SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Gatherings in Ocean Beach went as planned Wednesday night but on a smaller scale than was seen a week ago. The San Diego Police Department increased its presence in the area following complaints from residents. Just after 10 p.m. police walked around the drum circle being held and broke it up. Citations were issued for open containers and dogs without leashes but none were given for lack of social distancing or not wearing facial coverings.
"It's really a big difference isn't it. It's nice the drum circle can still exist but much smaller and calmer," said Michel Kasander, Ocean Beach resident.
Kasander wrote city leaders after several weeks of loud music and concerts in the parking lot late into the night. He is also concerned with the lack of social distancing and no facial coverings potentially spreading COVID-19.
"We are trying to keep people from infecting COVID-19 in our community," said Kasander
A drummer whose been performing in the drum circle for 10 years said is he isn't feeling the love.
"Yes I'm upset and I think that it was an overreaction. This is a great gathering of peaceful people," said Brian DeBenedictis.
A city task force was out Wednesday afternoon reminding people about the rules ahead of the farmers market and weekly drum circle. Task force leaders spent several hours in the area, handing out masks and informational pamphlets. They said the goal was to educate people, not write $1,000 tickets for violating the county’s public health order.
“It’s not acceptable to be out here without masks,” said Dr. Joel Day, a senior advisor to the city for COVID-19 response and recovery. “So the big thing we’re doing is handing out masks and making sure people don’t congregate together.”
The increased police action came after videos showed a mass gathering in Veteran’s Park last week where many were seen not taking coronavirus precautions such as social distancing and wearing masks. San Diego police broke up the crowds last Wednesday night but no one was cited for violating public health order and no arrests were made, according to the department.
"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 the park.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, residents in the Ocean Beach area said they have noticed the crowds were growing larger with no social distancing, loud music, illegal vendors, and lots of trash left behind. Neighbors told News 8 they are fed up with the late-night noise and the trash left behind.
And when it quiets down, the O.B. Town Council picks up all the trash left behind.
"[There are] thousands of gallons a week," said town council treasurer Corey Bruins.
The city blocked off Veteran's Park with temporary fencing and posts Tuesday morning. Around noon, individuals showed up and began removing the fencing and tearing the netting apart as News 8 camera rolled.
Content warning: The video below includes profanity and may not be suitable for all viewers.
Instead of an organized press conference that was planned Tuesday, individual community leaders spoke to News 8 from the grass at Veteran's Plaza while people gathered around, loudly expressing their approval or disapproval.
“While I appreciate the San Diego Police Department’s increased presence last week, it’s clear more comprehensive action needs to be taken to keep San Diegans safe,” said Councilmember Jennifer Campbell.
The O.B. Town Council and residents said last week they sent a letter to San Diego city and county leaders, and police pleading for help.
"Just seeing folks form the city and county show up in person in the flesh talking to people education that's what we've been asking for a long," said Bruins.
The San Diego Police Department sent News 8 the following statement last week on the issue:
"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."