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a beachside cafeLow Tide

Life’s a beach . . . and sometimes you die.

Edited by Thomas K. Arnold

SAN DIEGO IS KNOWN worldwide for its beaches. During the summer, the county’s nearly 70 miles of ocean coastline account for the lion’s share of tourists streaming into town.

But life on the beach can be dangerous, and nowhere is this point driven home more harshly than Mission Beach, a narrow isthmus with the ocean on one side and the bay on the other.

Mission Beach is one of San Diego’s most densely packed communities, and one of its priciest, with oceanfront condos going for upwards of $2 million. It’s also home to San Diego’s famed boardwalk, and it’s so synonymous with the city’s beach life that film crews from MTV routinely pop in for spring and summer shoots. Yet Mission Beach also has one of the highest crime rates in the city—even after the San Diego Police Department instituted summer horse and bike patrols more than a decade ago to cut down on out-of-control revelers.

Of 121 communities tracked by the SDPD in 2005, Mission Beach had the 13th-highest violent-crime rate (14.56 crimes for every 1,000 residents) and was ranked 15th for property crimes (101.28). This compares to a violent-crime rate of 5.1 per thousand and a property-crime rate of 35.72 per thousand for the city of San Diego.

a man holding his child by the beachSince 2003, Mission Beach has been the scene of two murders, 21 rapes, 55 robberies and 183 aggravated assaults. On Father’s Day 2003, a gang fight broke out at picturesque Bonita Cove that left one man dead. In 2004 Mission Beach was terrorized by a rapist; last year, police warned of a sharp spike (25 percent) in burglaries and warned residents to be on the lookout for a Peeping Tom.

Lieutenant Brian Ahearn, with the police department’s Northern Division, points the finger at the high density, population swells in spring and summer, a preponderance of rental properties that sit vacant for long stretches of the year and overindulgence in alcohol. All these factors, he says, “create more opportunity for crime.” In addition, he notes, “Many residential properties in Mission Beach and parking areas at hotels and entertainment/recreational venues throughout Mission Bay Park are located in isolated areas that do not have a sustained pedestrian presence that would serve as a deterrent to crime.”

Mission Beach isn’t the only beach community dogged by high crime. Indeed, some of San Diego’s most notorious murders have taken place within steps of the beach.

In July 2002, a college student was shot and killed at El Carmel Point on Mission Bay in a fight over a bicycle. Eight years ago, a 9-year-old boy was brutally murdered in a public restroom at an Oceanside beach. A transient slit his throat.

And in February 1964, the picturesque cliffs south of where the Ocean Beach Pier now juts into the water were the scene of the so-called “honeymoon murders,” in which a young couple was shot to death as they stood gazing out over the sea. According to the police report, the female was shot first, in the back of the head, and then the killer shot the male behind the left ear. There was no known motive.


a beach sideFather Knows Best

HORROR STORIES ABOUT FAMILY COURT are familiar to anyone who’s gone through a divorce or separation. Now, along comes Dedicated Fathers, an organization designed to support and guide parents through the complex legal system through a seven-volume CD audio book set, a workbook and a Web site (dedicatedfathers.org).

The project is currently being tested in San Diego——a big ad campaign was scheduled to start in July——before a national rollout. Dedicated Fathers is a collaboration between veteran marriage and family therapist Marvin L. Chapman, president of the nonprofit United Fathers of America, and audiovisual distribution company Bulletproof Entertainment.

Bulletproof president Thomas Tamburello says he was inspired to launch Dedicated Fathers after “listening to and hearing Marvin describe just how unfair and confusing the Family Court system really is. It is supposed to help parents with children divorce and separate amicably but instead is extracting as much time and money as possible from parents and using their children as bargaining chips,” he says.

“It is a fact that 90 percent of people in jail come from fatherless homes,” Tamburello says. “And considering there were 1,021,418 divorces in the United States in 2005 and 49,437 paternity cases just in California, we feel there is a huge population in need of this program.”

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