Imperial Beach takes action on vandalized pier

Brian Bilbray painted over the KKK letters.

There is an island of the coast of Imperial Beach that should not be there. It was once the crossbar section of the municipal T-shaped fishing pier, but fierce storms last winter destroyed the south half of the crossbar and washed the debris into the main stem of the pier, ripping out a 150-foot section.

The seaboard part of the pier became more than an unsightly nuisance last month when young beach-goers began targeting the pier for vandalism. Specifically, the pier concession stand, marooned on the island, was plagued by mischief makers who broke windows, tampered with the cash registers, and allegedly threw a bicycle into the ocean.

Teenagers swam out to the pier’s end and clambered up to the top on crossbeams of the pier legs. The kids amused themselves by jumping off the pier twenty feet into the sea; others amused themselves by painting the letters KKK in white paint, eight feet high, on one wall of the concession stand.

One lifeguard said that the end of the pier has become a party hangout for many of the local youths. “I noticed a couple of people swimming out there this one day floating one-gallon containers in front of them,” he said. “The next thing I know there’s about thirty of these guys doing exactly the same thing – a damn flotilla. They were swimming out there with their beer and even their lawn chairs and having a good old time on the pier.”

The lifeguard said although the areas where the pier is broken are dangerous, the free-standing section is actually pretty secure. “Most of the people who go out there swim out,” he said. “I’ve only seen one or two people with their boats paddling out there.”

The vandalism began only last month: prior to that time the beach was quarantined because of sewage contamination. After the beach was reopened, the hooliganism on the pier commenced. By the third week in August, the city fathers took action. On Wednesday, August 13, Mayor Brian Bilbray and Curtis McClesky, the city’s police chief, were rowed out to the island pier in the lifeguard service dory, and the two of them nailed plywood boards across the doors and window openings of the concession stand. The next day, though, Bilbray witnessed vandals on the pier tearing down the mayor’s handiwork. A week later Bilbray and Hans Palmer, son of Councilwoman Jackie Palmer, were rowed out to the pier in the dory, thanks to the oarmanship of Allan Holder, city aquatics director. Bilbray and Palmer nailed more wood over the stand openings, and Bilbray used a roller brush to paint over the KKK letters. Even before the men started work, though, they were forced to chase away four young trespassers from the pier.

The city council wanted something more decisive than after-the-fact repairs, so the council members approved an ordinance making it an offense to swim within 150 feet of the damaged pier; police officers were given authority to cite violators. There was discussion about the possibility of putting a security guard on the isolated pier to discourage vandals, but that idea was abandoned, as was a plan for special two-man beachside patrols consisting of reserve policemen. Instead, lifeguards are now supposed to report vandalism to the police, just as before.

Although the trespassing ordinance has been in effect for nearly a month, no citations have been issued. Police Lieutenant M.G. Gordon said last week it is a difficult task to cite violators. “We’ve tried to on a number of occasions,” Gordon said. “A couple of times we’ve spotted kids out there and waited for them to swim back, but when they get to the beach, they just sort of blend in to the crowd.”

The city has qualified for $650,000 in emergency disaster funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to George Field, acting city manager. “The trouble is,” Field said this week, “we feel it’s going to cost just over a million dollars to repair the pier.” Field is preparing to accept bids on the repair within three weeks.

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