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Another mass gathering in San Diego, no one cited for violating the public health order

"It’s sending a message of anyone can do whatever they want [and] it doesn’t matter," said Ocean Beach Hotel owner Brad Dickson.

Video taken in Ocean Beach has gained a lot of attention on social media.

A crowd of hundreds gathered at the drum circle in Veteran's Plaza Wednesday night. Hardly anyone wore masks and there was no social distancing. San Diego police officers eventually broke up the crowd around 10:00 pm, but on Thursday, News 8 learned no one was cited for violating the public health order.

"It’s sending a message of anyone can do whatever they want, [and] it doesn’t matter," said Brad Dickson, owner of the Ocean Beach Hotel, which is located directly across the street from Veteran's Plaza.

"It’s dodge city down here. It really is 'make your own rules'," he said.

The San Diego Police Department sent News 8 this statement:

SDPD Western Division is aware of this community concern and is looking at ways to address it from a variety of approaches, in order to find a solution that respects both sides of this issue.

 As a department, we recognize the quality of life issues that can arise from calls like these. OB is an area rich in culture and expression is practically a way of life. 

That said, what is also a way of life for all of San Diego is living in peace with our neighbors. Our hope is that those involved in the drum circle events would consider self-managing and perhaps find a start and end time which honors those who live in the surrounding neighborhood and doing so in a manner that recognizes the unique times we are living in with the advent of COVID-19.

Efforts to address the concerns in the interim have included: routine patrols in the area when possible and enforcement of ancillary violations, such as: open alcohol & narcotics violations.

As much as is appropriate in our role, SDPD will continue to look for ways we can be helpful in finding a resolution to this issue. We will also be gauging what if any additional enforcement efforts may be appropriate.

Ocean Beach Town Council Treasurer Corey Bruins said the situation is frustrating, but he points out at least this week police broke it up.

"By 11:00 p.m. the area was clear and that's an improvement from last week," he said. 

It's the latest mass gathering that's drawn attention.

Last week, hundreds gathered at Cardiff State Beach for a church service. Hardly anyone wore masks, and there was no social distancing. Holding church services outdoors is allowed, but participants must wear masks and practice social distancing. Though some got parking tickets, state park rangers didn't cite anyone for violating the public health order. 

"I would say it continues to create a lack of faith in our government officials to enforce the order the county has sent down," said Bruins.

San Diego County Supervisors recently announced a compliance call center and a "Safe Re-opening Compliance Team" but its focus is cracking down on businesses that violate the county's public health order. The priority is the most egregious violators.

"I want to see a compliance team," said Bruins. "What do they do? What mechanisms for enforcement do they have? The fine for not complying with the health order is $1,000. Who has the ability to issue those fines?"

"We need help down here," said Dickson. "Police, health department, city officials, whomever."

News 8 reached out to Council Member Jennifer Campbell's office Thursday. She did not comment.

Campbell sent News 8 this statement Wednesday:

"My office has received complaints about the OB Farmer's Market crowds gathering at Veteran's Plaza on Wednesday evenings ever since I came into office. These two events have contributed to the culture of OB for decades and have an undeniable reciprocal effect on each other. However, some members of the community have raised a number of issues about the Wednesday evening crowds including complaints about non-permitted vendors, noise from music, non-compliance with COVID-19 health orders, and an increase of trash.  

During my term, we have provided additional trash receptacles in response to the influx in visitors, have dealt with re-sodding of the grassy area from overuse, and have collaborated with SDPD to have additional walking teams and resources to address these complaints. For most of 2020, the Farmer's Market and associated gatherings have not been an issue as the events were not being held. Concerns have escalated now that the Farmer's Market is up and running and the crowds have returned. 

My office will continue to work with the community to find common ground now that the Wednesday crowds have returned to enjoy the market and the beach. SDPD has committed to direct additional resources on Wednesday evenings to better enforce noise complaint issues. I have also urged the Mayor and county to enforce mask wearing and social distancing and will continue to do so. I will also be encouraging the OB Mainstreet Association, who hosts the Wednesday farmer's market, to consider a range of options that would make direct and positive impact for concerned OB residents.

As always, we appreciate our OB community's engagement and will continue to work with them to ensure the we can all enjoy this unique and special corner of San Diego."

News 8 also reached out to Mayor Kevin Faulconer's office, but has not received a response as of Thursday evening.

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