There's a classic confrontation in Oceanside these days that should be interesting to watch in the months to come. It involves the city council, Camp Pendleton, the Western Surfing Association, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Oceanside Boaters Association, various landowners, businessmen, environmentalists, and several other private organizations and government agencies.
Oceanside today is a city on the move. They're hustling. They're tired of being a grimy little beach town next to the marine base, more famous for their prostitution, porno joints, grubby pool halls, tattoo parlors, and bus stations, than for their popular harbor and white beaches. And they want to do something about it. In cooperation with the marine corps, they've been able to ease some of the problems. The base now staggers its paychecks so all their men don't go on liberty at the same time; they've set up satellite bus stations which they hope will relieve the congestion in the tenderloin district; they've established special crime unit; and most importantly, they've organized what they call the Oceanside Economic Development Department whose job it is to attract light industry and tourist-related investment to the city. And apparently it isn't all talk. Last spring the city council established a surcharge on license fees for businesses in the downtown area to help pay for all this, which prompted squeals of protests from small businessmen who say they're being driven out to make room for the big investor.
Then some time ago the city decided it would be nice to expand the congested Oceanside harbor to make room for more boats. Visions of Newport Beach, or something. They had a good thing going with the harbor; people were coming from all over to use it (in fact 75 percent of the boats there are registered by out-of-towners), and if they could double its size they would have twice as much of a good thing. The money was set aside by the U.S. Congress ten years ago authorizing the Army Corps of Engineers to study the harbor and come up with a plan. And now they think they have it.
Actually the engineers came up with three plans, but two of them were obviously less desirable, leaving just the one being seriously considered. The essence of the plan is this: they propose to double the size of the harbor by constructing a jetty into the ocean on the south side, and then at right angles to that, a submerged breakwater extending over to the existing harbor. The entrance between them will be protected by another offshore breakwater. The project, if approved, would cost at least $24 million, funded half-and-half by the federal government and the city of Oceanside, and wouldn't even begin until 1983.
Opposition to the plan is considerable among environmentalists — Coast Watch, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society — who fear beach erosion to the south, destruction of marine organisms, and water pollution in the enclosed area. But the most vocal of the opposing groups is the Western Surfing Association. They say the harbor wild destroy one of the last surfing spots in Oceanside. They feel that waves are a natural resource and should be protected. As one member of the WSA put it at a recent city council meeting, "You're removing the most dependable and accessible surfing spot in Oceanside, used by hundreds of surfers from all over ... and I think it's unacceptable." He said that surfers from as far away as Mojave have written the WSA saying they're concerned and want to know what they can do.
One after another the surfers who packed the council chamber stood up to voice their objections to the harbor. One young surfer, obviously nervous but still game, said, "I don't know how the council works but..." and then went on to explain his feeling that all the surfing in Oceanside had been eliminated little by little until now only this spot remained, and the only people to benefit by expanding the harbor are yacht owners, landowners, and businessmen whose property will increase in value.
Another young surfer said that while it was true that the present harbor was full, on any weekend only a small number of boats gets used. "Somebody from L.A. buys a boat, puts it in the harbor, and it sits there. I've seen boats sink right in the slip because nobody ever used them." He suggested they pass a law saying that everyone who owned a boat had to use it.
There were other surfers — a lawyer, a shop owner, a school teacher — but it was the young surfers, some no older than 15 or 16, who surprised everybody at the meeting with their gutsy and humorous complaints.
Oddly enough, the Army Corps of Engineers sympathized with the surfers, and assured them they would do everything possible to create equivalent surfing conditions outside the harbor. But the surfers just laughed at this, and the engineers' spokesman granted them that other attempts to do this, mostly in Hawaii, hadn't been very successful and were much too costly. But as a true engineer, he left the impression that he'd sure like to try.
A few old-time surfers, most notably ex-mayor Richardson, recalled surfing around Oceanside in the 30s, when they rode solid boards that weighed 125 pounds. "We liked to stick close to the pier where everybody could watch us." he claimed that construction of the present harbor destroyed one of their best beaches then, but created another beach farther south. Others recalled the same.
This rather strange phenomenon is caused by the prevailing current which runs from north to south along the coast. If a beach is created by the current depositing sand along the shore, and then is blocked by a man-made configuration such as a jetty, supposedly the current will deposit the same sand farther down the line. But nobody is willing to guarantee it.
Of course the boaters are all for the proposed harbor expansion. They have nothing against the surfers — many of them surf themselves, or are ex-surfers who switched to boating in their later years — but they say surfing is a "one-on-one" sport, while boating involves the entire family. A member of the Oceanside Boaters Association claimed before the council that boating all but saved his family from disintegration, and that the reference to "yachts" by the surfers is irrelevant because, "...we have a beer harbor here, not a champagne harbor. I lease my boat from the Bank of America. My wife and I both work and it'll be a long time before we pay for it."