At low tide or high tide one of the most popular spots near San Francisco's Ocean Beach is Java Beach Cafe. This is also where the Judah trolley line ends. It has always been a gathering point for surfers, skateboards and bicyclers.
Yet what residents and community activists want people to know is that the three to five or more blocks along La Playa Street near 48th Ave (where the cafe sits) is a distinct neighborhood within a neighborhood. Most people consider the avenues going out towards the beach, the Outer-Sunset District or the Outer-Richmond District.
Yet as more people stream into the City to live and work, the defining lines of what makes a neighborhood a good place to live are becoming more distinctive. The need for affordable and comfortable housing. The need to be close to reliable public transportation and commuter hubs; and most important of all, a place that is safe and clean, that not only feels like home but is home.
"We call it La Playa Park, said resident and teacher Steve Ward, the name is organic, he said. He described La Playa Park as "a little niche within the Sunset." Ward talked with this reporter while on assignment for the Sunset Beacon to emphasize how important the Sept. 17 hearing was at City Hall regarding large vehicle legislation.
Ward who wanted took time off from work to attend the hearing that Monday afternoon at 1 PM, but had to work, noted that not many people from the neighborhood were able to show up. "We are all working," he said. "Yet, I wanted to get the word out because this issue is extremely important to us residents," Ward said.
He pointed out the improvements that he and other long-time residents like Sean Gibbs have worked to build, such as the Bocce ball area or the mini garden that is directly across the street from Java Beach Cafe. "This improves the quality of life and it sends a message that people live here, families live here," said Ward.
Parkside resident Lee Ellen Shoemaker has been volunteering her time to help improve conditions at La Playa Park.
"I believe in what Steve and others in the Outer-Sunset are doing," she said.
Shoemaker noted that Ward "has a real vision and is instrumental in spearheading the community effort."
Gibbs gave a brief tour of the Bocce ball area, making note of the time and effort it took to turn what essentially had been a traffic median into a welcoming place for people to gather. Not far in the distance was a camper, parked as it had been there for a while.
Ward noted that it seems vehicles "camped" along the La Playa and Ocean Beach area dump garbage, syringes, intravenous needles and human excrement on the street. There is no direct particular proof that those vehicles that camp along the beach do this. Yet, needles, trash and human excrement has been found along the beach and La Playa area. "This poses a very real health and sanitation risk to the community," said Ward.
Bruce Graziani a native to the Sunset, applauds all the work Ward, Gibbs, and others have done. "Yet, I don't know if their efforts will be enough to fight off the seedy element that is attracted to this area," he said.
Beach Motel owner Bobby Patel just completed a decades-long battle with the City trying to keep his guest-visitor establishment strictly for guests. Since the early 1990's The Tenderloin Housing Coalition put pressure on city officials to force Patel to convert his motel into an SRO establishment. Patel praised the work of Ward and others. Yet Patel agreed, the area is a magnet for vagrants and transients.
This is not just an Outer-Sunset or Outer-Richmond District issue, as some have noted. This is a city-wide issue. It has been going on for a long time. In fact the San Francisco Examiner last year reported how a group of residents formed a watch-group and tallied the number of vehicles, which some claim are as many as 30. “Some of them park for six to nine months,” said John Zwolinski, one of the founders of the neighborhood watch group, when he talked to the SF Examiner in January of last year.
Ward said that he was pleased that from the hearing the issue would then be brought before the Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Carmen Chu's office alerted the press on Wednesday, Sept. 19, that discussion on the topic of over-sized vehicle use will not be ignored. "The legislation recently passed unanimously out of Land Use Committee, and will be considered by the full Board of Supervisors."
Ward noted that the easy-going atmosphere of the ocean can attract people who just want to party and loiter around. "Those types of people are not from around here. They don't understand this is a place where families live and we want to improve the quality of life here," said Ward.
Meanwhile Supervisor Chu is trying to present legislation that allows City parking and traffic officials to restrict where (and perhaps for how long) large vehicles can park. One aspect to addressing this issue is to which jurisdiction should enforcement and administration of regulation and ordinance fall? Should it be Dept. of Parking and Traffic duty? Or is this a land use issue? Supervisor Chu was able to remove the concern from the land use committee. Yet streets and sidewalks are part of the situation. And since this has to do with City property is this Recreation and Parks responsibility? Or, will it be strictly law enforcements's job through local police? Again, the issue of homelessness is part of the picture; for if the large vehicle 'campers' are homeless and need to move on, where will they go? How will the City assist them in finding proper housing? Can the City afford to establish an outreach to such a circumstance?
The questions continue as the issue of large vehicles camping out on the street, no doubt, will take some time and effort to resolve properly. Ward and others will continue to be watchful and stand their ground insisting that the few blocks that consist of La Playa Park be considered as a neighborhood and receive the attention and respect it deserves.