Spring 2016 Section 2

This category contains 13 posts

San Diego craft beer culture continues to expand

By Denise Chang

The way Marc Truex describes it, brewing beer is a delicate balance between passion, art and science.

Head Brewer Troy Smith “kind of throws it together, like a mad scientist in the kitchen, grabbing things and throwing it around,” eventually producing great beer, said Truex, director of sales at Belching Beaver Brewery.

The brewery established its first satellite tasting room in North Park three years ago when there were only three other breweries or tasting rooms in the area. Today, there are almost 10 breweries in the San Diego neighborhood, with more on the way, Truex said.

“We were one of the first breweries to get down there and open a tasting room,” Truex said. “In the three years we’ve been in that location, you now see Mike Hess Brewing, Fall Brewing, Barn Brewery, Rip Current, Modern Times.”

Since then, Belching Beaver Brewery has expanded to five brick and mortar locations including a larger capacity brewery in Oceanside, a brewpub in Vista and a tasting room in Ocean Beach. Their rapid expansion parallels the overall growth of the craft beer industry in San Diego County.

The industry has supported the establishment of over 120 local craft breweries in the county, bringing in more revenue than the annual San Diego Comic Con and opening up over 2,800 jobs in the past five years, according to a National University System Institute report.

Jill Davidson, vice president for the San Diego Brewer’s Guild attributes the growth to a willingness to experiment within a close-knit community of local craft brewers along with the accessibility to local resources.

The San Diego Brewer’s Guild began their work in 1997 to create awareness of San Diego breweries and an open line of communication between brewers. And it worked.

“Every bar you walk into, no matter what part of the county you’re in, you’re going to find more craft than domestic [beer],” Davidson said. “That’s largely due to the last 30 years and the hard work of a lot of our pioneer breweries and the San Diego Brewer’s Guild.”

Local craft brewers have found a community within themselves, and “borrowing a cup of sugar from your neighbor” isn’t uncommon, Davidson said.

“It’s the ability to work of each other, to use local ingredients, to be able to have that ‘phone a friend’ and ask for them for assistance or ask them for a bag of grain,” she said.

Truex said that it is especially important in an area where there’s so much competition.

“The craft community – since we all rely on each other, its one big family. We get help and support from other breweries,” he said. “They guys from Coronado [Brewing Company] – they’re like a sister company to us, will help us with one leg up or with talking to their accounts, like yeah, Belching Beaver makes good things.”

The craft community has also flourished on a word-of-mouth, where tasting room hopping is a social exercise now, Truex said.

“Your business is just growing because you’re attracting like-minded clientele,” Truex said. “That’s how the craft consumer is. They want to visit multiple spots. They want to try different interpretations of different beers, and it’s a wonderful thing to see.”

People are always excited to try something new and support someone new, Davidson said. “Every time I go to the bar, 90 percent of the time the first beer I’ll have is something I’ve never had before. It’s exciting, you know. It keeps everybody together.”

Perhaps it’s the warm weather, but San Diego is synonymous with having very hoppy beer, said Davidson. Hops are what give beer its bitterness, with a lot of Pacific Northwest and Australian hops being used often.

“We’re known for having a very casual, mellow, light bodied, light flavored grain build,” Davidson said. “There isn’t dominant sweetness [from the malt] but the hops are going to be very bright, very vibrant.”

Belching Beaver Brewery is a prime example of meeting the demands for flavorful and quality beer.

Davidson attributes their success to making clean, consistent beer and putting the right resources in the right place. “It’s pretty neat to see the exponential growth,” she said.

Truex with Belching Beaver said that the company aims to make beers that are approachable and innovative and that craft beer lovers are not just set on one type of beer.

“We’ll make everything across the board from your introductory beer, Me So Honey, that’s really light and crisp but has just enough to keep heavy craft beer drinkers coming back for more,” he said.

“Everyone’s palate is looking to have it all, so you’re getting people that are crawling from tasting room to tasting room,” he added. “We don’t just go to one brewery, we’re gonna go to four, we’re gonna go to five.”

The beer brewing culture in San Diego has roots in the Prohibition era. At the time, there were only three breweries in San Diego: Aztec Brewing Company, San Diego Brewing Company and Balboa Brewing Company. In between, commercialized domestic beer and imported beer were most popular in the United States. However, more homebrewers began creating quality beer in the 1970s, and a new beer culture emerged in San Diego.

The economic impact of the craft beer industry is undeniable. Total annual sales went from $734.7 million in 2014 to $851 million in 2015, according to a recent National University System Institute for Policy Research report. Since 2011, over 2,880 industry jobs were made available, according to the  report.

The San Diego Brewer’s Guild continues its work in cultivating the craft beer community, hosting multiple events a year including a job fair, San Diego Beer Week and Rhythm and Blues in Vista.

“Making solid, consistent, clean beer and having the mindset that we’re all in this together will take you really far in San Diego,” Davidson said.

“That’s what it’s about. We want people to come to San Diego, we want them to try beer they’ve never had before and we want them to love it. Whatever we can do to support each other and make that be everyone’s experience when they come into the city, that’s our main goal.”

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What’s the pointe? The realities of a life in professional ballet

By Cambria Fuqua

When Kate Arnson arrives to rehearsal at the San Diego City Ballet, she begins by wrapping and taping her feet and toes. With 35 hours of rehearsals per week alongside working a second job, she tends to her injuries on a daily basis.

For Arnson, that all comes with the territory of being a professional ballerina.

Despite an outward appearance of glamour and sophistication, ballet as an art form has an unflattering reality rarely seen by the pubic. A behind-the-scenes look at the lives of professional ballet dancers reveal what few people see: fierce competition, an unforgiving physical regimen and the need to supplement income.

That reality is is on full display at the San Diego City Ballet, especially for the female dancers. Arnson explains that with each new production, the company’s ballerinas feel the need to fight for a lead role.

“There are definitely always going to be more women than parts,” she said. “There are always going to be women behind you, so just because you aren’t willing to work for a little less money, there are definitely 10 girls behind you that will.”

The psychological strain from the constant need to fight for a place within the company often ensues.

“Sometimes it feels like a total mind game,” she said. “Ultimately, though, we all love it.”

Head choreographer for the San Diego City Ballet, Elizabeth Wistrich, elaborates on the mindset needed for such a unique career.

“You have to really focus. It’s a lot of hard work,” she said.

The hard work and focus extends to the physical exertion of her dancers as well.

Each dancer at the company rehearses seven hours each day. It is inevitable that this amount of physical strain will take its toll on the human body.

“Part of the pain – you just kind of have to deal with. You move on with your life. I take a lot of Epsom salt baths, different kinds of tape, different kinds of ointments – anything you can put on your body that will lessen the pain,” Arnson said.

According to the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine, overuse injuries are the most frequent injuries in ballet. The repetitive motions of ballet movements are especially taxing on the hip, knee and ankle joints. As a result, many dancers experience arthritis at a young age.

Although a strong mentality and resilient body are vital, Wistrich emphasized that other attributes are needed in order to achieve success in the world of ballet.

“If you have really high expectations, you have to have the physical attributes. You do have to be on the thinner side, you have to have nice feet, and I think you have to really focus,” Wistrich said.

She puts into perspective just how much her dancers need to truly want to succeed.

“It’s 75 percent hard work and disappointment, and maybe like 25 percent where you really love it, enjoy it, and get some kind of reward out of it,” she said.

Not only are the dancers working hard in the dance studio, but they are also working hard outside of rehearsals.

