Planned fence gets funding in effort to keep humans and dogs away from wildlife preserve near OB Dog Beach

Terns take flight in the Mission Bay Southern Wildlife Preserve near Dog Beach in Ocean Beach.
Terns take flight in the Mission Bay Southern Wildlife Preserve at the western end of the San Diego River channel, near Dog Beach in Ocean Beach.
(Budd Titlow)

Funds have been secured to fortify fencing and try to keep humans and their dogs away from endangered bird species in the wildlife preserve along the San Diego River east of Ocean Beach’s Dog Beach, the OB Town Council was told during its June meeting at the Masonic Center.

Megan Flaherty, conservation manager at the San Diego Audubon Society, said the state Audubon network donated $500,000 for projects in her organization as well as in the Buena Vista Audubon in North County.

Part of that money will cover the cost of replacing the posts currently tied loosely by ropes that mark the path in the sensitive coastal scrub, sand dune and saltmarsh wetland habitats (including Smiley Lagoon) of the San Diego River south bank. New fencing will blend into the natural setting and have sturdier posts linked by slats that will allow wildlife to pass but are intended to keep dogs and people out, according to Flaherty.

“[The fence] is not going to go into the water or make an area that’s completely impenetrable,” Flaherty said. “It’s going to create a more obviously designated path of where people should walk. Then there’s going to be more obvious signs closer to the start of the wildlife preserve so that people are educated that they’re going into an area that is off limits and you’re not supposed to be there.”

The approximately 15-acre protected site, part of Mission Bay Park and known as the Southern Wildlife Preserve, is a layover for hundreds of migratory shoreline and seabird species that stop there to rest and forage, as well as a nesting area for endangered local birds such as the California least tern and Ridgway’s rail.

When people leave the poorly marked trail, they sometimes trample plants that serve as a food source for wildlife. Off-leash dogs frequently flush out birds nesting or resting there and may even capture and injure or kill them, Flaherty said. She added that studies have indicated the situation causes a high level of stress for the birds that can weaken them as they travel hundreds or thousands of miles.

“We just want to make sure that this project is focused on keeping the dogs on the beach area, where they can be totally happy pups and have a great time, and that the wildlife — that have less and less areas to feed and rest — are able to do that undisturbed further up the river channel,” Flaherty said.

The project is awaiting a coastal development permit from the city of San Diego before it is sent to the California Coastal Commission for review, she said.

Urban Corps of San Diego County, a nonprofit conservation group that serves young adults ages 18-26, will perform the work beginning on the western half of the fence in late summer or early fall, with completion of that end expected in December. The eastern half will be installed about six months later.

The project was first devised more than two years ago by park ranger Araceli Dominguez, who was then stationed at Mission Bay Park.

“After [Dominguez’s] initial creation of the project, it went dormant for a year and nothing was really happening with it,” Flaherty said. “It’s going to actually happen and it’s going to actually happen soon.”

Working with the San Diego River Park Foundation, the Audubon Society also is seeking to tap funding from the San Diego Association of Governments for city maintenance of the fence in the next several years, once it is erected, Flaherty added.

Supervisor speaks

San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer
(Courtesy photo)

San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, whose District 3 includes Ocean Beach, addressed OBTC via Zoom and laid out her goals on a gamut of issues during a 20-minute speech, including climate change, housing affordability, runoff pollution, stormwater infrastructure, homelessness, services for disadvantaged people, hiring biases against people with developmental disorders such as autism and ADHD, among others.

“So many of the big decisions where the rubber meets the road is right here at the county level,” she said. “The county for the first time really in a generation is actually sort of doing something.”

On homelessness, a major concern in Ocean Beach, Lawson-Remer remarked on the growing population of homeless people in the county. Though the county provides services while the cities provide shelters, she said the county is looking for locations and providing $10 million for cities to build more shelters to fill the widening gap.

“We were just putting folks in jail instead of in a shelter because there weren’t enough shelters,” she said.

That is “very expensive,” she added, noting that the cost to the county to incarcerate someone for a year is roughly $82,000, compared with $35,000 to provide shelter and services. “It’s also very bad for public safety because then the police officers, instead of catching criminals, which is what their job is, they’re busy booking homeless people in jail, which sometimes takes 12 hours to do.”

Her comments drew a response from police Community Relations Officer David Surwilo.

“Homelessness is not a crime,” Surwilo said. “People are booked into jail because they have committed a crime. So if somebody is being booked into jail, it’s usually under the influence. It’s usually a warrant; possession or sales of drugs; assault and battery; things along that line. Nobody gets booked into jail because they’re homeless. ... I just wanted to cover that because I didn’t want that floating out there.”

San Diego police Community Relations Officer David Surwilo (left) and OBTC President Corey Bruins
San Diego police Community Relations Officer David Surwilo (left) speaks at the Ocean Beach Town Council’s June meeting as OBTC President Corey Bruins listens.
(Steven Mihailovich)

Surwilo also said the city is working to increase the number of “safe parking lots” available to people who have a car but no other place to live. Currently there are three, all north of Interstate 8.

“They want to have additional parking lots south of the I-8 so that those people throughout the city that are doing vehicle habitation have a safe place to go and not making everybody from South Bay drive all the way to those locations north of the I-8,” Surwilo said.

New committees

Following May’s announcement of the creation of four committees concentrated on specific OBTC activities to attract more participation from the community, Town Council President Corey Bruins introduced an application process for interested residents and named the OBTC board members who are heading each committee: Anna Firicano, Engagement; Toney Cohen, Improvement; Stephanie Kane, Events; and Tracy Dezenzo, Advocacy.

A Committee Interest Night will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 7, at OB Brewery, 5041 Newport Ave., during which residents can learn about the new committees and how to get involved.

“What we’re doing with this is asking for a little bit higher commitment than just saying, ‘Yeah, I’m on the committee’ and sort of loosey-goosey showing up when you can,” Bruins said. “We’re asking for a commitment of a solid year. ... It’s a once-a-month commitment to the committee. Then, of course, depending on what committee you wind up on, there will be extracurriculars.”

For more information about the committees, visit


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