Fights against racism and coronavirus take the focus at Pacific Beach Town Council meeting

Paddle for Peace organizer Marisa leads protesters at Tourmaline Surfing Park on June 6.
Paddle for Peace organizer Marisa leads protesters in eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence for George Floyd at Tourmaline Surfing Park on June 6.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Struggles against the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and racism were highlighted at the Pacific Beach Town Council’s June meeting.

Though the gradual reopening of the community’s businesses and public places has been expanding recently in the wake of the March stay-at-home orders, local officials cautioned the 80 people attending the Town Council’s June 17 meeting online that the situation is anything but normal and expressed that staying open and remaining viable is now the greater challenge.

The spotlight, however, was on two main presenters, Paige Hernandez and Marisa (who did not give her last name), who discussed the steps they took recently to confront bigotry in society.

“It’s really important for people to speak up when it’s uncomfortable and be part of the change,” said Marisa, who organized the Paddle for Peace demonstration at Tourmaline Surfing Park in north Pacific Beach on June 6. “Because if we keep sweeping it under the rug and we keep ignoring it, it’s going to continue to be a problem.”

Hundreds of surfers and other supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement gathered June 6 at Tourmaline Surfing Park in north Pacific Beach for a Paddle for Peace event to honor the life of George Floyd, whose death in police custody May 25 in Minneapolis has sparked protests throughout the country against racial injustice and police brutality.

Hundreds of surfers and spectators participated in the Paddle for Peace in common cause with the countless protests nationwide following the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. The local ceremony included a flower toss and eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence — the length of time a police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck as Floyd told him he couldn’t breathe.

As a regular surfer at Tourmaline, Marisa said she chose to rally the surf community because of its kindred nature and to highlight black and brown members of a predominantly white scene. However, she said even she was surprised by the overwhelming support.

“I thought 20 or 30 people maybe would come and we could all just be together and heal,” she said. “The turnout was huge. It was bigger than anything I could have expected. ... Everyone was thanking me, but I feel like the thanks should go to the community, because this was a group effort. All I did was light the flame and everyone else carried the torch.”

Going to school and working in La Jolla in the medical field, Marisa described blatant as well as subtle forms of discrimination she has experienced as an African-American woman. She plans to organize another event to rally voters before the November election.

“People want to feel a sense of belonging, and I just want people to remember that,” she said. “Remember how it feels to belong and really realize that other people want to belong too. The black community wants to belong. So I just want people to remember why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Hernandez, a Pacific Beach resident and assistant director of strategic initiatives at San Diego State University, became embroiled in a recent controversy involving the use of racist language, including the “n-word,” on a local Instagram account. Rebuffed by the site’s administrator when she confronted the subject, Hernandez decided to launch her own Instagram page, named blackbrownpb.

“I think the negative interaction just filled me to want to create something different for PB,” Hernandez said. “A page where I can amplify diverse experiences and perspectives that we usually don’t see on other PB Instagram accounts.”

Paige Hernandez of Pacific Beach launched the Instagram account blackbrownpb.
Paige Hernandez of Pacific Beach launched the Instagram account blackbrownpb to “amplify diverse experiences and perspectives.”

The page, launched in May, immediately became immersed in the protests for racial justice and police reform, promoting and supporting area demonstrations. Hernandez said she wants to build on that foundation.

“I’m looking for opportunities to get more involved within the community and give back,” she said. “This page is not to trash Pacific Beach or to bring negative attention to our city but to add value to an already amazing community and just ensure that the most marginalized folks within our community are being prioritized.”

Business concerns

Sara Berns, executive director of Discover Pacific Beach, the community’s business improvement district, said her agency is focusing on helping local businesses stay afloat in the new environment created by the coronavirus.

Yet Discover PB is grappling with its own problems — Berns said the agency’s plan for the annual Pacific Beachfest on Oct. 3 is still up in the air due to the evolving situation with the pandemic.

“It will depend on what kind of requirements we have to adhere to and whether that’s feasible for a festival by October,” she said. “We have put out applications for artists and things, but we’re not asking vendors to pay until maybe July, when we can make a call on Beachfest.”

With a moratorium on city business assessments that help fund BIDs and the cancellation of fundraising events such as the Restaurant Walk and Bikes, Boards and Brews, Discover PB’s future is as uncertain as that of the businesses it supports, Berns said.

“As with most of the businesses, most of our funding sources are either nonexistent or have been cut in half,” she said. “We do have savings to basically get us through the end of this year with our operating costs at this point. Obviously, there’s a point where we have to figure out what to do next.”

This photo of delivery boxes by Jane Nobbs was the winner of the Pacific Beach Town Council’s Porch Portrait Contest.
This photo of delivery boxes by Jane Nobbs was the winner of the Pacific Beach Town Council’s Porch Portrait Contest, which sought depictions of life in the community during the coronavirus pandemic from the social distancing-appropriate perspective of a front porch.