The summer of 2014 in Ocean Beach was hot, the water was unusually warm, dolphins were leaping out of the water, and fishermen were having a heyday, filling their buckets with everything from mackerel to anchovies.
It was during this time that I was working on the pier, at the WOW Café and bait shop located on the O.B. fishing pier. It was an ideal spot to spend the summer, watching the tourists and locals enjoy our slice of paradise.
My first day there, I was directed by café owner Chuck Fischer — who leases the property from the city — and the manager Guillermo (aka Memo) to “give the Park & Recreation workers anything they want.” Anything? “Yes.”
Morning after morning as I’d walk the pier to work, I noticed how filthy it was. Fishing line, fish guts, food wrappers, used hooks, empty cans, et cetera. It was as if no one was cleaning the pier.
When I would get to work, the first people coming through the employee entrance were usually Park & Rec employees stocking up on energy drinks, Gatorade, and breakfast, none of which they paid for. At lunch hour, the city employees would show up, sometimes in groups of three or four, and either take a seat and eat their free lunch or send the busy kitchen to a screeching halt to fulfill their to-go orders. Again, for free.
It was impressed upon me by employees and management that I was not allowed to question them — just give them what they wanted. “Don’t say anything about Parks [elsewhere] or Chuck will get in trouble,” I was told. Park employees generally showed up in the morning between 7 and 8, then again around 10 a.m. for more food, and would sometimes remain there until 1 or 2 p.m.
Day after day I watched Park & Rec staff ignore the filth on the pier and sit for hours enjoying the café as if they owned it.
It didn’t take long for me to figure out what was going on. Chuck, who owns the WOW Café, was using the city employees to take out his garbage/empty boxes and supply him with trash bags (city property) — in exchange, they could hang out and enjoy freebies.
So I began taking pictures of the employees hanging out at the café. Day after day, I snapped away. When I had a day off, I watched as they continued to ignore their job.
After about two months of observing the Park & Rec employees do nothing but eat and hang out, I decided to be less stealthy with my photo taking.
On or about August 10, 2014, I was snapping away. One of the employees, asked me, “Why you taking our picture?” I said because “I haven’t seen any of you do any work at all, the pier is a mess, and you just hang out.” His response: “I know Chuck, and you’re going to be fired in ten minutes.”
A few minutes later, the manager, Memo, walked up to me and said, “Go home. We don’t need you anymore.” I asked for clarification. “Are you firing me for taking pictures of the Park and Rec employees who sit around and do nothing?” His response: “Yes, go home.”
On Monday, August 11, 2014, I sent an email to Dan Daneri, district manager of Park & Rec.
He initiated an investigation that lasted at least through September 3rd, when I met with members of city management. I am unsure of the outcome of the investigation, but, technically, using city employees to do personal work for you is "theft of employment" and they seemed very concerned.
Following the investigation, there were new Park & Rec employees and it appeared that Chuck learned his lesson and started taking out his own trash, freeing up the city employees to do their jobs.
Over two years later, on October 12, 2016, at 12:35 p.m., I witnessed a Park & Rec employee picking up food at the café take-out window. I was watching the entire time and did not see any money exchange hands; it appeared that he had been given free food.
October 19th at 10:13 a.m., the same employee pulled up to the café, picked up two bags of trash outside the front door, and remained inside the café until 11:58 a.m., when he finally drove away.
I emailed Daneri again on October 20, 2016, with the description of this employee and he replied, “I know who it is and we will take care of it…it is not part of the [café’s] lease.”
On November 27, that same employee was at the café at 10 a.m. I was not able to watch him.
On Monday, November 28, the same employee was at the café at 7:15 a.m. I watched him grab one bag of trash. Someone handed him a drink, and then he lingered for 45 minutes at the café without appearing to do any work. He then sat in his truck at the end of the pier before leaving at 8:45 a.m. (He did empty trash cans along one end of pier before he drove off.)