Note: I first published my first op-ed about Imperial Beach and its contentious politics in the Los Angeles Times about 25 years ago. I wrote this recent piece that was published in Imperial Beach Patch after being dsmayed by the anti-community sentiment and policies (that are often very environmentally destructive) enacted by City Hall.
With the recent effort by the City of Imperial Beach to give up management of its Sports Park complex that includes a skate park and hallowed Little League fields that have nurtured thousands of Imperial Beach children over the past 50 years, the tolerance of residents for the inexpert way the city and especially Mayor Jim Janney, manage civic affairs, has officially ended.
At a March 20City Council meeting, more than 140 residents angrily denounced the attempt to turn over ball fields and a free skate park to the South Bay Family YMCA (which unfortunately has been caught in the crossfire).
The City Council wisely delayed the Sports Park and Little League proposal and approved holding a public workshop on the issue on April 11. However, public rancor over the Sports Park is a manifestation of the larger issue of the lack of civic infrastructure and trust in government in Imperial Beach and the urgent need for political reform.
Imperial Beach has always been a rough and tumble town with a long history of contentious politics. But long time observers of City Hall cannot remember a time when our local government has been as out of sync with the community as it is now.
The past six months has been as tumultuous as any in Imperial Beach’s history due to the alienation by the City of just about almost every major constituency group in town. Beachfront property owners and surfers protested the failings of a SANDAG and city beach replenishment project that flooded beachfront residences and ruined surfing conditions.
Business owners were frustrated over the city’s attempt to prevent the installation of new streetlights along Seacoast Drive. Residents throughout Imperial Beach were up in arms over a proposal to charge residents and visitors alike to park in the coastal zone.
For longtime residents like me who were raised in Imperial Beach during the 1970s when biker gangs held sway on the old Imperial Beach Pier, our decision to remain and raise our families here has been a good one.
Once you get to know Imperial Beach with its unpretentious and affordable neighborhoods, endless beach with great surf, wildlife filled estuaries, and its diverse and generous residents, you find that it is hard to ever leave.
With beachfront investments made by the Port of San Diego under the leadership of Mayors Mike Bixler and Diane Rose during the 1990s, Imperial Beach is a vastly safer and more visitor-friendly town than it was when I was a kid.
With the upcoming opening of the Pier South Hotel later this year, Imperial Beach will have an opportunity to showcase its new face to tourists that city officials are praying will turn out in droves.
For most Imperial Beach residents however, City Hall, like the DMV, is an institution with an inexplicably inert bureaucracy that is best to be avoided at all costs.
As a result, residents have kept their distance from a local government that provides few services and has slowly dismantled its once robust citizen advisory boards that historically provided a participatory platform for policy making and citizen engagement (I was appointed to the Youth Commission as an 8th grader in 1978 by then Mayor Brian Bilbray). Currently Imperial Beach only has only two citizen advisory boards, unlike neighboring Chula Vista with 22 and Coronado with 15.
Developing a new set of citizen commissions as well as improving government openness, accountability and transparency is the only way out of the current political impasse.
The City of Imperial Beach must reform so that it can be viewed as an honest broker that can help the community develop a vision that is about improving the quality of life for residents throughout the city, rather than only improving the beachfront and filling city coffers.
For the residents of Imperial Beach to prosper, the city must ensure that the community comes first and is not just viewed as an asset to be divested.
Because for the people of Imperial Beach, our children are the city’s greatest resource and its future.