Large bonfire parties on Mission Bay frustrate city officials, nearby residents

We have been advocating for stiffer fines and more enforcement for years. Whenever a news source covers the story we are happy, but frankly, we'd prefer if there was never a need to cover the story in the first place.


Crown Point bashes have become more popular with bars closed during COVID-19 pandemic.


By DAVID GARRICK

SEP. 7, 20206 AM

SAN DIEGO —  Crown Point Park on Mission Bay has become a hotspot during the COVID-19 pandemic for large nighttime parties featuring deejays, movie screens and giant bonfires, frustrating nearby residents and San Diego park rangers.


“The bars have moved to the beach and are probably a significant cause of spreading the virus,” longtime Crown Point resident Lee Deshong recently told the city’s Mission Bay Park Committee.

The parties, typically held every Wednesday and Saturday night, also feature drinking, drug use and dozens of illegal bonfires outside of the city’s limited number of approved fire rings in the sprawling bayfront park, residents say.


Four park rangers assigned to Mission Bay Park have issued warnings and alerted San Diego police to the problem, but the rangers end their daily shifts about 7:30 p.m. – just as preparations for the nighttime bashes kick into high gear.


The Mission Bay Park Committee has created a special task force focused on the parties, but city parks district manager Mike Rodrigues said there are no easy answers.

And one member of the committee warned against a crackdown that might overreach, preventing ordinary families from using the park’s fire rings to roast marshmallows and unwind together in an idyllic setting.


City lifeguards alert the rangers when they see party preparations. But after the rangers finish their shifts, any enforcement falls to the Police Department’s beach teams, which are typically focused on more pressing issues, Rodrigues said.

Those issues have included an unusually high number of people firing guns in Belmont Park this summer, evening traffic jams as visitors depart Fiesta Island, and more crime than usual because use of the park has skyrocketed during the pandemic, said Brandon Broaddus, a community resource officer.


Police Department officials recently approved extra personnel for Labor Day weekend and subsequent weekends into the fall. Residents say the police need to make the parties a priority.

“It’s dark, so they can get away with it because the police are busy with so much else,” said Crown Point resident Denise Friedman. “If they don’t shut this down now, it’s only going to get bigger and worse.”

Friedman said the parties began about two years ago on Wednesday nights, but they have grown in size dramatically since beaches re-opened in June but bars have remained closed.

Rodrigues said he’s concerned about the illegal bonfires at the parties, which emanate from makeshift holes in the sand instead of approved fire rings. Sometimes improper wood or furniture is burned, emitting carcinogens into the air.


He said the daytime-only shifts of the rangers, which normally make sense, have prevented parks staff from dealing effectively with the problem.


“We try to catch a gathering before it starts,” Rodrigues said. “Then the rangers leave for the day, and we get to clean up the mess in the morning.”

City officials say they may soon post better signage about the park’s rules, which prohibit drinking and fires outside the approved rings. Other options include an information campaign on social media, they said.


Residents say that rules already on the books should be aggressively enforced and that citations make more sense than the warnings that have been issued.


In addition to the illegal drinking and makeshift fire rings, residents say the parties almost always violate the city’s maximum gathering size of 50 people. The parties also frequently include fireworks and amplified music that violate city codes, residents say.


Friedman said city officials should also contact local companies that specialize in beach party equipment, to let them know the city will be cracking down and discourage them from providing supplies for the parties in Crown Point Park.


But Jeff Johnson, a member of the Mission Bay Park Committee, said any solution must be carefully crafted.


“The rangers and the Police Department really have their work cut out for them because this isn’t an easy thing to tackle,” he told his colleagues on the committee Tuesday night.

The goal should be to stop the “bad actors” but not crack down on ordinary nighttime users of Crown Point Park.


“I don’t want us to get into removing fire rings or locking down areas in a much more restrictive way,” Johnson said. “There are families and people, especially during the COVID situation, that have a lot less ways to relieve stress. I just want to make sure we don’t tread on that part of the Mission Bay Park experience.”


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