Mission Bay Park rangers ever-vigilant for scofflaws
by Marsha Kay Seff
Published - 07/18/12 - 03:18 PM | 6571 views | 4 4 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mission Bay Park senior ranger Lori Gerbac gets acquainted with a new four-legged friend. Violations of laws for both leashed and unleashed dogs around the park area are among the rangers’ duties, along with alcohol violations and other infractions. Photo by Marsha Kay Seff Beach & Bay Press
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Tiny staff covers much ground to educate, enforce park rules

It’s a picture-perfect beach day and Mission Bay Park senior ranger Lori Gerbac is on the prowl for unleashed dogs, balloons and alcohol — and anything else against the rules or out of place in the land area of the 4,600-acre park.

She has held similar jobs for 18 years in San Diego, the last five at the beach. Now, she supervises the other four rangers.

She swings by the Fiesta Island Youth Aquatic Camp, which the rangers manage and maintain.

“My mom always said, ‘Don’t look for trouble,’ but I’m always looking for trouble,” Gerbac said. “My job is looking for trouble.”

Her mom also warned her not to talk to strangers, but that’s the biggest part of her job. Fortunately, Gerbac said, she likes people.

Being a park ranger, she explained, “is a little bit of everything.” Mostly, she educates park visitors about the rules, including why they’re important.

Rangers also are responsible for the ecology of the area, including the sites reserved for the endangered California least tern.

Administrative duties, including ensuring that people have permits for big parties, blowup children’s “jumpies” and sound systems, is another duty.

Each park ranger attempts to circle the entire the park daily in trucks and on bicycles and quadrunners. The land area accounts for about half the total park and is comprised of 28 individual parks, including 27 miles of shoreline.

Gerbac admits it’s a tough order for the small staff.

“That’s why so many people don’t even know about us,” she said.

She said the most common park violation involves dogs on or off-leash — not alcohol. Not surprisingly, she said, there’s a noticeable decrease in alcohol consumption — and litter — since the beach and public park alcohol ban a few years ago.

“I could sit here all day and deal with the dogs,” she said, walking up to one owner to explain that even leashed dogs are not permitted in the park during certain hours. Dogs are never allowed to be off-leash except on Fiesta Island.

This day, the owner is cooperative, and Gerbac lets him off with a verbal warning, making sure he’s headed for his car. For dog owners who give her attitude or are belligerent, she writes citations, which can set offenders back several hundred dollars, depending on the judge.

There are reasons for the prohibitions, she said.

“There are so many conflicts with the various park users,” Gerbac said. “The laws are a way of striking a balance. For example, not everyone is a responsible dog owner; not everyone picks up after their dogs and the feces can end up in the bay.”

She also points out that older folks, especially those on walkers, may not be safe around dogs.

Although she must enforce the law, Gerbac said she is a dog lover with three of her own. And even when she’s “educating” owners, she can’t resist bending down to pet their dogs.

As for a ban against burning pallets, Gerback said the nails can easily end up in the sand and, from there, in someone’s foot.

Balloons are prohibited because when they pop or are left behind, they can choke the birds, said Gerbac. While a preacher is busy sharing his message at the shoreline, the ranger whispers to a parishioner that the balloons need to go.

There’s also a good reason for prohibition against washing vehicles.

“People don’t think for a minute about waxing or changing the oil,” Gerbac said. “But when they hit the ground, it’s a matter of feet to the bay.”

Unfortunately, many people don’t read the posted regulations, she said. She approaches a car collectors’ group and points out that their club banner cannot be tied to a tree. Nothing can.

For those who break the rules, the rangers have limited arrest powers.

“We need to see the crime being committed,” she said.

When a land-based problem is out the rangers’ jurisdiction, they contact police. For offenses or problems on the water, they contact the lifeguards.

The rangers do have the ability to write misdemeanor and parking citations and send offenders to the Beach Area Community Court and community service.

