Thousands of OB Residents, Property and Business Owners Took Part in Historic Election of May 4, 1976
By Frank Gormlie / OB Rag
There are a lot of important anniversaries these days, it seems, like the 50th anniversary of the Ocean Beach Pier, and like the 50th Re-Union of the Point Loma High School Class of 1966.
But there’s one significant anniversary for Ocean Beach that has as of yet been highlighted for its deserved respect and celebration.
And that’s the 40th Anniversary of the popular vote on March 4, 1976 that established both the Ocean Beach Planning Board and the first OB Community Plan (then called the “Precise Plan”).
That vote that day in early May four decades ago was truly an historic occasion because not only did it establish the Board that still exists and the Plan, but nearly 4,500 renters, property owners and business owners participated in the balloting that lasted all day.
Not only was the democratic election of a local planning committee a first for Ocean Beach, it was the first time that such an event had taken place in the history of San Diego – the popular election of a community planning committee.
So, dear OBceans, please in the upcoming weeks – and especially on May 4th – it’s on Wednesday this year – take a moment and celebrate this genuine people’s victory, either over your first cup of coffee, around the dinner table, at your meetings, in your prayers or during your thoughts of reflection.
In an historical re-telling of the story of the early days of Ocean Beach planning, we described the May 4, 1976 election thus:
… there was an emotional intensity cresting when May 4th, 1976 finally arrived.
The [Ocean Beach] village had been divided into seven voting districts, with one to two voting sites per district, mainly in front of markets, large and small. The balloting took place all day—and at the appointed hour, ballot boxes were taken to the OB Recreation Center for counting, with everything monitored by the League of Women Voters.
When the votes came in, it was apparent that the election and its turnout had been astounding. Thousands had voted. All told, nearly 4,500 ballots were cast in this special election. With a community population of 13,000, the eligibility rolls included 6,100 registered voters, 2,100 property owners (1,100 inside the plan area and 1,000 outside the area), and 600 business license holders. In District 1 alone, 851 ballots were cast. 1,108 voted in District 2. District 3 had 755 votes. Another 1,085 voted in District 4—the business district (where this writer lost by 8 votes). The lowest turnout was in District 5—with 696 votes. These were stunning numbers.
The big news of the day: candidates from the Community Planning Group had captured eight of the 14 seats on the Board, a clear majority. Some of those elected had been involved since the beginning in the battle for OB’s community plan. They included a mix of Town Council types, counter-cultural radicals and anarchists, a “socialist,” professionals and small business people. The sweep by the planning group candidates was empowering and historic; a small neighborhood organization had grown to be the majority on the first planning board democratically elected in the city’s history.
After the first Board was sworn in, the members selected a woman activist as its first general chairperson, and then got down to the business of figuring out to how to proceed, how to operate. That Board and those that followed over the nearly four decades provide the modern history of development in Ocean Beach.
By the time the first Board was installed in 1976, it had been a long, half-decade since the very first Precise Plan had been released in the summer of 1971. Over that time, there were numerous efforts by the establishment, through the city and its planning bureaucracy, to circumvent or out-maneuver the planning activists, to downplay their populism and demands for a democratic election. And all these moves were met with counter-moves by the activists that often upped the ante on the table.
When at the midpoint of 1975 City Hall finally authorized a democratic election by the community for its planning committee, the establishment had accepted the concept that ordinary working people, renters, small property owners and small businesspeople have a say in a community’s development and planning. This idea had been central to the grassroots activists during the entire lengthy battle for a community blueprint. And this is part of the legacy of the first planning board to all those that came later.
Stepping back, we can see that the creation of a planning review board for this small community back in the mid-Seventies was part of the “Revolt at the Coast”—a rebellion by residents up and down Southern California and San Diego, as quality-of-life issues became overwhelmingly paramount to unbridled urban development.
The “Revolt at the Coast” included the passage of the signature environmental initiative of the time, the creation of the California Coastal Commission; it included the San Diego voter-initiated 30-foot height limit passed overwhelmingly by voters from all over the city—and enforced to this day. And it included the creation of the Ocean Beach community plan and its call for a democratically-elected planning committee—setting precedent for communities all over the city. When in 1976 the very first newly-elected Board for OB was installed, it also had the distinction of being the very first in the state of California.