The dancers say they don’t get an impressive salary by any means. Because of this, most dancers at the San Diego City Ballet are forced to work a second job on top of their busy ballet rehearsal schedule.

“Ballet is never enough to pay the bills,” Arnson said. “In addition to all the other struggles we’re dealing with, everyone is usually working another job until 11 or 12 or two in the morning,” Arnson said.

Lorenzo Sanzo, a guest dancer with the company, elaborates on the passion that is needed for professional dancers to succeed.

“It’s always going to be hard- you’re going to want to give up a thousand times,” he said. “But when you step out onto that stage, it all goes away and the hard work, sweat, tears are all worth it. It’s amazing, and no one can ever take that feeling away from you. That is why we dance.”

Donation-based yoga offers affordable alternative to studios

By Tori Hahn

Yoga, the ancient Hindu practice of meditation to bring health and relaxation to the body, found resolution and validation in San Diego in an unsuspecting location: court.

Steve Hubbard, a Pacific Beach yoga instructor who goes by “Namasteve,” is for many San Diegans the face of donation-based oceanfront yoga — a class style in which participants are not obligated to pay but are encouraged to donate to the instructor.

The donation-based style of yoga earned local fame when Hubbard encountered a First Amendment issue with it in early 2014.

Hubbard’s oceanfront classes in Palisades Park stirred up mixed reactions among community members, who complained about the more than two hundred people who showed up to practice yoga Saturday and Sunday mornings.

“It was a municipal code that stated you can’t have over 49 people, and myself and my attorney disagreed,” Hubbard said. “[We] thought that the First Amendment guarantees that I can get up on my soap box and say something, [and] if people want to listen then they can.”

Hubbard said donation-based yoga exploded in San Diego after his win in court, and has since continued to rise.

The noncommittal style of yoga offers an option to those who can’t afford or don’t have access to traditional membership-based yoga studios. With monthly yoga studio membership fees reaching almost $140, yogis, as they are called, have started seeking out new outlets in which they can practice.

“For a college student on a budget, it’s really what you can manage,” said 22-year-old Quinn Nunes, a casual yoga practitioner. “You can try [donation-based yoga] out before you have a commitment; [with] other classes you [have to] pay up front or you have to pay a large sum of money, but this one — you can come to one class, try it out, see how you like it.”

Both practitioners and instructors stress the importance of donation-based yoga’s accessibility.

“In a studio, if you can find that, it’s going to cost you $20 or $25 per class, which, if you want to practice a lot of yoga, and you’re going class by class, it’s not very accessible to everybody,” Hubbard said. “So of course [with] donation-based yoga, you give what you can and it’s going to draw a lot of people.”

Hubbard’s classes follow the format of traditional yoga, whereas novel varieties of donation-based yoga continue to pop up in San Diego. One unique style, for example, is aerial yoga in which participants hang from cloth while practicing yoga-inspired movements and balancing techniques.

Leila Whitehead is the owner of Trilogy Sanctuary in La Jolla, a rooftop yoga studio that also offers donation-based classes.

Whitehead said she wanted to make the “fun and playful” aerial yoga classes accessible for those who can’t afford to pay the usual fee because of the positive changes it brings.

“I think … [teachers] want to be able to offer yoga to people, but they understand that having a set price doesn’t work for everybody,” Whitehead said. “Some people can feel really scared by it. It can bring up a lot of emotions and feelings for people … and all of those heightened senses, really, it makes it more powerful somehow.”

Another donation-based yoga platform called Yoga Out Loud introduces house music to the 5,000-year-old tradition. Sessions along the water in Mission Beach feature DJ Adam Davis playing deep house music while instructor Jordan Tyler recites classic yoga poses.

Tyler said people flock to donation-based classes because they are often the cheapest option that allow younger people to participate.

“Socioeconomically speaking, the rent is so high and the cost of living is so high [in San Diego] that [without] donation-based yoga for a lot of us, especially us in our 20s or in college … [we] don’t really have access any other way,” Tyler said. “And it’s [a] really important part of my practice, as a teacher, to bring that to the community.”

“We have an awesome outdoor environment too,” Tyler said. “I think that really gives us yogis specifically in San Diego so much opportunity to practice … We have so much time outside all times of year to be able to bring yoga any day, all day, to anyone.”

In the 2015 American Fitness Index report, San Diego ranked third most fit city in the U.S. The American College of Sports Medicine report compared the 50 largest metropolitan areas in diverse categories, including recreational facilities available to residents and community members’ personal health indicators.

The “built environment” indicators — statistics that account for parkland within a city — are what put San Diego on the map. Parks account for 23.5 percent of the land area in “America’s Finest City,” reaching almost 13 percent more than the nation’s target goal.

Additionally, San Diego boasts of almost double the target goal for acres of parkland per 1,000 acres with 36.2 acres.

Hubbard, a New York native, noted that the consistent sunny weather and health consciousness of San Diegans makes yoga a perfect fit for the region.

“You can get out on the beach 300 days a year and you’re not stuck in the house,” Hubbard said. “I think that has a lot to do with it.”

One thing yoga instructors agreed on is the healing yoga can bring.

Whitehead said her students have told her after practicing yoga they see changes in their physical bodies, their moods are elevated and they are generally happier.

Tyler said yoga helps her relieve stress and even improves her depression.

“Over time you start to learn that it’s such a safe space to open up and unwind, unfold the different layers of yourself and get in touch with your body and your brain at the same time,” Tyler said.

 

 

 

Traditional taxi services try not to get elbowed out

By Chelsea Baer

Each day, a line of brightly colored taxicabs line up alongside the entrance of the San Diego Zoo. Ben Kanzi frequently drives his orange taxicab to the Zoo parking lot, where he waits to chauffeur families and tourists around the city.

Kanzi has been a taxi driver in San Diego for more than two decades. He is one of many cab drivers that have watched their business dramatically decline, especially in recent months.

In an age where nearly every industry is going digital to stay visible, the taxicab business is no exception. San Diego Yellow Cab has steadily lost riders and drivers to new-age ride-hail services. Their response? Evolve and innovate in order to stay relevant.

Round-the-clock taxi alternatives, Uber and Lyft rolled into the San Diego market around 2012 after launching their best Lyft coupon code apps in cities across the country. Since then, the taxi industry has been financially impacted, losing almost a third of their business, forcing them to join the trend of app accessibility, said Dan Brand, San Diego Yellow Cab’s Director of Sale and Marketing.

The new crowded field of cab services have left some cab drivers calling for fair treatment.

“We are not against Uber or Lyft, okay. We’re just asking the city to make the same regulations as we have,” Kanzi said. “That’s all.”

Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego Yellow Cab came together as a coalition to create an app that competes with popular ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

“Ride Yellow gives you the availability to book the ride from your phone but you also have the extra insurance,” Brand said.

During his eight-year career with San Diego Yellow Cab, Brand has witnessed a lot of change in the taxi business including an exodus of taxi riders and drivers. Brand estimates that about 30 percent of traditional taxi riders have switched to using ride-hail services.

RideYellow is Yellow Cab’s official app, which puts taxicab transportation in the palm of the rider’s hand. The app is currently available in 20 cities across the country. It made its Southern California debut at the beginning of this year in response to the increased competition, according to Brand.

RideYellow essentially works  the same way  as competing apps, equipped with a GPS based pickup and drop-off options, driver information and easy payment methods.

Some features that set this taxi app apart include a cash-friendly option and a surge-free policy, ensuring a dependable rate.

Regulations that Kanzi wants to see made uniform involve insurance and licensing. San Diego Yellow Cab drivers must pay for commercial insurance that covers damages up to $1 Million. All insurance is not made equal, according to Brand.

