Beach loophole in San Diego’s new homeless encampment law? Question arises in Ocean Beach

Jeffrey Sitcov and Melissa Grove of Doors of Change, a nonprofit for homeless youths, talk to a person in Ocean Beach.
Jeffrey Sitcov and Melissa Grove of Doors of Change, a nonprofit that works to help homeless youths, give an apple to a person sitting on a seawall at Ocean Beach in 2019.
(John Gastaldo)

Also, the city says three initial design alternatives for planned replacement of the Ocean Beach Pier will be presented during a public workshop Saturday, Sept. 9.


People attending the Ocean Beach Town Council’s July meeting raised questions about the city of San Diego’s new homeless encampments law and illegal fireworks, while the city’s project to replace the Ocean Beach Pier is moving toward presentation of initial design concepts.

With summer in full swing, the audience at the meeting consisted of only 10 people at the Point Loma/Hervey Library, though 30 more joined the meeting online.

Homeless encampments

San Diego police Community Relations Officer David Surwilo was asked whether the city’s recently enacted Unsafe Camping Ordinance may contain a loophole that would allow homeless encampments on the beach.

“I have not personally read [the ordinance],” Surwilo said. “I have been at a meeting for some training regarding it and there was some concern that the way it is written, it may allow people to camp in certain areas of the city that are not regulated by the camping zone area. And one of those was possibly the beach ... the sand itself.”

Because the ordinance was created to curtail encroachment of encampments on public spaces and move homeless people into shelter beds when available, Surwilo noted the potential irony of tents leaving some spots in the community, only to end up on the beach.

“I understand what you’re saying,” he said. “Your concern is like, ‘Hey, we don’t want to move everybody out of where they are now and then be told you can go camp out on the beaches 24/7. That’s not going to work for Ocean Beach, Mission Bay, all of our beaches in San Diego.”

A representative of Mayor Todd Gloria’s office did not immediately respond to the Point Loma-OB Monthly’s request for comment.

On July 31, police began enforcement of the new ordinance, which prohibits homeless encampments in public spaces throughout the city if shelter beds are available.

It also bans encampments at all times in certain sensitive areas — within two blocks of schools or shelters and at all city parks, waterways, canyons and transit stations — regardless of shelter availability.

The law officially passed the City Council on June 27 and was signed by Gloria on June 29.

Gloria has said enforcement would begin closest to schools and shelters and expand outward.

Police have described the enforcement plan as a progressive three-encounter process, with a homeless person offered shelter each time.

On the first encounter, an officer would inform the person about the law and give a warning. On a second encounter, the officer would confirm that the person already has been warned and then issue a misdemeanor citation. A third encounter would lead to an arrest, though officials said an officer still could take a person to a shelter rather than jail if the person has a change of heart.

Ocean Beach Pier

A Junior Lifeguard jumps off the Ocean Beach Pier during a fundraiser for the Prevent Drowning Foundation of San Diego.
A Junior Lifeguard jumps off the Ocean Beach Pier during a July 10 fundraiser for the Prevent Drowning Foundation of San Diego.
(Milan Kovacevic)

The city of San Diego says three initial design alternatives for a planned replacement of the Ocean Beach Pier will be presented during a public workshop Saturday, Sept. 9.

The concepts are based partially on input gathered at two community workshops earlier this year.

The September gathering is scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. at the Liberty Station Conference Center, 2600 Laning Road, Point Loma.

“You all will hear the results — everything we gathered from the feedback meetings — and see the results hopefully in the three alternatives that are presented,” said Town Council President Corey Bruins, a member of a task force working on plans to develop a replacement for the pier. “Then we will be getting feedback on which alternatives do you like best, which elements of which options do you like best. All that’s going to happen by the end of the year.”

The pier was closed from Jan. 6 to July 1 because of damage from high surf. But Bruins said the reopening of the 57-year old pier can only be considered temporary.

An engineering study completed in 2019 determined that the pier was deteriorating and had “reached the end of its service life.” It gave the city three options: repair the pier, rehabilitate it or replace it.

“When the city deems it’s safe to reopen and decides to spend some money on the pier repairing it, we always know that it’s a short-term repair,” Bruins said. “That is why there is a long-term plan to set a redevelopment of the pier.”

The public can provide input at For more information about the project, visit

Stephanie Kane, chairwoman of the Town Council events committee, announced that the annual Pier Pancake Breakfast will be held Saturday, Sept. 16.

“We’re super excited that the pier is open and wanted to mention [the event] so you can put it on your calendar,” Kane said. “We’ll be there as long as we can.”


Town Council board member Tracy Dezenzo wondered whether police could halt some people’s continuing use of illegal fireworks though the Fourth of July holiday has long passed.

“Is there anything to be done about the illegal firecrackers and M80s that go off on weekends?” Dezenzo asked. “It’s one of those things that you have to catch them doing it, right? It would be really difficult. I don’t know if there’s any solution to the situation.”

Surwilo acknowledged that apprehending people using illegal fireworks is unlikely if they set off just one or two. But he advised residents to call police if they see or hear it.

“There’s a chance that [officers] could be in the area ... and swing by and see somebody or something and make contact and address it,” he said. “Maybe the officer comes by and those fireworks people are gone. But now we have gotten an officer to drive into the community down that street. ... It puts eyes in the community by a police officer in the middle of the night.”

Surwilo noted that illegal fireworks are a major concern at Sunset Cliffs, where visitors sometimes set them off for an extended period. He said the potential fire hazard is an even bigger problem than the nuisance.

“It’s a safety issue,” he said. “A lot of people are shooting off fireworks when they’re intoxicated. That doesn’t go well. Right now, this time of year, with the dry brush and some of the other issues, I’m not being ridiculous when I say a bottle rocket or a Roman candle falling on the top of someone’s palm tree would absolutely, positively start a fire.”

— City News Service and The San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.


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