That was the clear consensus of the more than 60 concerned citizens who gathered at the Point Loma Masonic Lodge recently in search of a solution to the increasingly infamous Marshmallow Wars.
The tradition, which reportedly first took place in a small area between two fire pits on the sand, has spread to include the entire beach from the Ocean Beach Pier to Dog Beach and even beyond. A resident from Orchard Street, several blocks south of Newport Avenue, reported the street was covered.
The ugly, cruddy goo left behind and documented by nearly every local media outlet had made Ocean Beach so notorious that, in the judgment of one observer, it took the controversy surrounding the scandal-plagued mayor to divert attention.
“Other than Bob Filner, we were the story,” said Dave Cieslak, a board member of the Ocean Beach Town Council, which hosted the town hall-style discussion during its July 28 meeting.
Some speakers said the tradition should be done with forever. Others said the event, which has never been officially sponsored nor organized, can be redeemed by setting up formal boundaries or taking steps to reduce some of the hype that attracts so many marshmallow chuckers from outside the community.
But even defenders of the marshmallow wars said they’re surprised at how out-of-control things have gotten.
“You can’t take it away from the children. They view it as Christmas,” said Shauna Aken, who described herself as a long-time resident who invites friends over from other communities to enjoy the scene.
But Aken added her group was pelted by indoor patrons as they walked along Abbott Street at Santa Monica Avenue. “They were flying out of the bars,” she said.
Frank Gormlie, editor of obrag.org, also wanted to continue the tradition — but with structure. He presented an idea partly inspired by La Tomatina, a tomato-throwing tradition in Spain, and the Battle of the Oranges in Italy.
He suggested putting up a “marshmallow arena” to contain participants in well-defined boundaries on the sand. The event would last exactly one hour, which would begin and end with the sound of a starter pistol.
His plan called for placing a limit on the number of participants and charging fees to pay for cleanup costs. Participants would have to wear bathing suits so they couldn’t smuggle in marshmallow guns, and spectators could watch from behind nets in temporary bleachers.
“Keep it, but keep it safe,” Gormlie said.
Local jeweler Gary Gilmore called for launching an aggressive publicity campaign with the theme, “Keep it on the sand,” to encourage voluntary restraint.
He suggested using traditional and social media to promote a more family-friendly fight and discourage the use of launching devices or altering ammunition by freezing or lighting marshmallows — practices that have reportedly become more common in recent years.
The “Keep it on the sand” message could be reinforced throughout the day over the lifeguard loudspeaker, along with reminders to “keep it clean” and hold fire until after the fireworks, Gilmore said.
Craig Klein also wanted a publicity campaign — but to end the event.
Klein said he is no longer a “fun-loving and willing participant” because the event has been hijacked by people “who think it’s a free-for-all that’s been sanctioned and they can come down and trash our town.
“Ocean Beach residents should just say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to play anymore,’ ” Klein said. “We should stop promoting it … and let this thing die a natural death.”
Board member Steve Grosch, whose family was among the original participants, agreed.
“It used to be a blast, but now it’s dangerous,” Grosch said. “I originally favored ‘Keep it on the sand,’ but I just don’t think that makes a strong enough statement. I think we need an all-out campaign to move it out of here.”
Several speakers complained of the complicity of local business owners, charging they may be fueling excessive enthusiasm by hawking T-shirts, marshmallows, and guns and slingshots. Board president Dave Martin, who also serves on the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association, said he would lobby that board to address the merchants that profit from the marshmallow war.
“If we’re going to get serious about this, we have to work as a team,” Martin said.
He encouraged interested citizens to participate in an OB Marshmallow War poll/survey on the group’s Facebook page. Results will be announced at the Aug. 28 meeting, he said.
Police Capt. Andy Mills said law enforcement would support whatever solution the community comes up with. He also noted Del Mar has had some success controlling crowd impacts by limiting parking and to-go alcohol sales on the Fourth of July.
But don’t expect police to engage in foot pursuits into a crowd, except in extraordinary cases, Mills said in response to a question.
“If we get in the middle of that mix, we become the object,” he said.
“This has taken on a life of its own. The police department can’t control everything,” Lt. Natalie Stone said. “Our hope is the community can come up with a solution that we all can support and be proud of.”