“When it comes to public safety, I think [regulation] is really a necessity,” he said.

A complaint from Uber and Lyft riders is the unpredictable surge pricing, according to Brand. During holidays, special events and high-demand hours, the rates can increase. If there are more riders than drivers, the rate can reach more than double the standard rate, according to Uber’s website.

San Diego branch representatives from Uber declined comment and directed media inquires to their webpage.

While RideYellow offers a surge-free ride service, Uber and Lyft have a lower daily rate on average, about 90 cents per mile. The RideYellow App is a $2 per mileage rate all day, every day, according to the RideYellow website.

The RideYellow app is fully functioning. The hardest part, according to Brand,  is advertising and reaching customers who are already accustomed to Uber and Lyft.

San Diego State University senior Maggie Sin, frequently uses apps like Uber and Lyft to travel around San Diego.

“What I really like about Uber and Lyft is the convenience factor,” Sin said. “I can be anywhere and it locates me, where exactly I am and how much it will cost.”

Sin was not aware of  the RideYellow app but said she might consider using it the next time she encounters a surge fee from Uber or Lyft.

“I would be open to using it just to see how different it is, if there is a fare difference,” Sin said. “As long as it is a mobile app, I feel like I would be open to anything.”

Kyle Schneider, a graduating senior at San Diego State University,  has been driving for Lyft and Uber for almost two years. What started as a side job ended up being a hobby he grew to enjoy.

As a busy college student, he appreciates the flexibility of working for Lyft and Uber.

“I like the freedom I have,” Schneider said. “ I get to drive my own car and work around my schedule.”

Aside from being able to earn money in his free time, Schneider also enjoys meeting new people.

“The thing that I like most is the ability to interact with a diverse crowd,” Schneider said. “Obviously, you don’t really know much about them aside from their name and  a picture, but when they get in the car you can learn all types of interesting information from where they come from personal preferences and hobbies.”

As Uber and Lyft continue to grow in popularity and taxi drivers are losing almost a third of their business, one may wonder if taxi drivers would consider transferring to a company like Uber or Lyft?

That’s an easy question for Kanzi to answer, based on principle.

“I’m never going to be an Uber driver, personally,” he said. “I can’t say it for everyone, but for me, never.”

Others, like Schneider, think the transition in the taxi industry is just another technological shift.

“I think millennials and young people can utilize it more effectively and it fits their lifestyles so that’s why the transition has become integrated into society now, and I feel like progression is kind of inevitable,” Schneider said.

 

 

Beating the odds: A small business success story

By Jessica Weinberger

For the founder and owner of San Diego-based boutique Trendy and Tipsy Kaitlynn Brown, the day starts early.

She begins by posting a photo to the shop’s Instagram page and advertising new arrivals. She replies to a long list of emails and handles custom orders, inquiries, photo shoot schedules and shipments. All the while, she greets customers as they come in to the shop on Mission Blvd. By mid-afternoon, she has a farmer’s market to attend, and she works the tent till 9 p.m.

Rest comes later.

The life of a small business retailer is one that doesn’t stop, and one that, more times than not, ends in failure. According to a 2016 study in Entrepreneur Weekly, 53 percent of startup retail small businesses fail in the first four years. The study cites multiple reasons, including insufficient funding, markets phasing out or owners having a limited business background.

But Brown works feverishly to buck that trend. Being the sole owner of her business, all decisions fall on her. She started her business in San Diego in 2012 after graduating from Dominican University with a business management degree and a master’s degree in global management.

In just two years after starting up, her business expanded at such a rate that she was able to open a storefront in Pacific Beach in 2015. Although growing her business was the product of many different things, Brown says the key to success is starting small and focusing on what the market demands are.

In an industry that is constantly changing and doesn’t necessarily support small businesses without a brand name, Brown competes with the commercial store market by extensively utilizing social media and online outlets, applying a personal knowledge in business, marketing, art and photography and giving the San Diego community something that the commercial competition cannot: San Diego-made products.

“I think it’s kind of nice being separated from everyone else that’s maybe in L.A. or New York,” she said. “Being in San Diego is like it’s own niche community. There’s not really a lot of brands or boutiques really like this is the area.”

San Diego State University marketing professor Lois Bitner Olson and David Sahly, a Toronto SEO specialist both agree that running a business is very complex, no matter what size.

“The same issues of accounting, organization, production, marketing and management apply [to small businesses] just like any large corporation faces, just with less help and knowledge” Olson said. “The person starting the business needs 22-26 months of living expenses covered with no worries because they will not be making money usually for that long.”

When she started her business, Brown understood what the risks were and planned accordingly.

“You really have to be smart with how you spend your money, initially,” Brown said. “I think that’s where I was ahead of the curve. I had friends as models, I did photography for myself, and I wasn’t paying rent for the first two years. I think that’s an advantage. It’s just being mindful of where you’re spending your money, not overspending.”

One element that Brown says is crucial for small business owners is having an online store to reach the masses.

“Social media has been a huge factor in my business,” Brown said. “Ever since the start, even in the last year, we’ve grown [online] so much.”

The Trendy and Tipsy Instagram page, with which Brown promotes farmer’s market appearances, trunk shows, new arrivals and seasonal look books, currently has over 20,000 followers.

Noelle Ruiz, a regular customer with Trendy and Tipsy, attests to the impact that social media reach has on a small business.

“I do a lot of my shopping on their website and their Instagram page because their Instagram page has quality pictures,” Ruiz said. “That makes me want to go in and buy their clothes. I think it’s a good marketing tool.”

Brown said that staying on top of social media marketing as well as at the store front and the farmer’s markets helps to generate business growth.

“You have to keep social media up, but not only just your social media has to be good. It has to be the pictures, the product, and the quality of the images,” she said. “Then people get excited, they want to tell their friends, people want to bring their friends back to the markets, or tag us on their Instagram.”

One reason that small businesses fail in the early development stages is because the market trends and demands for a product phase out. Browns advice is to pay attention to market growth and avoid marrying a startup business to a specific market or product.

“What I’ve come to take into play is that our [products] are huge right now…but it’s paying attention to market trends,” Brown said. “If that’s out, I’ll pay attention to what’s new and implement that into my business.”

Brown said it takes a lot of self-discipline and motivation to run a small business and keep it afloat as the sole owner of the brand. She realizes that working against the odds as a small business owner in the early stages of development is made possible by dedication and hard work.

“There’s some days where you work like 14 hour days constantly, or when you’re never not working, but that’s what it takes to run a business,” she said. “You have to keep working for what you want, and you have to strive for what your passion is.”

With new laws, Chicken market takes off

By Maxim Garshman

Mark Gallagher was the first customer in line at East County Feed and Supply in Santee when the store sold its most recent shipment of 70 chickens.

His reasoning for buying was simple.

“We have three teenage boys at home and eggs are expensive,” Gallagher said. “So, we’re hoping to offset the cost of food by having our own little farm.”

Raising backyard chickens has long been a common practice in many rural areas across the country, and with interest spreading to urban districts, many cities have begun to rethink their laws on raising hens. San Diego is no different.

In January 2012, the city legalized the ownership of backyard chickens. Previously, the law said that 25 chickens were allowed, but they had to be kept at least 50 feet away from a dwelling.

Following suit was El Cajon, Lemon Grove, Santee and La Mesa, whose local governments enacted similar chicken ownership laws. Since the new laws were enacted, owning chickens has become a growing trend across the region.

With the new laws came business opportunities. East County Feed and Supply on Woodside Avenue in Santees saw their profits increase drastically.

