String of Ocean Beach business burglaries spurs added security and community support for victimized merchants
Several establishments in the Ocean Beach business district reported being struck by burglaries over the holiday season, with some hit more than once in a span of a few weeks. In the wake of thousands of dollars in losses and damage, members of the community are rallying to try to find solutions and protect local storefronts.
Businesses that were hit over the past month include California Wild Ales, The Template and The Joint, to name a few.
Bill DeWitt, co-owner and creative director of California Wild Ales on Newport Avenue, said the break-in at the brewery tasting room early Dec. 17 marked the fourth time it has been burglarized since opening in May 2021.
“This most recent one happened at about 1:45 [a.m.] as people were leaving the bars,” DeWitt said. “I don’t know how to defend against that kind of craziness.”
Nothing was taken during the latest burglary, but the door to a side entrance was broken, DeWitt said. “The perpetrator pried off the metal security door and then used force to break the other door in half,” he said.
DeWitt said he’s paying for the damage and had to postpone a holiday party for the staff in order to balance the budget.
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A few blocks from California Wild Ales, The Template on Niagara Avenue has been the target of multiple burglaries within a month. Sunshine “Shine” Ray, co-owner of the artist cafe and entertainment venue, said the damage cut deep into the business’s resolve.
“The first time it happened, it hurt a lot, and not just financially but morally,” Ray said. “We run a really tight line at The Template. We have a huge building and our rent is extremely high. It’s hard to stay up and keep this business going, and a lot of us work purely out of the passion for it. So to have something like that happen, it hurts. Some of us even got together and talked about whether we should even do this anymore.”
The second time The Template was burglarized, the register was taken and the businesses had to replace multiple doors and locks. “We sunk thousands,” Ray said.
He said he now wakes up anxiously in the middle of the night to check the cameras at the business.
“I already have enough stress on my plate,” Ray said. “This really sucks to add onto it.”
Other businesses, such as the Blondstone jewelry store on Cable Street and The Joint restaurant on Newport Avenue, declined to comment.
San Diego Police Department representatives also declined to comment.
Shawnn Silverman, manager at Dirty Birds on Cable Street, said the restaurant was the target of a burglary over Memorial Day weekend and that the problem is widespread and causing concern among area business owners.
“It’s not one or two places that have been hit, it’s upward of 10,” Silverman said. “These are all places within a block of each other. This hasn’t been a common thing until this recent year or so.”
Tony Cohen, who chairs the Ocean Beach Town Council’s Improvement Committee, said “Ocean Beach is a safe community, but there definitely has been a pattern.”
“I think just the proximity of businesses alone made it easy for opportunists,” Cohen said. “You could have someone try to kick in the door at one place and then try another place that’s just a two-minute walk from there.”
Denny Knox, executive director of the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association, the nonprofit management organization for the OB Business Improvement District, said burglaries have occurred irregularly in the past but agreed that they are becoming more frequent.
“This has been happening off and on for the past few years, with much more frequency than ever before,” Knox said. “We’ve tried a number of things. We have not found the perfect solution.”
Focus on security
Businesses in the area are taking additional measures to try to minimize break-ins.
“Word is going around fast and I think people are taking tons of precautions,” Silverman said. “Some places are trying not to keep any cash on the premises, which is difficult to do when you’re trying to run a business.”
A suspect in the Dirty Birds burglary in May was apprehended, Silverman said, largely because of quality images caught on the restaurant’s security cameras.
Knox said she encourages more businesses to bolster their security systems.
“These businesses are trying to figure out what the solution would be, given their circumstances,” Knox said. “I would urge every business to put in cameras. ... That and really good locks on the building.”
Cohen suggested high-intensity lighting as a deterrent, saying lighting is “10 times more effective than cameras.”
“Word is going around fast and I think people are taking tons of precautions.”
— Shawnn Silverman, manager at Dirty Birds
On top of additional security measures, the community seems to be pitching in considerably. Ray said The Template began a GoFundMe campaign after its second break-in to help offset the cost of repairs and improving security, among other things. The campaign, launched at the end of October, has raised more than $12,000.
“We were trying to keep our heads high, but just the outpouring of support we’ve received from the community has lifted our spirits back up,” Ray said. “Not even the support financially but morally. The community has really come out for us.”
Resident Jessica Pieta, who has been living in Ocean Beach for nearly a decade, said she sees the uptick in crime as a call to action.
“I’m only three or four blocks away from Template,” Pieta said. “When The Template got broken into the first time, I was like, ‘Wait, I work for a security company; maybe there’s something we can do.’ It became personal at that point, I think.”
She added that her neighbor “was the guy who got jumped and ended up in the news,” referring to a group assault in November in Ocean Beach that seriously injured a man walking his dog in the 5000 block of Newport Avenue.
Pieta is a project designer for Mulholland Brand, a company that specializes in manufacturing and installing gates and fences. She contacted her supervisors about helping The Template, and they greenlighted the donation of two security gates.
“We decided to get them a beautiful laser-cut gate in the front where everyone can see it,” Pieta said. “We ran a competition and a whole bunch of artists submitted.”
A design by local artist Aura Walmer was chosen and was awaiting approval by the company’s laser-cut engineer.
DeWitt said musical act Tecolote Canyon donated its cut back to California Wild Ales after a recent performance at the tasting room. And at the end of December, a GoFundMe campaign was created to raise funds to help California Wild Ales buy and install a new security system, outdoor lights and a metal door to replace the door damaged in the latest break-in. The campaign has raised more than $2,000.
“[Ocean Beach] is a neighborhood of people helping neighbors be a part of this neighborhood,” DeWitt said. “As many times as bad people tear us down, good people are there building us up. You can’t put a price on that.”
When Pieta heard about the burglary at California Wild Ales, she felt compelled to expand her initiative.
“We don’t just want to make this about The Template,” Pieta said. “We really do want to get this community thing going.”
Cohen said he has been approached by a company that offered to anonymously install security shutters and railings for businesses that need additional safeguards.
Also, a member of the community offered to install security lights at no cost, Cohen said.
“There is stuff we’re doing here,” Cohen said. “It’s not going back to the old vigilante days, but locals have stepped up.”
“As many times as bad people tear us down, good people are there building us up. You can’t put a price on that.”
— Bill DeWitt, co-owner of California Wild Ales
Knox said each business may need a different approach to its security, but she underscored the importance of wide participation in the effort to prevent crime.
“I think [these businesses] all have had some positive response from their patrons helping them navigate this,” she said. “It’s incumbent on all of us to do our part.”
Pieta said she and Cohen have discussed the possibility of starting a communal fund to help businesses install security measures or to finance a security detail for the business district. The idea is still being developed.
“We haven’t homed in on exactly what the idea specifically is, but that’s definitely the framework for it,” Pieta said.
“We’re gonna have to band together as a community and support each other,” Ray said. “What else are we supposed to do?”