Garnet Block Captain Program connects, educates businesses to enhance Pacific Beach
“We’re like neighborhood watch, but for businesses — so that businesses get to know each other within their own block and work together.”
This is how Eve Anderson describes Garnet Block Captain Program (GBCP), a new group named after Garnet Avenue with the goal of connecting and educating Pacific Beach businesses between Crystal Pier and Ingraham Street.
Anderson, a community volunteer who has been a PB resident since 1973, got the idea to start the program in November 2019. As a member of the Pacific Beach Planning Group’s Streets and Sidewalks Subcommittee, she became aware of various issues occurring outside of businesses on Garnet, including a lack of cleanliness and increase in crime.
“Nobody was really looking at Garnet … (other groups) didn’t have enough time for it ... it was like nobody wanted to tackle it,” she said. “They knew it was going to be a big job and it just wasn’t on anybody’s agenda.” (Anderson notes that several years ago, Discover Pacific Beach operated the Clean & Safe Program that addressed some of these issues; however, the group had to disband due to lack of funds.)
For a block captain program, a business owner from each block is appointed as a “captain” for all of the other businesses on that particular stretch of the street. These individuals are responsible for educating and communicating with everyone on their block; this includes sharing information about neighborhood initiatives and reminding them to follow city ordinances.
In January 2020, Anderson pitched the program to the Pacific Beach Town Council and Pacific Beach Planning Group, both of whom agreed to co-sponsor the program. The group also partners on various projects with nonprofits Discover Pacific Beach and beautifulPB.
A plan to launch in March 2020 was delayed due to the pandemic, which caused many businesses on Garnet to shut their doors. When businesses started to open up in June, Anderson visited storefronts along the street to spread the word about the new program and collect contact information for each business.
The laborious process, which took five months, led to the compilation of a comprehensive database with names, phone numbers, and email addresses of every business owner in the nine-block radius. This contact list allows Anderson to distribute community newsletters to the businesses with important information, and serves as a resource if a specific business needs to be contacted about a potential issue.
During these visits, she also carefully identified the right people to appoint as block captains. In addition to the block captains, three community volunteers — Leslie Dufour, Ron Walker and Brian White — offered to lend Anderson a hand with the program, from participating in beautification efforts to helping businesses execute an LOA (Letter of Agency) with the San Diego Police. (According to GBCP’s April newsletter, a LOA is an crime enforcement tool; having one on file allows officers “to enforce laws against any person(s) found on the property without the owners consent or without lawful purpose.”)
“One of our goals is increasing communication between businesses, and making everybody feel a little bit more emotionally accountable for what their area looks like and how that contributes to the greater impression of the PB business district,” Walker said.
Currently, the program encompasses nine blocks with 10 block captains: Scott Slaga of 710 Beach Club; Terra Kratz of Prospect Home Finance; Bernard Lebel of California Sock Co. and Amy Ballester of Crushed (co-captains); Maria Pagan of Steak N Fries; Collette Foxworth of Rhythm’s Chicken & Waffles; Tom Leonard of SD Tap Room; Anthony Lauria of Local H2O Water Store; Jack Conca of Mr. Frostie; and Anisha Blodgett of Powerhaus Pizza.
“We don’t have bylaws, we don’t have meetings, we don’t have any of the normal stuff that holds you back — we just do stuff!” Anderson said, referring to some of the roadblocks that kept her from completing projects with other organizations in the past.
Some of the stuff GBCP is doing includes addressing the greenery on Garnet, such as Anderson’s ongoing communication with the city of San Diego to address tree trimming concerns, as well as a volunteer effort led by Dufour to fill empty planter boxes and tree wells.
In addition to greenery, Dufour is focused on creating opportunities for more art on Garnet Avenue. This includes GBCP’s new campaign “No Blank Walls!” — an initiative that connects businesses to local artists in order to add colorful murals to unpainted exterior walls on Garnet.
“I am really grateful to the local businesses and landlords who are willing to take a chance on this collaborative community model, to beautify our main street. And I am super grateful and proud of all of the volunteers who are making this model work,” Dufour said, adding that monetary donations from beautifulPB, as well as planting guidance and discounts from Green Gardens Nursery, have also been a tremendous help.
“If we can sustain an ongoing collaboration (among businesses, residents and civic groups) we can create more natural and artistic beauty in our community,” Dufour continued. “An improved public space benefits all of us, and requires a commitment from all of us.”
According to Walker, GBCP is a loosely run entity, explaining that where the program ends and other PB groups begin is hard to say.
“There’s sort of a lot of overlap with different organizations and different people’s roles with those organizations, and I think that’s been a real benefit. Under other circumstances, it’s probably exactly how you wouldn’t want to run something,” Walker said, laughing.
“In this particular instance, it’s just amazing how it’s been bringing groups together and I think helping some of the entities in PB work together in ways that maybe some of them haven’t for a while,” he continued.
White, who has been with the group for six months, recently helped lead an effort with PB Town Council to power wash areas of the neighborhood, including some of the dirtiest sidewalks along Garnet. Additionally, he is currently providing support for Dufour’s trash can painting project and working to produce LOA signage for participating businesses.
“I hope the GBCP’s volunteer efforts will promote an ongoing pride of ownership, blurring the line between private and public property along storefronts, and that more businesses and commercial property owners will take an active role in their own curb appeal, as many already do,” he said.
“The ongoing, never-ending challenge for Garnet Avenue is to become cleaner and safer,” White continued. “Ultimately, maintaining higher standards requires a sustainable funding source for regular improvements and scheduled maintenance, which leads us to the need for MAD (Maintenance Assessment District) formation.”
Anderson echoes the need for a MAD in PB, noting that its absence has left Garnet Avenue’s problems unaddressed for quite some time, and that its establishment would alleviate some of the work GBCP is currently undertaking. For now, Anderson plans to continue growing the efforts of GBCP — and encourages anyone and everyone in the neighborhood to join them.
“We would love to have more people — whatever you’d like to do ... whatever it is you that you think is going to make Garnet better, we want to work with you!”
Learn more about the Garnet Block Captain Program at pbtowncouncil.org/garnet-block-captains.