In addition to hundreds of verbal and written warnings, the rangers (with one out on maternity leave) have issued 69 citations for dogs, alcohol, glass, smoking and other violations, plus 495 parking citations over the last six months. The numbers are relatively low, Gerbac said, because the rangers believe education is more important than punishment.

She points out that there’s no quota on issuing permits.

“There’s no toaster or free flights at the end of the day,” said Gerbac.

On this day, she also approaches a man who has cordoned off an area for an upcoming party. She explains he can’t use tape, but only chairs at the corners. The bottom line is that space is available on a first-come basis and no one can call dibs on it.

After what appears to be a frustrating day at the beach, Gerbac said, “This was pretty much a summer weekend day in the park. My favorite part is being outside and talking to people, problem-solving. I like calming people down and getting them to come around and see our point.”

Comments-icon Post a Comment
December 17, 2017
“The laws are a way of striking a balance. For example, not everyone is a responsible dog owner; not everyone picks up after their dogs and the feces can end up in the bay.”

Bullshit. Dogs are allowed after 4pm (5pm in summer)...are you telling me that dog poop doesn't end up in the bay after 4pm?

I live bayfront in Mission Beach and witness Park Rangers running the stop sign at Santa Clara Point on a weekly basis. They cross over the BOARDWALK in their trucks without coming CLOSE to a complete stop. Seen them do this literally minutes after issuing a citation to a neighbor who was simply taking their dog out to go potty (almost none of the bayfront properties have grass). I'm gonna venture to say that running a stop sign with pedestrians/cyclists present is more dangerous than walking a dog 10 feet in front of your house. Authoritarian power-tripping a-holes is all these people are....probably mad because they can't afford to live in the neighborhoods they work in lol
The Dana on Mission
December 01, 2017
This is the 2nd time staying at The Dana on Mission Beach. We came 2 yrs ago for a week vacation coming from MT. We have a couple very well behaved, well trained Briards whom we’ve brought each time. The first time taking my dog to potty (and yes always picking up thier poop) the lead slipped off my dogs neck. I let her finish pottying, and proceeded to replace the lead around her neck when a Hispanic woman, a park ranger came around the corner from the bathroom area and rudely demanded i walk over to her. She advised me dogs weren’t allowed off leash to which I quickly apologized ...now at this point she could have just carried the conversation as such but instead she was extremely rude and became threatening. Clearly a power tripper.

Now 2 years later coming back to stay at the Dana again bringing the same dog only now she’s been trained and registered as a service dog. Unbeknown to me the metal clasp on the lead i was using snapped and my dog started to wander about 2 feet from me...this same woman, a Hispanic Park ranger rudely orders me to come over to where she’s standing. She then begins to berate me and make threatening remarks. Again we apologize but she continues to behave in such an unprofessional arrogant manner it left me walking away feeling almost verbally assaulted. At this point i want to say if this is consistent with her behavior she’s a detriment to The Dana resorts patrons. I may decide to stay else where simple to avoid this extremely unprofessional, rude, Hispanic woman..park ranger. Perhaps she needs a psych evaluation? Her behavior is completely over the top. There is never any reason to treat another person as she treated us...especially given how kind and apologetic we were.
susan bean
November 18, 2017
The ranger in this story sounds human and friendly. It's hard to respect a ranger and what they are telling you when every sentence contains at least one profanity. I wish I could have met the friendly ranger and not the angry one.
July 24, 2012
"For example, not everyone is a responsible dog owner; not everyone picks up after their dogs and the feces can end up in the bay" says Senior Ranger Lori Gerbac.

Funny, the hypocrites with the City of San Diego shelter hundreds of animals in a bathing pool set aside for children and has NEVER cleaned up after them.

Where? Children's Pool of course. The ongoing theft of the pool, from the generations of children it was promised to, continues as the City is moving forward to unlawfully close a public beach. In the meantime, the City seeks to deter use by neglecting their responsibility to maintain the beach.

Shameful behavior by our "public servants" who selectively remember that our parks are for the PEOPLE of San Diego.