*editor’s note: Remember when we wrote that awesome article about bonfires and how we got open container tickets? Read it here. This is the follow up.
**editor’s note #2: The following names have all been changed to protect the identities of those involved.
***editor’s note #3: This is a two-part article. Check out Part 1 here.
Keep in mind each Beach Area Community Court service session is different. This represents our experience only.
•We meet in the Parking lot at Rose Canyon Operational Center.
• Sign multiple waivers exempting the city of any responsibility should anyone get injured in a freak accident or bit by a snake. This was a volunteer event after all.
• We get orange BACC vests & are led through a gate in the chain link fence. The top is lined with barbed wire.
• There are jokes about joining the chain gang. Not just from “volunteers” but from our supervisors/wardens.
• We are reminded multiple times that phones are forbidden.
• We pull out boxes to assemble. They are covered in logos from the beach area businesses. They will become dumpsters at the beach for 4th of July.
• We’re told not to step on them or get them dirty because they cost $10,000.
• No one asks why it would matter if they got a little dirty since they are going to be filled with trash.
“This is a punishment. It’s supposed to be miserable.”
-City District Attorney
I still have my orange vest stuffed in my pocket. We aren’t on the street so the need to be visible seems minimal. The City District Attorney tells me to put it on. I’m feeling cranky, and half-heartedly resist. Is it a suggestion or requirement to pass my service requirement? I’ve already signed the waivers. She responds that it is required with a comment that comes to infect my opinion of the entire experience. “This is a punishment. It’s supposed to be miserable.”
• We are split into groups.
• Group A makes boxes.
• Group B is sent to a corner of the yard to pick up trash, rake, sweep & clean miscellaneous park debris. A Parks employee gives us the rundown and tells us to be careful. There are rattlesnakes. We are in group B.
For the next two hours we clean the lot. We work as a team to get the big scrap in a metal container. Some of us sweep. Some rake. Others pick up the piles. It is hard work. The lot is being cleaned at the request of SANDAG. The Parks employees complain that we have to do this work for some “other company”. That doesn’t change the fact that it is really the “volunteers” cleaning the yard. In no way does it feel like this work will benefit our parks or our community. In a day or two the dust will be back, more leaves will fall, more junk will accumulate.
• At 10:10 AM we get a 30 minute break. It is longer than normal due to the heat. • We reconvene as a large group. The boxes are finished.
• The last of the dirt is picked up.
• We get trash grabbers & garbage bags & disperse to pick up trash for the remainder of our service.
I focus on cigarettes. I pick up 100 in a short period of time and stop counting. I watch a city employee leaning against his truck puffing away on a Marlboro. He sucks and inhales.He takes his time. Finally, he’s done. With a flick of the finger it hits the ground. SONUVABITCH! It is disheartening. He may not be a Parks employee but he is a city employee. Aren’t they supposed to be on the same team?
We reconvene outside the barbed wire to fill out surveys on our experience, sign out and get certificates of completion. The first person announced gets a spontaneous round of applause from the group. It’s like a graduation ceremony of sorts. Once that certificate is hand we are free. Service completed.
Standing in the hot sun, sweeping dirt from one pile to the next one continuing, pervasive thought swam took root: How is this beneficial?
It is depressing to think we could have done more with our time. At least the box builders could feel a sense of pride at the end. According to Park Ranger Denise, the boxes are a huge help to her team after the insanity of 4th of July at the beach. It saves time and helps get the beach clean again quicker. I hope it saves enough time to justify the cost of the boxes. We were told that prior to the alcohol at the beach ban 4th of July would result in 250 tons of garbage picked up. After the ban the number dropped to only 100 tons. I don’t know which of those numbers are more depressing.
Afterwards, I spend a few minutes at the end talking to the City District Attorney and the Park Ranger about the program. No one was willing to speak on record but they do give me some time which I appreciate. Denise has been with the program since it’s inception. She believes in it. At one point she mentions that she has never had anyone complain or say they didn’t learn anything from it. She get’s defensive when I say that I find that hard to believe. I can’t say I blame her. We are looking at it from different perspectives. She sees eight years of results from a program she has worked hard on. I am only here for six hours. It is easy for me to try and pick it apart. I’m looking at the immediate failure of the program with respect to my experience. Both she and the CDC seem sincere in their belief the program works. However, even several days later I’m having trouble seeing things from their side.
Final Conclusions, Thoughts & Suggestions:
Ultimately, I think Beach Area Community Court has two issues. BACC has an identity crisis. Is it Punishment or is it Education & Service? If it’s punishment, fine. Just say so. Don’t hide behind a guise of educating. We break a law. We pay the price. Pay the fine if we can afford it or time doing crappy work if we can’t. If that work can somehow benefit the community even better.
If it is education & service the data and method of educating is out-dated. Discover PB needs to get some interns to update the slideshows and data used. Even better, invite members of the community with relevant experience to participate in designing a program that will not only educate but inspire some pride of place. Using the same content that was relevant when the program started just doesn’t cut it.
Why not get a group like SD Coastkeeper involved setting up volunteer outings where people can serve their penance without using City money to pay busy City District Attorney’s & Senior Park Rangers to babysit us? Real good would happen in the beach parks, and they do a great job of providing up-to-date education on the state of our beaches, the effects of litter, pollution & beach-related crime has on the environment. It’s just an idea.
The people running this program seem like good people the same way the people choosing to do BACC seemed to be good people. The concept of the program is good, but in it’s current state it isn’t maximizing it’s potential to do good in our community. If it isn’t doing that or at least striving to do that then why not just levy the fine?