member Anna Firicano raised the subject of local protests over plans to raze eight tall palm trees along Newport Avenue and Santa Barbara Street in the Ocean Beach-Point Loma area.

“I’m not so sure that they’re protesting the cutting down of the trees as much as they’re protesting the lack of information,” Firicano said. “They just want the information to understand what’s happening and why the iconic trees are being cut down.”

According to Kohta Zaiser, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s District 2 representative, the action follows an assessment mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration of potential obstacles along flight paths for San Diego International Airport.

Zaiser said the palm trees targeted for removal — about 70 feet tall — are or soon will be at heights that can interfere with instruments used for landing along flight paths used during inclement weather, when planes fly at lower altitudes.

“There isn’t a whole lot of discretion here on the city’s end,” Zaiser said.

Work on the trees began the third week of October but was soon paused following complaints and street protests from residents. A local couple have filed a lawsuit trying to stop the removal.

A local couple’s lawsuit against the city of San Diego and San Diego International Airport seeks an injunction to stop the planned removal of several palm trees along Newport Avenue and Santa Barbara Street in the Point Loma-Ocean Beach area.

“We are lobbying the federal government to see if there’s any wiggle room, any type of leniency here,” Zaiser said. “I do just want to be upfront that there very well could not be.”

During the discussion, audience member Keith Fink said in a comment on the virtual meeting’s chat board that “if planes are coming in that low, we’re in big trouble. This is clearly absurd and needs further investigation before we start cutting down trees.”


OBTC President Corey Bruins recounted the hopes raised during the Town Council’s March meeting after the nonprofit People Assisting the Homeless received $1.5 million in city funding to address homelessness at the community level.

Since then, PATH has been designated as the first responder to reports of homeless encampments received through the city’s Get It Done app.

A change in the processing and handling of reports of homeless encampments through San Diego’s Get It Done app led to a robust discussion of police-related matters during the Ocean Beach Town Council’s September meeting.

Bruins said the Ocean Beach representative for PATH had resigned. “As of right now, we do not have a PATH rep assigned to OB, which is a major bummer,” Bruins said. “What I’m hearing from the PATH team is that’s really related to a staffing situation. I mean we hear this across the board at so many agencies, especially nonprofits and city agencies.”

Though Bruins said PATH officials hoped to fill the slot within a month, he noted the caseload of 15 homeless people per quarter and the excellent public relations skills required for a job paying less than $50,000 annually.

Bruins also reported that PATH committed to sending representatives to OBTC’s monthly meetings and that the Town Council is organizing a community forum for the near future focused exclusively on homelessness in Ocean Beach.


Fink questioned OBTC’s continued use of Facebook to stream its public meetings in light of recent news about the company, including allegations of privacy abuses, copyright infringement, propagating misinformation, stoking extremism and more.

With an abundance of alternative platforms available, Fink argued that using a company’s product is an endorsement of its behavior and stated that the OBTC meeting would be his last if Facebook were the only medium by which he could attend.

“Facebook clearly puts profit before people, and our support of its misconduct is implicitly given simply by logging on,” Fink said. “I do not believe we should associate ourselves with Facebook. ... I find it unfair to put OBians in the situation of choosing to either follow their conscience or use Facebook to attend an OBTC meeting.”

Bruins sympathized with the concern and promised that the board will discuss it. He held out hope that a return to in-person public meetings would be possible as early as the next meeting in January if the threat of COVID-19 continues to diminish.

However, Bruins noted that attendance at meetings has tripled because of the convenience of streaming and that future meetings likely would be a hybrid of in-person and virtual. Facebook isn’t essential to that goal, he added.

“We have discussed on this board over the past 18 months what it’s going to look like to not go back to normal but turn the corner into the next phase of the organization and what holding public forums is going to look like,” Bruins said. “The key thing ... is that it’s important to this board and this organization that the accessibility that we’ve been able to expand upon over the past 18 months [remains] available.”


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