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San Diego police break up crowds after complaints over large weekly gatherings in Ocean Beach

Neighbors said Wednesday night gatherings at Veteran's Plaza are getting larger with no social distancing, loud music, illegal vendors and trash left behind.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Late Wednesday night, San Diego police cracked down and broke up massive crowds gathered at Veteran's Plaza in Ocean Beach. The area is known for a weekly drum circle on farmers market nights and the beat had recently been growing louder. 

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, residents in the area 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.

Following complaints, SDPD officers broke up the drum circle Wednesday around 10 p.m. 

"No mask and no social distancing and it's making the whole community sick," said O.B. resident Michel Kasander. 

Drum circle attendees see things differently.

"The pandemic to me is not realistic," said park attendee Phaux, one man at the drum circle. 

Credit: Courtesy: Corey Bruins OB Town Council Treasurer

The O.B.-regulated and permitted farmers market is held on Wednesday and has always attracted crowds. Neighbors said that isn't the problem but at Veterans Park - where Michel Kasander and his wife's patio faces - late into the night there are concerts and DJs blasting loud music. 

"Last week, I didn't get to bed until 12 and it still wasn't quiet," Kasander said. 

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.

So the O.B. Town Council and the Kasanders sent a letter to San Diego city and county leaders, and police pleading for help.

"We are hoping for a sustainable comprehensive approach to this," said Bruins. "Our goal is not for PD to drive by with lights and sirens and scare the crowd away." 

San Diego police issued a statement saying it hopes those at drum circle events will self manage and be good neighbors.

Councilmember Dr. Jennifer Campbell whose district includes Ocean Beach said in part she has urged the mayor and county to enforce public health orders.

"I would like enforcement there as well," said San Diego Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. "We are aware of what is happening and we do expect to have safe compliance teams." 

Community leaders and neighbors say the mayhem at Veterans has to stop. 

"There is no doubt that we need to do something," Bruins said.

San Diego Police e-mailed the following statement to News 8: 

"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."

Councilmember Dr. Jennifer Campbell released the following statement on the gatherings:

"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."

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