ENCINITAS — When 13 memorial benches and a picnic table at Swami’s Beach went missing the weekend before Thanksgiving, locals noticed and reacted quickly.
“I stopped by Swami’s parking lot yesterday to enjoy some time sitting on a bench watching the surfers and I was extremely disappointed to find that all of the benches and picnic tables had been removed,” Nelson Milner wrote on Nextdoor on Nov. 19.
The post got almost 300 comments from similarly disappointed residents with their own takes on why this might have been.
A popular theory was that the benches were removed to discourage the unhoused population that congregates at the Swami’s parking lot, which locals say is usually four or five men.
This idea was fed by some statements from Mayor Tony Kranz on Fox 5 news on Nov. 20.
“Behaviors that we were seeing here — drinking, smoking, taking drugs ― all of those things contributed to the need to address the concerns that many in the public had about the behaviors that they were seeing here,” Kranz said on the broadcast.
“We want people to be comfortable and enjoy the scenery here, so we’re going to take a look at how we can replace the benches in a way that accommodates people who are here to enjoy the scenery and not be a nuisance.”
Five residents went to the Parks and Recreation Commission on Nov. 21 to share their confusion and frustration that the benches were removed.
At the start of the meeting, before public comment, Parks Commissioner David Norgard read the city’s official statement, which was released online the following day.
He said the benches were removed not because of any issues with the unhoused population but for maintenance and repairs. Benches “that need minor maintenance,” the statement said, will be returned by Dec. 1.
However, residents noticed discrepancies between the statement and what Kranz said to Fox 5 news.
“Is it really such an emergency that they had to be removed from the beach for this cleaning?” Scott Campbell asked. “This is kind of weird.”
Some residents said that if the benches were removed because of the unhoused population, that is a poor solution.
When The Coast News asked the city, again, to what extent the unhoused population contributed to the city’s decision to remove the benches, the city repeated the statement. Spokesperson Lois Yum said Nov. 27 that the city typically does not post notices about maintenance or cleaning benches.
Rachel Graves, whose family purchased a memorial bench in town, said, “While we’re concerned about the benches, we’re even more concerned about being lied to.”