“It has really picked up,” said store employee Dennis Cody, “and we’re doing super good in that.”

The store had always sold chicks but capitalized on the opportunity to sell chickens, even selling them in bulk. Now, people come from all over the county, including La Mesa, Santee and Pacific Beach. Store owner Marty Barnard said almost half the people that buy poultry from her store are first-time owners.

“Fresh eggs are a novelty,” Barnard said. “You go to the store and the eggs are at least a couple weeks old.”

For those who have big families or those looking to save money on groceries, raising hens has become a valuable option. A laying hen will lay about one egg per day.

Christina Phalen, a chicken owner in La Mesa, said she saves about six dollars per dozen eggs. She saves up to $21 per week and just over $1,000 a year, she said.

“I mean the eggs are amazing,” she said. “It feels like an Easter egg hunt every day. I bring my kids out and see if there’s eggs and I love how they feel. Of course, they’re so delicious as well. We go through a lot of them with baking and breakfast.”

Although there are many positives to owning chickens, there are also risks involved.

A major concern for those against the legalization of chickens was the diseases and illnesses that could be spread from poultry. Barnard is aware of that concern and keeps her store’s chickens in a secure area that only employees are allowed to access.

“We keep them (chickens) totally separate away from the public,” Barnard said. “We don’t let outsiders back there to view them or interact with them because a lot of disease can just be transmitted on your shoes.”

Phalen makes sure her kids wear certain close-toed shoes when they go out every morning to gather the eggs.

East County Feed and Supply holds free beginner poultry classes once every few months to address health concerns, but they also teach people how to properly feed, house and raise chickens.

And while some view chickens as just a way to save money, many find them to be much more than that.

“I think people start out wanting the chickens to have for eggs,” Cody said. “Once they get the chickens, and they can see the chickens have different personalities, different traits and act as a society that’s when they just fall in love with them and have them as pets.”

Getting to know each chicken’s personality is half the fun, Phalen said. “They all have their pecking order, they fly around, eat bugs and they’re just so funny.”

Phalen finds that chickens are also great companion animals for her and her family. Every morning Phalen and her kids go out to grab the eggs. She says it has taught her kids responsibilities, and it also shows them where food comes from.

“It’s an easy pet to learn with,” Phalen said. “To teach them that responsibility is important.” She adds: “They’re my favorite pets.”

Farmers’ markets on the rise

By Kaitlen Daigle

To help combat her husband’s allergies, Kim Winslow went in search of honey at her local farmers’ market. Since local honey contains local pollen, she said, ingesting it in small amount helps build up an immunity.

It’s just one of many reasons people cite for visiting local farmers’ markets. And their popularity appears to be growing.

“I like that they have a lot of fresh produce that they pick more recently than at the grocery store, and they usually have samples so you can try out the fruit, usually the fruit, to see if it’s sweet,” Winslow said.

Farmers’ markets are full of products that are unique to the region. Many people go to their local farmers’ market to get fresh produce straight from the farmer. Between 2006 and 2014, the number of farmers’ markets in United States grew 180 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“In the last couple years it has definitely picked up its popularity,” said Mitchell Winnick, RFB Family Farm farmer. “When we first started, it was kind-of out of the ordinary, you didn’t want to tell people you went to it.”

The largest number of farmers’ markets in the U.S. – 764 – are located in California, according to the USDA’s 2014 National Farmers Market Directory.

In the early 1990s, there were only half a dozen markets in the county. Now, there are about 70, said Mike Manchor, Rex Ranch farmer and manager of the Rancho Bernardo Farmers Market.

Suzie’s farm, the largest farm in San Diego at 140 acres, allows customers to pick their own produce, including strawberries, beets or other produce that is in season.

“I know at the grocery store there’s also organic stuff but it’s nice to find your own and pick the sizes and colors,” said Samantha Flores, a Suzie’s Farm customer.

The owners of the farm, Robin and Lucila, are really passionate and excited about being able to feed their community, Suzie’s Farm farmers’ marketer Kayla DeLucia said.

“Just getting to walk through the fields with so many people there coming to pick their own food is a really fun experience,” she said.

Customers can find Suzie’s Farm’s produce at local farmers’ markets and their farm stand. Suzie’s Farm also participates in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a subscription-based program that allows customers to receive farm-picked produce on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

There are 12 other farms that also participate in CSA in San Diego County, according to the San Diego Farm Bureau.

Farmers’ markets, farm stands and CSA are the most common ways to buy local.

“I absolutely love talking to so many different people and getting to promote the farm and talk about produce and where it comes from,” DeLucia said.

Most of the farms in San Diego County, however, are not as large as Suzie’s Farm. Sixty-five percent of San Diego County’s farmers operate on small family farms, harvesting on nine acres or less, according to the San Diego Farm Bureau.

RFB Family Farm provides local, raw honey to the community by selling at four different farmers’ markets. They partner with other small farms to sell produce and eggs, as well.

“With our farm, we have bees so our bees kind-of flow everywhere but if you count the acreage that we keep the bees on it’s about 10 acres,” Winnick said.

The top three organic crops in the San Diego area are avocados, Valencia oranges and lemons, according to the County of San Diego Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures.

“Mostly, I have 1,500 trees, about 1,200 of them are all avocado. Everything else is citrus or macadamia nut,” Manchor said.

Seventy percent of consumers nationwide said that their purchase decisions are affected by how food is grown and raised, according to a survey by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.

“I like that they have a lot of fresh produce that they pick more recently than at the grocery store and they usually have samples so you can try out the fruit, usually the fruit, to see if it’s sweet,” Winslow said.

“Just by being here and basically providing the vegetables here and actually eating it myself, I could just taste the difference in something I’d get at the store compared to something here at the farm because it is organic and it is fresh,” said Fe Hernandez, a Suzie’s Farm tour guide and farm stand worker.

The majority of organic produce grown in San Diego County is sold to wholesalers, who in turn sell it to markets across the U.S. Part of the produce is sold directly to local restaurants and natural food stores.

Farmers who market food directly to consumers have a greater chance of reporting positive sales than those who market through traditional channels, according to the 2007 and 2012 U.S. census data.

“A packing house would give you like 20 cents on the dollar for an item I could sell a lot more here,” Manchor said. “So my advice for farmers is to stay away from the packing houses. Farmers’ markets will give you the best price for your crops.”

Produce for wholesalers are harvested before they are ripe and stored for long periods of time before distribution. Non-local fruits and vegetables tend to be chosen for their yield, not for flavor, diversity or nutritional value.

“I think people are learning that they can get healthy, good food at a market,” Winnick said. “They can get it fresher. They can get what they are looking for, in season and local from the actual farmer.”

San Diegans for sale: the DA seeks to highlight the ‘Ugly Truth’ about sex trafficking

Marjorie Saylor was raised as a devout church-goer but ran away from home at age 15 after many years of sexual abuse in her isolated neighborhood of Lake Elsinore, Calif.

Once on her own, she worked an under-the-table job for a few years until she was forced to leave it. Soon after, she found a job as a waitress at a strip club in Orange County. It was there her slow descent into the sex-trafficking world began: first as a waitress, then as a stripper, then through escorting services.

Saylor was mainly trafficked in California but also as far away as Missouri.

Today, Saylor is a victim advocate in San Diego county for survivors of sexual trauma and also assists law enforcement with helping trafficked victims when they are found. She said she talks about sex trafficking every chance she gets because it is so easy for anyone to become a victim.

“It happens to any socioeconomic class,” she said.

