Nicole Ueno, a native of Sunset Cliffs, sent out the call last month for community members to step up to cover eight different neighborhood watch zones across Ocean Beach and Point Loma. Within a week, over 650 people had signed on to join the Ocean Beach Neighborhood Watch.
On January 31, more than 40 locals gathered to discuss how best to deal with issues plaguing the eclectic beach community from aggressive panhandling and illegal camps to trespassing, vandalism, and arson.
"It's been a hard winter for crime in Ocean Beach, and many residents feel fed up with some of the repeated crimes we are seeing," said Ueno.
In December, a man exposing himself across from an elementary school sparked outrage. Recent arsons and strangers opening up front doors uninvited have locals on edge.
On the morning of the meeting, one local found her car with a smashed-out window, slashed tire, and "slut," "Jesus" and a swastika keyed all over her car. Last week, a local man found a vagrant camping out in his driveway, napping beside a cup of joe, a knife, and a blowtorch.
Ueno hopes the community can work together to curb crime and move toward safer neighborhoods. "Everyone is bringing different talents and interests to the table, and there has been a wonderful sense of collaboration among the members. I hope we can keep our eyes on the street and look out for each other, but also come together to brainstorm solutions and use our voice to influence relevant laws and policies."
At the meeting, Officer David Surwilo discussed what makes up a successful neighborhood watch program. Crucial are centralizing information, reporting crimes, and making sure the group doesn't go vigilante.
Short-term vacation rentals and AirBnB were pointed to as things that have changed the dynamic of neighborhoods and increased crime.
The long wait times when calling non-emergency lines was brought up. Surwilo said to press star to skip the intro message and that new hires and other measures are in the works to address dispatch issues. (An emergency operator told me in late-2017 that the same people are answering emergency and non-emergency calls.)
The recycling center behind Stump's Market on Voltaire was brought up as a place where troublemakers congregate. Getting the recycling center moved away from residences is a hot topic in Point Loma currently. Always a hot topic is the issue of campers and van dwellers parking illegally in front of homes.
Margaret Virissimo is Ueno's counterpoint in neighboring Point Loma. "A hill separates our towns, we are not a separate city and being a [Point Loma/Ocean Beach] native it made me think I have got to get more involved and change this perception that we are two separate towns. I hope by joining forces with Nicole from OB we can go back to our communities and bring double awareness, new ideas and updates to our communities. I sit on the Peninsula Community Planning Board so I hope to bring some city knowledge to these neighborhood meetings."
Ueno plans to work closely with Virissimo and Surwilo to create a successful neighborhood watch program that can serve as a model for other neighboring communities and to become as Virissimo put it Peninsula-strong.