Pacific Beach Town Council to vote on proposed name change on July 20

the Pacific Beach welcome sign
(Elizabeth Marie Himchak)

Members must attend meeting in person to cast vote


The Pacific Beach Town Council will either make history or preserve it when members vote on July 20 on their organization’s name.

The question is whether to change it to the Pacific Beach Community Association or retain the designation that has served for 70 years.

The issue will be decided by a simple majority of members physically present at the 6:30 p.m. meeting in St. Brigid’s Catholic Church meeting hall, 4735 Cass Street. Not eligible to vote will be those who join the hybrid meeting virtually through Zoom.

Although the idea had been bantered by the group for years, the council’s board recommended the name change in April, but decided to put it to a members vote instead of unilaterally enacting the measure.

Among reasons cited for renaming include the appeal, clarity and inclusiveness of a community association as opposed to a town council.

“We feel the current name doesn’t communicate who we are,” said PBTC President Marcella Bothwell. “We’re not a nine-member council like the City Council that is voted in. We’re a group of people who live in the community that want to better the community. ... A town council sounds like something that you’re elected to. So it’s a perception problem that we’re trying to resolve.”

Board member Ron Walker, the membership committee chair, said the town council moniker makes recruiting new members more difficult, especially among younger and new residents to PB.

The time required to correct erroneous assumptions about the council and explain its actual function and composition to potential newcomers frequently exhaust any initial interest.

“A lot of people just have this totally wrong idea about what the council is or who can belong or what it does,” Walker said. “If you have a wrong idea about it, it discourages membership. Everybody is hoping that if we can have a name that more accurately describes us and sounds more welcoming than off-putting, then we can be more successful.”

It’s not just prospective members but community at large that has mistaken notions about the council, Bothwell said. Its office occasionally receives calls and emails from residents who believe the council is akin to a city department.

“Because it’s the town council, people think that those people are elected and I just need to write to them and tell them what I need done,” she said. “Instead, we need to instill the mentality of people coming in and working with other neighbors just like themselves. It’s the community spirit that we’re trying to build.”

The council has roughly 400 members in a community of just under 40,000 residents. Although more members would likely increase the pool of volunteers for projects and events as well as bring in more funds from the $30 annual membership, Walker said a larger organization would boost efforts to enhance PB.

“We’re constantly doing advocacy efforts with the city or the county,” Walker said. “In those advocacy efforts, you can bet darn well that if you represent a group of a few thousand people, you’re going to get more attention than if you represent a group of a couple hundred people. It’s not just a matter of getting people involved who can do the work but it’s a matter of having a collective voice speaking on behalf of the community to influence policymakers and people who can make a difference in improving our community.”

Bothwell said she worries a name change might antagonize some members who are proud of the rich 70-year history and tradition behind its present name. She compared the endeavor to people, particularly women, who change their name when they get married.

“You’re not denigrating your former name,” Bothwell said. “You appreciate where you came from. You bring all of your past into any new name you take on. But your identity remains the same. We’re still going to have all the same projects. But we hope to increase at least people’s perception of us as being part of the community.”

Altering the name will necessitate other changes, including website, logo and office sign. Because much of the council’s communications are done electronically, Walker said he expects the cost to be minimal but plans to raise money to cover those expenses instead of drawing from the general fund.

Walker added the believes the new acronym — PBCA — offers new opportunities for branding, marketing and merchandising to expand visibility far beyond anything previously seen.

If approved, Walker said it will take a year or two for the new name to catch on.

“It’s just like when you have to start writing a new year on your checks,” he said. “It’s going to take some time. New people will get used to PBCA right off the bat. Some people will never stop using the old name.”

Although the town council label is common in communities across the city, Pacific Beach would not be the first to drop the tag. It would follow in the footsteps of Point Loma, North Park and Scripps Ranch.

For Bothwell, it’s not about healing but the organization staying healthy.

“If the membership chooses to change the name, it will be a transition into the future, not a break from the past,” Bothwell said. “We’re not leaving the past behind. The past is part of us. It’s just an update. It is a change, but it’s an expansion. We’re just trying to expand the appeal and the accessibility of our organization. We’re trying to change people’s experience of the town council.”