A recent study, conducted by the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University, shows sex trafficking is San Diego’s second largest underground economy after drug trafficking. The study tallied an estimated 8,830-11,773 sex trafficking victims in San Diego annually.

Because of this growing issue, the San Diego District Attorney’s Human and Sex Trafficking Task Force plans to launch its newest awareness campaign, “The Ugly Truth,” in San Diego later this summer.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan, who runs the Human and Sex Trafficking Division in San Diego, said the aim of the campaign is to stop the buying and selling of men, women and children in San Diego.

“The Ugly Truth” is an award-winning campaign based off “The Voices and Faces Project,” which began in Chicago last year. “The Ugly Truth” will use billboards, fliers and public broadcasts to give victims a voice, a name and a way to share their story to bring awareness about sex trafficking.

“Sex trafficking is a crime that hides in the shadows,” Stephan said.

She said victims often do not even know they are victims because they are heavily manipulated by their traffickers, so the main way the DA’s Human and Sex Trafficking Task Force catches the traffickers is by having the community be their eyes and ears.

“We need every part of the community to come together to help us stop this problem because our victims are not calling,” Stephan said. “They are under the control of the trafficker. They’re controlled by fear, but they’re also—even more importantly—often controlled by their own shame.”

Upwards of 70 percent of the trafficking in San Diego is conducted by people affiliated with gangs, according to the study, “Measuring the Nature and Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego.”

“We can’t say that gangs are organizing this from the top to the bottom in great scale, but we do know that a lot of the people affiliated with gangs are involved,” said  Jamie Gates, a sociology professor at PLNU and co-author of the study. “What we know is, on average, a trafficker controls about four or five people, and in that process are making upwards of half a million dollars annually.”

Also according to the study, the average age of entry into the sex trafficking industry is 15.

There is a grooming process sex traffickers use, similar to those of pedophiles, said Susan Munsey, the executive director of Generate Hope, an organization dedicated to rehabilitating victims of sex trafficking.

She said traffickers may seek out places like bus stops, coffee shops, malls, schools, gaming websites—anywhere they may come across a potential victim. Then they will play the protector, or “Romeo,” and lure the victim in.

This was the ploy used on her when she was 16.

“I was a runaway and very vulnerable,” Munsey said. “A guy came along who pretended to have an interest in me, and I felt very loved, and protected, and cared for—at a time when I didn’t feel any of those things. Then he slowly introduced me to the trafficking world.”

Munsey said many of the young women who come through Generate Hope are foster children, runaways or homeless. These are the people who tend to be the most vulnerable. Munsey said traffickers are always looking for vulnerabilities, but it could happen to anyone.

Saylor agreed. “It happens in any neighborhood, whether you’re out in the middle of nowhere, or in a big city,” she said.

After several years in the adult industry, Saylor said there is “no such thing as a classy gentleman’s club”—that eventually the need for extra money will arise and the opportunity will be taken. She said it is an act for everyone, especially those who do pornography, which many of the strippers end up doing.

Munsey said there is a deep connection between sex trafficking and pornography because watching pornography causes built up fantasies, which people then want to act out. Who they act it out with tends to be someone who is being sex trafficked. Munsey said the term victims use for their forced circumstances is “survival sex.”

Gates said the thing he found most surprising from his studies on sex trafficking in San Diego is the scale to which sex trafficking is happening. Much like the false stereotypes regarding victims of trafficking, traffickers also come from all social, racial and economic backgrounds.

“We think the average age is a little younger than what people have been saying,” Gates said. “We can’t, from our data, give an exact age, but we think the age is in the low 20’s rather than in the 30’s or higher. We’ve heard from the traffickers themselves that ‘the game,’ as they call it, is getting younger and younger in terms of those who are trafficking other persons.”

Saylor said one reason sex trafficking is so widespread is because our culture and media are perpetuating the idea that pimping is acceptable in society.

“Trafficking is glorified,” Saylor said. “I don’t think people really realize the effect it has, but stripping and prostitution is glorified on MTV and on the radio. Usher is singing it’s OK for you to be up on that pole as long as you come home to me—and this is what our kids are listening to.”

Stephan from the DA’s office said the idea that those involved in the sex industry are there by choice is a myth, and it is this myth that is keeping victims enslaved and is endangering the freedom of the whole community.

“San Diegans need to be aware that this is happening everywhere in our country, and right here in San Diego,” Stephan said. “In fact, the enslavement of any person threatens all of our freedom. We need to understand that with the social internet, and with the profit margin of this crime, no community is safe.”

Stephan said the Human and Sex Trafficking Task Force is teaming up with the San Diego Unified School District to train staff, teachers, counselors, therapists and students on what to look for and what to do if they notice sex trafficking.

“We know that 20 out of 20 of the schools studied in the recent, ground-breaking study by USD and Point Loma Nazarene show that in every one of those schools there are victims of sexual exploitation,” said Stephan. “So we know we have to target our schools, and that is what we’re doing.”

Stephan said law enforcement is also working with hotel industries to train and educate their employees since hotels and motels are the number one place of business for sex trafficking.

The timing of “The Ugly Truth” campaign corresponds with two major tourist events in San Diego: Comic-Con and the Major League Baseball All-Star game, since evidence has shown that sex trafficking increases as tourism increases.

“We want [traffickers] to know that San Diego is not the place to do your dirty business,” Stephan said. “We are just not going to put up with it. The entire community is banded together to protect victims from exploitation.”

She said the message especially needs to reach those being trafficked.

“The traffickers have told them lies that no one will believe them, no one will listen,” she said. “We are here to listen to them, to believe them, and to make sure that they don’t get victimized again.”

Solana Beach surfers worry about the city’s beach replenishment project

By Matthew Bain

Kristin Brinner doesn’t hesitate to say she and her husband moved to Solana Beach because they loved its surfing resources.

And she says she’s not alone, that there are many more who call Solana Beach home mainly so they can be minutes away from its waves — waves that Brinner and some of her surf-loving neighbors fear could be wiped out in coming years.

On Oct. 14, Solana Beach City Council approved a beach replenishment project that will widen the city’s shoreline by 150 feet over the next 50 years by adding more than a million cubic yards of sand to the existing beaches.

There’s precedent of replenishment projects tampering with surf conditions, Brinner said, especially with the 2012 SANDAG project in Imperial Beach, which also caused flooding to coastal properties.

Brinner, a volunteer with the nonprofit San Diego County Surfrider Foundation, doesn’t want a repeat of Imperial Beach in her hometown.

“Everyone loves their surf spots in Solana Beach,” she said. “Surfing is such a local activity and so there are people, my husband included, that are passionate about (it).”

The project’s basics

The project is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ creation that’s been in the works for 15 years. It will also widen beaches in Encinitas, and its main goal is to beef up the cities’ shorelines to reduce coastal storm damages, improve public safety and reduce coastal erosion and shoreline narrowing, according to the Army Corps’ report.

The report notes that 700,000 cubic yards of off-shore sand will be dredged up and deposited along 7,200 feet of Solana Beach shoreline in about two years. That initial deposit will be followed by an additional 290,000 cubic yards every decade for 50 years.

The project will cost nearly $165 million, with the federal government shouldering $87 million of that, according to the report.

Solana Beach Mayor David Zito said the Army Corps will monitor conditions — including surfing conditions — for at least two years after that first deposit and make adjustments if necessary at the 10-year mark.

“The good thing about our project is it’s actually the first shoreline project in the nation that the Army Corps has done which includes adaptive measures,” Zito said.

Potential effect on surfing

Zito said surfing was a key concern when the city council discussed approving the project. But council members weren’t seriously worried surfing resources would be affected, Zito said, and if there were any effects, they’d be temporary.

