The streets of Ocean Beach are not mean. This is a seaside neighborhood that prides itself on being peaceful and welcoming.
But the streets can be dirty, also sticky and gooey, and that has caused a political uproar.
Since the mid-1980s, Ocean Beach residents have enjoyed a unique Fourth of July free-for-all: a marshmallow fight after the evening display of fireworks. It started with two families holding dueling beach parties.
In recent years the spontaneous, leaderless event has gotten more aggressive, spreading from the beach to the main business street of Newport Avenue and then to surrounding streets. The mess left by countless marshmallows has been unsightly and substantial.
Mike James, 58, bartender, Universal Life Church minister, business leader and former president of the Town Council, established a Facebook page calling for an end to the marshmallow tradition. The OB Rag, a news website, warned: “OB’s funky-hippy vibe has taken a turn toward anarchy.”
Finally, after much civic discourse, the Town Council, a private, nonprofit group, agreed.
Even businesses sympathetic to youthful exuberance and anti-authoritarianism have joined the council’s campaign under the rallying cry of “End the War! Mallow Out.”
Tim Rasmussen, 31, manager of the Humble Hippie, which sells posters, tie-dyed T-shirts and other “comfortable clothing,” said the marshmallow fight has become “15 minutes of fun and a month of cleanup.” He also noted that marshmallows are not good for the gulls that forage the beach.
Stores are being encouraged not to sell marshmallows on the Fourth and certainly not the marshmallow “guns” that transform the little blobs of sugar into projectiles.
People should be able to come to Ocean Beach “without worrying about having a marshmallow fired at their head,” said Town Council member Dave Cieslak. A frozen marshmallow or one coated with sand is particularly dangerous, he said.
The rub is that the Town Council has no legal authority to end the event. Still, it plans to have a “Peace Patrol” of volunteers on the Fourth to plead with people to voluntarily relinquish their marshmallows.
Alan Fletcher, 29, interviewed as he skateboarded down Newport Avenue, said he would not unilaterally disarm. He’s a dedicated marshmallow warrior, and he’s not alone.
“You can’t change Ocean Beach like that,” he said. “This isn’t Mission Beach or Pacific Beach, with franchise stores and college kids packed into apartments. This is OB, where the rebellion still lives!”
Indeed, Ocean Beach has resisted the modernization that is present in other San Diego beach communities.
The housing stock is older here, a city zoning ordinance prefers low-rise and businesses are largely independent, mid-market and locally owned — like Hodad’s, praised by many as having the best hamburgers in San Diego. By 11 a.m., a lunch line runs halfway down the block.
Cieslak and other Mallow Out supporters acknowledge that ending the marshmallow fight in one swoop may not be possible. And there is a counter-movement to somehow restrict the marshmallow throwing to the beach, although that would run counter to Ocean Beach’s libertarian strain.
Kayla Bennett, 23, a waitress at Newbreak Coffee & Cafe, across from the lifeguard station, said that though there are some rowdies, the vast majority of marshmallow fans “are just trying to have some summer fun. You shouldn’t take it away from everybody.”
Mallow Out has the support of Ed Harris, newly appointed to represent Ocean Beach on the City Council. “What started out long ago as some friendly fun on the beach has clearly gotten out of control,” he wrote to merchants, urging them to support the “Respect OB” movement.
Adding to the call to end the annual event: Some of the marshmallows plop on the memorial plaques in the sidewalk at Veterans Plaza. Town Council officials plan a news conference Tuesday at the plaza, accompanied by Lt. Natalie Stone, the top cop for Ocean Beach.
Stone remembers last year’s mess and that some visitors’ beach shoes got stuck in the muck. The shoes, though not the people, were still there the next morning.