The situation of the pier closure for fishing at the west end was the topic of a long discussion during the Sept. 1 city council meeting. City Manager Andy Hall made a presentation on the role of the city. He reminded everyone that the pier is owned and operated by the Port of San Diego and only the east end is located within the city limits. The Port contracts with the city for municipal services such as public safety with Lifeguards, Sheriff and Fire services. The city is “responsible for preserving the health, safety and general welfare of visitors on the pier,” he said. When restaurants were allowed to reopen last year and the pandemic subsided, the Tin Fish restaurant was permitted to expand and place tables on the west end behind the building. While other restaurants were allowed to expand on sidewalks and parking lots, the Tin Fish lacking those amenities, placed tables into the back and the area around it. The last 150 feet of the pier from the west gate to the back of the restaurant area was always restricted for fishing.
Since 2013 the Sheriff’s, Fire Department and Lifeguards have received many calls and responded to disturbances on the pier. The lifeguards made 6,842 contacts and issued more than 60 citations for problems like overhead casting, swimming in surf zone, alcohol, smoking, glass containers, dogs, bikes and skateboards. The Fire Department responded to 49 calls mostly for assaults and smoking. The Sheriff’s responded to 593 calls for issue like disturbance, individuals under the influence and suspicious persons. Based on the complaints by fishermen that they can’t fish on the west end this item has been brought up for discussion by the council. Three points of discussion were identified: open the eastern end of the pier to fishing again, restrict fishing behind the restaurant and identify shared access -allowing fishing in a portion of the west end of the pier.
Some of the concerns regarding fishing at the end of the pier behind the restaurant related to fishermen cleaning their catch on the restaurant tables, throwing fish parts on the roof, walkers feeling or being threatened, and fights. About 14 people spoke during public comment with few in favor of reopening the west end to fishing, while others talked about feeling unsafe. Fishermen Nick Cline said the west end of the pier is where anglers catch the bigger fish and it’s unfair to close the area. A few asked for a compromise so that fishing will continue to be allowed in that area. Tin Fish manager Tricia Baglioni spoke about “vandalism and belligerent individuals” in the area. “It’s a failure on our part…no business should be subjected to harassment and vandalism …my commitment is to work with city staff and safety department to rectify that. The city has not been able to keep you safe,” said Mayor Serge Dedina after Baglioni’s comment.
Port Commissioner Dan Malcolm spoke to explain some confusion on the part of the speakers reading private businesses on port land. It is a specific goal of the port to promote commerce. “Safety should be driving your decision,” he said.
Councilmember Jack Fisher said he would like to see some kind of shared space and come to an agreement.“In order for [the pier] to be enjoyed by all, it needs to be safe…one of the areas we have not done well is enforcement,” he said. Fisher also pointed out that in cases when parks that have experienced problems they were not closed as it has happened to the west end of pier. “We don’t close parks because of bad elements,” he said. Councilmember Matthew Leyba-Gonzalez agreed with Fisher that the safety of residents and visitors is the most important factor. “It is our responsibility that everyone benefits by whatever decisions have to be made,” he said. Councilmember Paloma Aguirre would like to see the pier being used in an equitable way for everyone. She said that many Asian American families have enjoyed fishing on the pier for a long time and use fishing for sustenance - but at the same time she wants safety increased. “Having heard comments of sexual harassment, drinking, smoking pot…I don’t want to see that in our community,” she said. Aguirre would like to see a community service officer or safety personnel with financial support from the port ensuring the safety of all. Spriggs said the pier is not what it used to be when it was designated as a fishing pier, it is now a tourist attraction for the entire South County. He said public safety problems have happened primarily at the back side of the pier “where things can happen out of sight,” he said. Spriggs reminded everyone about the incident involving Dedina, Malcolm and Hall who were threatened at the end of the pier during a visit. He doesn’t believe that a shared usage would work, because it would need constant supervision. Spriggs added he would like to see the area between the surf zone and the dining area designate as fishing area.
Dedina spoke of the threatening incident on the pier he called “the most harrowing experience.” Hall, Malcolm and Dedina visited the end of the pier after reports of vandalism and harassment and what he saw and experienced. After traveling all over the world he said he has never seen what he saw at the Imperial Beach pier -fishermen gutting fish on the tables and throwing fish parts on a public building, throwing fish parts on the walls and putting holes in the building. In addition, his wife Emily was also sexually harassed while walking with a group of women. Ed Kim, owner of the Tin Fish was also harassed to the point where the District Attorney had to be involved. Dedina said the environment on the back of the pier reminded him of the old Imperial Beach. “[The pier] is a multi use recreational asset and the city has failed to do its job that every person that walks there feels safe and secure… we’ve disregarded the rights of women and children and people from all over IB, and visitors to have a safe and secure time” he said. Hall said at the end of the discussion that based on the councilmembers’ discussion the staff will come up with amendments.
In other business:
Imperial Beach Fire Chief John French announced that Engine 239 and a crew has been fighting the Caldor Fire. The crew left Saturday Aug. 28 at 1:30 p.m. and arrived 12 hours later and have been working 24 hour shifts. French also announced that September is National Preparedness Month with the theme “Prepare to Protect.” Each week, the campaign focuses on a different topic. More information and how to prepare each week is posted on the city website.
County of San Diego Health and Human Services presented a new emergency assistance program. The county has received funds from the state and the treasury and round 2 started on Aug. 26. With round 2 there is approximately $104 million available with the goal to help eligible households with rental arrears and prospective rent, help with payments of utilities and other rental costs like security deposit, application fee, and motel/hotel stays. Thanks to Assembly Bill 832, funds will also help 100 percent with assistance for households who moved out of a unit. The criteria for eligibility include income at or below 80 percent Area Median Income, renters have an obligation to pay rent and have to be financially impacted and at risk of homelessness to qualify. Rental assistance is also available for small landlords who own five or fewer rental units. To apply log on the county website at www.SDHCD.org or call (858) 694-4801.
San Diego State University Dr. Hassan Davani presented a new $5 million program funded by the National Science Foundation in partnership with SDSU and Scripps Institute of Oceanography for a flood warning system and expansion of data collection which include tides, waves, runup, sea level, beach topography and bathymetry. Compound flooding will be studied because surface flow inundation and groundwater inundation can shift the groundwater table and make it rise. The 3-year project will focus on gathering new groundwater data and understanding the connection with Sea Level Rise; developing an infrastructure model and response to groundwater shoaling; integrating community perspectives and adaptation strategies, and understanding the health of the storm drain system and assessing risk of intrusion. Thanks to this project new sensors will be installed under sewer lines to understand how groundwater might enter the system; a model will be created to understand sea level rise and provide data to the city for adaptation. Rainwater harvesting though water barrels will be encouraged and community events to solicit input through survey will be planned. “I’m hopeful we’ll get the kind of details by way of recommendations that will aid us over the next 2 or 3 years as we revisit our adaptation strategy as we deal with sea level rise and flooding events,” said Councilmember Ed Spriggs. Davani confirmed that data will be shared at a yearly presentation to council to keep everyone informed.
The consent calendar was approved unanimously.
A revised first reading of an ordinance for flying flags on flagpoles at city hall was briefly discussed. The second reading and adoption will take place during the council meeting on Sept. 15.
The next city council meeting will be held Sept. 15 at 5 p.m. via teleconference. For more information log on www.imperialbeachca.gov.