“Sand is not permanent,” he said. “The sand’s going to go eventually. So even if there are some short-term surfing impacts, which we would all seriously regret, they will potentially go away because the sand’s going to move to other places.”

Solana Beach had 146,000 cubic yards of sand added in a 2001 beach replenishment project, and in the same 2012 project that affected Imperial Beach, it only received 140,000 cubic yards.

The drastic increase to 700,000 is a major point of concern for Brinner, who is also the co-chair of San Diego County Surfrider’s Beach Preservation Committee.

“It’s so far above the natural volume of sand that makes it to the beach and it’s so far above any sand replenishment project that’s been done to date that I think we’re pretty confident that it would destroy the reef breaks,” Brinner said. “Because it would totally cover them up.”

Reef breaks are a surfer’s lifeblood, responsible for creating the iconic rolling surf waves of Southern California. Reefs obstruct waves before they get to shore, forcing the water to roll for a while before eventually crashing on the sand.

In its report, the Army Corps acknowledges this project could make two popular Solana Beach surf spots — Pillbox and South Side — become more like beach breaks.

Beach breaks are often short-lived and close to shore, and they aren’t as alluring to savvy surfers.

“I think in some parts of the report they’re like, ‘Well reef breaks will be converted to beach breaks and they’ll be fine.’” Brinner said. “No. … The people that live here, they surf all their lives, and they’re passionate and good surfers, and they want their good quality reef breaks.”

Private vs. public resources 

Julia Chunn-Heer, policy manager for San Diego County Surfrider, said she understands the city’s beaches need to be replenished and get much wider. But she’d rather the project more closely mimic nature, with smaller doses of sand added to the shoreline more gradually.

She said the project reflects how the city council prioritizes protection for private coastal property over surfing resources.

“(Surfing) is what we’re known for,” Chunn-Heer said. “This is why people pay top dollar to live here and why we’re a tourist destination. We have some of the best waves in the county, and I don’t think they want to be responsible for ruining them.”

Zito disagreed, saying the project does protect public resources, including beach access points.

“We have three sets of stairs (to beaches) and a ramp at Pillbox, and if we don’t protect those infrastructure assets, they might go away, as well,” he said. “If you have good surf but no way to get there, I’m not sure how valuable that is either, because we can’t afford to reconstruct these public assets.”

Surfing and the economy in Solana Beach

The Army Corps report estimates this project will add an extra $1.3 million of revenue to Solana Beach every year. That amount was estimated based on assets like recreational benefits, or “towel space” at the wider beaches.

Brinner worries the city council spent too much time considering towel space and forgot to factor “surfonomics” into its decision to approve the project. Surfonomics is a term coined by Chad Nelsen, Surfrider’s national CEO, to describe surfing’s economic impact on a region.

Nelsen conducted a study in 2012 to determine how much money the surf spot Trestles brought in for the city of San Clemente. He estimated 330,000 annual visitors came to San Clemente for Trestles, bringing $8-13 million along with them to spend at local restaurants, gas stations and shops.

Brinner doesn’t have any specific numbers to support her claim, but she said many in the city’s surfing community — including she and her husband — moved to Solana Beach largely for its surf.

“People come here to surf, people move here, buy houses here to surf and that is an important economic resource as well,” she said.

 

Complexity of homelessness persists in North Park

By Vassili Demos

Robert Doran once had an idyllic life.

A San Diego State University graduate and lifelong San Diegan, he was the general manager of a water company in Santee for seven years. For 12 years before that, he worked at General Dynamics making cruise missiles. For a time, he even owned a bar in La Mesa.

Then, it all fell apart. He fell on financial hard times and slipped into drug addiction. Eventually, he lost his home, his wife and began living on the streets in North Park.

“I had a good life,” Doran, 59, said. “It just all of a sudden was like the carpet got pulled out from under me.”

Doran is not alone. Homelessness has been a part of North Park for many years, and Edwin Lohr, President of the North Park Community Association, believes it’s getting worse.

San Diego’s pleasant weather and a push from other cities to move homeless people out of their communities are reasons why the homelessness persists here, Lohr explained.

“For many years we did ignore it, but I think we’ve got to find out the root of why there is homelessness here,” Lohr said. “I believe that is one of the biggest challenges our government officials have to take into consideration.”

In October 2015, North Park leaders and police held a community forum to address the homeless problem in their community. Six months later, the problem persists.

Jessica Lawrence, City of San Diego Budget and Finance Committee Consultant, acknowledged development in downtown San Diego has led to a migration of homeless people to neighborhoods like North Park.

Ariel Walker, a former homeless person, knows first hand why people stay in North Park. People and police are generally sympathetic to the homeless population there. She added that she believes it’s because North Park, situated to the northeast of Balboa Park, is a comfortable place.

San Diego had a population of 8,742 homeless people in 2015, placing the coastal city fourth for largest population of homeless people in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in their Annual Homeless Assessment Report.

The report also shows both San Diego city and county have 1,981 homeless people who comprise families with children.

Both San Diego city and county ranked fifth in the nation with 12.3 percent of homeless people who are unsheltered – those who sleep somewhere not intended for human residence. And that number is on the rise, Lawrence said.

The study also found San Diego ranked third for largest population of homeless veterans. San Diego also has the sixth largest population of chronically homeless people in the nation.

Someone who understands the struggles the homeless face is Melissa Peterman, Director of Homeless Housing Innovations at the San Diego Housing Commission.

San Diego’s high cost of living and its notorious expensive housing compound the  problem. Peterman says it’s very difficult to find homes for people who have bad credit histories, no prior rental experience and who can’t afford to rent a home or apartment in an extremely competitive rental market.

Walker, for example, attributes her homelessness to her not being able to afford rent in the city.

Doran said once someone become homeless, it becomes especially difficult to get back on track.

“Who wants to hire a 59-year-old guy? What do I do? Go to Walmart and greet people at the front door,” he said. “I’m lost right now.”

The sheer number of homeless people in the area is daunting.

“The reality is we don’t have enough funding from the federal government to house everybody,” Lawrence said. “We don’t have enough available units to house the over 8,000 homeless on the streets in the county.”

It’s important to understand that homelessness is always going to exist, Lawrence argues.

“You’re never going to stop somebody from falling on their luck one day, losing their job, having an incident happen to them that leads to their homelessness,” Lawrence said. “There is always going to be people that fall on hard times and wind up on the street.”

Sarah McCarthy, 23, was living in Reno, Nev., but was unhappy working a nine-to-five job. She then joined her friends in an adventure across the country. After that, their van broke down and she found herself stuck in San Diego.

“I’ve been stuck here between OB and North Park,” she said. “Haven’t really been able to get out.”

A local organization knows the pressures the homeless face all too well. Home Start, run by CEO Laura Tancredi-Baese, is focused on providing services to homeless mothers and children living in poverty.

“Some people choose to remain on the streets because of severe mental illness, bad experience with systems and some just prefer being independent on the streets,” Tancredi-Baese said.

Doran said he is better off on the streets than in a shelter. He said he grew weary of bed bugs and overcrowding. He also said he can survive on his own and works together with his friends, who are also homeless.

“I live better where I’m at right now,” he said. “I’m out here. I’m surviving. I know how to survive.”

That mindset, combined with the good but sometimes flawed intentions of city officials can be frustrating, said North Park resident Paul Richardson.

“The city wants to help them, but some of the methods in which they do so are counterproductive,” Richardson said. “Sometimes their idea of helping is – OK, lets run them out of this area into another one.”

