Residents irked by Ocean Beach parties

By Marisa Lagos
Staff Writer

Sunset District neighbors say they are paying the price for out-of-control weekend bonfires at Ocean Beach, complaining that the rowdy parties have spilled out onto local streets and caused dozens of car break-ins and numerous acts of vandalism.

Despite a 2004 law that bans bonfires on the beach south of Lincoln Avenue and down to Sloat Boulevard, business and homeowners say problems have persisted and that the illegal parties may have led to one local business' front window being smashed and another neighbor's porch being torn up in the middle of the night for firewood.

Beyond the blatant vandalism, neighbors said partygoers leave Ocean Beach dangerous and trashed, with garbage strewn about and still-smoldering fires in the sand where children play.

Some neighbors blame the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the agency charged with overseeing more than 75,000 acres of federal lands in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties including Ocean Beach.

Buffy Maguire, who owns a coffee shop on Judah Street and 48th Avenue, said that the agency's rangers are not patrolling the beach enough and have not sufficiently let the public know the rules. Maguire estimates at least 30 car break-ins in the last month.

"[The GGNRA] is basically hosting a party every weekend and not taking any responsibility for it. If they are not going to enforce the law, they need the manpower to clean it up," said Maguire, whose redwood planter boxes and benches were ripped apart last weekend and used for firewood.

Chris Powell, a spokeswoman for the GGNRA, countered that the agency has been monitoring the situation for about a year and a half and is working to alleviate any problems. However, the GGNRA only has 22 protection rangers on staff, who are assisted by up to 65 U.S. Park Police officers, for the 75,000 acres it patrols, she said.

"We have patrol staff out 24 hours a day but they certainly can't be in all areas of the park at all times," she said.

Part of the problem is overlapping jurisdictions, according to neighbor Ron Dudum while the GGNRA oversees the actual beach, SFPD is responsible for patrolling the parking lot and sidewalks, and various other city agencies look after surrounding areas such as Golden Gate Park.

Powell and San Francisco Police Officer Mike Mitchell, who is assigned to the area, say that local and federal police are currently working together to better patrol the beach; GGNRA officials last month sat down with Police Chief Heather Fong to hash out a plan, Powell added.

Mitchell confirmed that there has been a sharp increase in car break-ins, but said it is hard to definitively tie them to the bonfires. Other vandalism including graffiti, litter and the destruction on Maguire's front porch are definitely tied to the beach parties, he said.

"It's gotten worse," said Lara Truppelli, who lives in the area and is co-owner of the Beach Chalet restaurant. "I think the [GGNRA] has done a good job of developing policy, and I think they do care about Ocean Beach I just don't think they're in the best position to enforce the policy."