McCarthy said she was living in Ocean Beach, but the harassment from local residents and police pushed her to North Park.

“It got to a point where you couldn’t even sit down without being harassed, so I had to go to North Park,” McCarthy said. “The cops are pretty cool, a lot easier than OB.”

Anyone can experience homelessness, Peterman said. “Most folks are just a missed paycheck away, or an unforeseen medical expense away from being on the streets.”

Doran knows that reality well.

“I was sober for four years. I went to Escondido. We had two different rehabs for two years, and I got my life straight. I slipped and I ended up coming back down here. I’m back on the streets again,” he said. “I’m not happy about that.”

Abundant potholes keep street repair crews busy

By Juwan Armstrong

San Diego resident Drew Morris was driving in the Mission Valley neighborhood on Friars Road when he suddenly came upon large pothole. His car jumped and then began making a funny noise. It wasn’t until he arrived home that he realized the extent of the damage.

“After I checked out my car after hitting the pothole, I already knew that it was going to have to spend a lot of money for the damages,” he said. “I was very frustrated because that is money going down the drain.”

Morris is not alone.

Potholes have been a longtime issue for the city of San Diego. The area was ranked eighth worst in the nation in terms of bad roads, with 51 percent considered to be in poor condition, according to the study by TRIP, a transportation research group based in Washington, D.C.

The roads that are in poor condition are costing the average motorist more than $800 in annual vehicle expenses, according to the study.

The report listed 51 percent of San Diego’s major thoroughfares as being in poor condition – more than twice the national average for large population areas. In addition, only 10 percent of major streets in the San Diego areas were judged to be in good condition.

Potholes can be located across the city in each of the nine districts. There are approximately 3,000 miles of streets and roads that contains potholes. The districts that contain the most traffic often have more potholes, said Councilman Mark Kersey.

“Potholes are found in every neighborhood,” he said. “It is really dependent on where you see more traffic in higher traffic concentrated areas. It could be Downtown or Pacific Beach, but we have a lot of potholes in city.”

Potholes are formed after a crack develops within the asphalt, allowing moisture to seep into the crack. The moisture causes the street to degrade and eventually leads to the asphalt crumbling. Under the weight of constant traffic, the asphalt collapses and becomes a hole in the road.

While potholes typically do not cause harm to citizens, it does cause harm to their wallets. Pothole damage has cost U.S. drivers $15 billion in vehicle repairs over the last five years, according to a new study by the American Automobile Association (AAA). The study found that the average repair bill is $306 for pothole damage, and the most common pothole-related damage is to a tire, wheel or suspension.

Truck driver Mario Escalera, from the city’s pothole repair crew said that potholes can wreak havoc on a vehicle.

“It can ruin the tires, anything underneath the car or truck. Also, it can ruin the car’s transmission,” he said. “It depends on how deep and how wide the pothole is.”

The relationship between fixing a pothole and reporting a complaint has proven to be problematic as well, Kersey said.  The city used to rely heavily on a complaint system, however, the system proved to be inefficient.

The complaint system had the pothole repair crew drive to areas where the complaints were located and fix that one area. Upon arrival, the crew went to the street, evaluated the condition of the pothole, and decided if the street needed to be repaired.

“Not only would we have them drive from the [San Diego State University] campus area to La Jolla and then downtown, but we were wasting fuel and time,” Kersey said.

Instead of having the repair crew attempt to fix potholes in multiple areas in the city, Kersey had the repair crew focus on one area through out the day.

“Now we will send them to one area all day and have them fix all the potholes in that area for that day,” he said.

For a driver to receive any form of refund from the city for car damage, he or she must provide detailed evidence proving that the pothole indeed caused the damages. The evidence includes photos, time and location and size of the pothole.

Last year, Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer and council members Sherri Lighter, Scott Sherman and Kersey passed a budget proposal that will significantly increase the city’s staffing for pothole repairs.

With the increase in the budget to about $18 million, the city can have multiple pothole repair crews go to a particular part of the city.

“We have about five to six pothole crews that go out, and they are in different parts of the city at different times,” Kersey said. He said the city increased the pothole repair budget to reflect both an improving economy and in order to fill potholes more quickly.

“They are not really expensive because there is not a lot of material. It really depends on the size, but we can actually fill them up quickly,” he said.

In order for a pothole to be repaired by the city, there has to be a request filed on the San Diego City’s Street Division website.

“The whole process starts at the offices,” said Escalera. “Once we receive the service number, the paperwork and the addresses, we go out and patch whatever we find that is wrong.”

The city’s main focus for the upcoming fiscal year will include the repaving of entire streets and roads instead of simply filling potholes. The plan is to repave about 300 miles of roads and streets which, over the next five years, will be approximately 1,000 miles or a third of the entire city paved.

“It is a pretty substantial amount of work, but it’s the biggest complaint we get, and it is the biggest visible sign of neglect from the city,” Kersey said.

 

Pet-friendly invention has tails wagging

By Joseph Ciolino

An owner of a 60-pound dog might want to think twice before tying their pet to a patio chair outside a coffee shop. Simply put, once the dog sees a squirrel, there goes the chair.

There is a certain responsibility that comes with being a dog owner and that includes keeping the dog, people and the community safe, said Brian Hoffman, a dog owner and boat repairman who came up with an idea that would give people an extra hand while out on the town with their pooches.

“I was walking, and I wanted to go into the convenience store, and I had to tie my dog up to a phone booth, and it was a precarious situation,” Hoffman said. “I thought: Why wouldn’t a business want a hitch outside for people walking their dogs?”

Hoffman’s answer was to invent a way for people to secure their dogs while they were out. He started developing dog hitches in 2013 by producing six prototypes and handing them out to local North Park businesses.

It became the starting point of his business, Doghook, which is exactly what it sounds like: a plate with a bended hook welded on top of it, with holes punched on the plate where screws with washers are used to hold the plate on a sturdy surface.

The plate can be placed on the outside or inside walls of businesses, on fences or any vertical surface, and patrons can simply secure the leash end on the hook. The hooks work with every type of leash, even the larger handles that are commonly seen with extractable leashes.

“I wanted to find something that was a little more fashionable and a more modern look in the shop,” said Cielo Mathis, owner of Paws and Whiskers Grooming and Retail.

According to Hoffman, multiple shock and weight tests have put the hooks to the test.

“There have been about 6,000 hooks made at this point and there’s never been a model that has failed,” Hoffman said. “You’d have to put 800 to 900 pounds [on the hook] to disfigure it and that just doesn’t happen.”

Indeed, safety was the main concern for Hoffman when he came up with the idea to develop the dog hitch; his main vision was keeping the dogs and the patrons safe while advocating for dog-friendly communities.

“There are lawsuits waiting to happen,” said Steve Yeng, owner of OB Noodle House in Ocean Beach. “A dog pulls an umbrella and hits somebody’s head and there’s a $10,000 lawsuit.”

Yeng and his family all own dogs, and he has made it a point to make OB Noodle House a place where people can bring their pets and feel comfortable. The Asian fusion bar and restaurant has about six dog hooks placed on poles in the outdoor dining area. Couch for dogs are available for them nearby, everything has been thought of in their behalf.

“I think already that it has been a great thing for the dog-friendly community,” Hoffman said. “There’s really sort of a swell of dog friendliness going around, and we want to be at the front of that.”

The hooks can be found all over San Diego, spanning to about 50 local businesses varying from bars, breweries, restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, schools and convenience stores.

“We really concentrated a lot on the beer culture, so there’s a lot in the breweries and tasting rooms,” Hoffman said. “I frequent various brewpubs and breweries in town with some regularity, and with my dogs, I simply wanted to make it safer and easier for myself and others to drink and dine with dogs.”

The Rabbit Hole in Normal Heights is a microbrewery that has outdoor seating with a wall facing the inside of the establishment. That wall is lined with Doghooks for customers to eat and drink with their dogs secured.

“Beer culture at its heart is a very casual, relaxed atmosphere,” said Steven Throop, general manager of The Rabbit Hole. “People think about drinking beer on their porches with their neighbor, and what’s more neighborly or more homey than having your dog with you?”

Aside from the beer scene, many veterinarians and groomers use the product as well.

Mathis has eight hooks spread throughout her pet-grooming parlor in Chula Vista, including hooks near the grooming stations, in the pet-holding areas and by the washing station. Previously, only crates and expandable gates were used in the parlor to secure dogs.

It wasn’t until a dog escaped when Mathis realized that safety takes priority and security had to be heightened in her parlor.

“It’s a great way to contain the dogs very easily and very quickly,” she said. “[Customers] love the idea that their dog doesn’t have to go in a crate, and the dogs like it too.”

Cielo’s Schnauzer, Buttons, usually hangs out at the front of the shop on her Doghook and comfortably watches her master groom the other dogs.

Hoffman has also sold his product to large companies that buy hundreds at a time, including Groomer’s Choice, a large catalog company that sells to dog groomers, and Red Cape Limited, another grooming distributor based in the United Kingdom.

One of the newer clients that Hoffman has been working with is the Canadian pet grooming product franchise known as Pet Edge.

“We’re selling them all across the board to all kinds of different people, businesses, wholesalers and distributors,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman has approached the bigger companies Petco and Petsmart but was not able to come to an agreement because of the high startup and monthly account system fees.

“It’s tough to get through with them,” he said. “Dealing with big companies – there’s a lot of expenses in the setting up of it, so I sort of backed away from doing that.”

Though the hooks are widely known, things have started to pick up for Hoffman. He has sold about 250 hooks internationally, nearly 5,000 domestically and plans to sell many more.

“It’s such a simple thing, and there’s so few ideas that haven’t been thought of yet,” Hoffman said. “With seven billion people you’d think somebody would’ve thought of this before.”

Drag queens cultivating a younger fan base

By Jose Gutierrez

It’s nearly midnight on a Sunday evening in a dimly lit parking lot in North Park. RuPaul’s Battle of the Stars Tour has just finished its San Diego tour date at The Observatory, a venue larger in capacity than the House of Blues where the same event was held a year earlier.

A group of about 20 fans began surrounding a tour bus before security promptly tells the group to move toward the sidewalk.

“Are any of you under 18?” a security guard asks the group.

Nearly half the group raises its hand.

“You guys gotta leave here by 12,” the security guard said to the group, reminding them of the curfew for minors.

It’s nothing new to see passionate young fans eagerly waiting to meet their idols post-concert, but the same dedication now applies to popular drag queens whose performances were typically limited to bars and clubs.

“I don’t want to drink, I just want to enjoy the show,” 16-year-old drag enthusiast Linzy Luu said. “I just want to see them live and be inspired by them.”

The thought of drag queens garnering such a young audience may be confusing at first, but the phenomenon is largely credited to “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a competition reality show in search of “America’s Next Drag Superstar.”

When the show debuted in 2009, drag culture was placed on a national platform, taking drag culture from bars and clubs straight to the family living room.

“There was already a well-established drag community, whether it had been underground or out there in the clubs,” Lips Restaurant performer and drag queen Nadja Baskin said. “The show’s timing just skyrocketed drag’s popularity.”

Lips Restaurant, a drag-themed dinner theater in North Park, holds nightly performances six days a week with local drag queens serving as the waiters and the performers.

According to Baskin, it’s not uncommon to see young audience members at Lips.

“I had one mom call and her daughter was turning ten,” Baskin said. “I personally wouldn’t take my 10-year-old child to a drag show, but it’s a new generation of kids.”

While Lips typically discourages those under 12 from attending the nightly shows, it provides one of the few opportunities for those under 21 to see drag up close and personal.

Responding to the demand for more age-accessible drag, there has been a recent flux of all ages events that aims to connect underage fans to their favorite queens. One such event is RuPaul’s Battle of the Stars 2016 Extravaganza Tour.

Eastlake High School senior Abraham Hernandez lined up at The Observatory by 2 p.m., even though the show wouldn’t begin until 8.

His evening took a turn for the better when one of the performers, RuPaul season 8 finalist Ginger Minj, spotted Hernandez and gave him meet-and-greet passes for being lined up so early.

“Now there are a lot of kids who love drag queens and want to meet them but they can’t because they’re under 21,” Hernandez said. “It made my whole year to have the opportunity to meet them.”

Television personality and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” judge Michelle Visage isn’t surprised to see that the show has a notable following among the youth.

“At that age, middle school and high school, everybody’s trying to find their own tribe, something to call their own,” Visage said during the preshow meet and greet. “It makes complete sense.”

At the event, Luu was also able to meet some of her favorite drag queens from the show. She intends on meeting more at RuPaul’s Drag Con at the Los Angeles Convention Center on May 7 and 8.

“Drag shouldn’t have an age limit. It should be open to anyone that’s interested,” Luu said. “Drag Con is a great opportunity for kids out there like me to be in a world like drag and not feel left out because all their shows are 21 and over.”

According to Luu, she is passionate about drag culture because of the creativity that goes into the performances.

Justin Anthony, known as “Gro Tesqua” in San Diego’s drag scene, uses drag as an artistic outlet for his creativity.

“Drag for me is basically self-expression,” Anthony said. “I’m an artist, I’ve always been an artist, and drag is a way to express myself.”

Just moments earlier, Anthony had just won the first round of Dueling Divas, a local drag competition held in Urban MO’s Bar and Grill.

Baskin, a good friend of Anthony, agrees that drag revolves around self-expression. However, she adds that drag doesn’t belonging to any one particular group of people.

“Drag is a world of beauty and embracing all walks of life,” Baskin said. “It’s not necessarily a gay or straight or trans thing. Everybody’s equal.”

Baskin, a transgender woman, identifies as being more female than being a drag queen. Being a woman is a part of her identity, but being in drag entails performance and entertainment, which is why drag is not limited to any particular gender.

Sixteen-year-old Luu plans on participating in drag culture in the near future, although she faces criticism and opposition from her schoolmates.

“They tell me no, you can’t that, drag is for men pretending to be women,” Luu said as she recalled comments from her peers. “But it’s 2016 already. Everyone is really open. The world is changing.”

While drag inspires Luu with creative energy, Hernandez says that drag has helped him feel comfortable in his own skin.

“Drag makes you feel accepted. You learn to love yourself just watching the show,” Hernandez said. “A lot of kids need to learn that now because their parents might not always approve of them.”

As for now, both Hernandez and Luu are anticipating a recently announced all-ages tour being put together by Jasmine Masters, a drag queen who is responding to seeing underage fans waiting outside clubs until the late hours of night.

Masters made the announcement via YouTube, explaining how the tour is specifically for those under 21. The tour is comprised mostly of contestants from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” but it will also team up with local drag queens to introduce fans to their own local drag scene.

Until that tour comes into fruition, however, super fans will have to keep waiting outside venues in hopes of seeing their favorite drag performers.

While Luu is excited about the tour’s announcement, she is most excited about eventually performing drag in the near future.

“At my age, I can’t perform at clubs, but I want do everything,” Luu said. “I want to perform, I want to do make up. I want to meet them, I want to be them.”