ENCINITAS, Calif. — Visitors at the iconic Swami’s Beach and Park in Encinitas are scratching their heads over an apparent decision by the city to remove all park benches that line the cliffside’s famous surf spot.
“There are people who paid money for those benches. They weren’t just benches, they were memorials to people who passed, and its family members come and sit,” Ed Burk, a regular at the beach, told FOX 5 on Monday.
Burk has been visiting the beach for decades. Like dozens of other locals, he is now retired and enjoys the comradery of the small, but close surf community who would hang out on the beaches to check the waves and tell stories.
He and other Encinitas locals FOX 5 spoke with say they believe the benches were removed to prevent unhoused residents from sleeping on them.
However, a spokesperson for Encinitas argued that the move had nothing to do with its homeless population, instead was for routine maintenance. The city sent the following statement to FOX 5 Monday afternoon:
“Annually, our pristine beaches attract a staggering 3 million visitors to our city. In light of this, the park benches are maintained by the city of Encinitas to ensure they remain a welcoming fixture for our community. Periodic maintenance is essential to guarantee their longevity and uphold their quality. the cherished memorials on some of the benches are always carefully protected and left undisturbed while being cleaned/maintained. We express our gratitude to the community for their understanding and patience as we diligently work to maintain these benches, ensuring they continue to be cherished elements of our community landscape for years to come.“
Despite the city’s statement, Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz explained to FOX 5 that the unhoused population in the area did play a role in the city’s decision to remove the benches, adding that the city has not determined if they will return after maintenance or move them elsewhere.
“The benches needed to be cleaned. We are probably going to end up reconfiguring the location of some of the benches,” he said. “We want people to be comfortable and enjoy the scenery here, so we’re going to take a look about how we can replace the benches in a way that accommodates people that are here to enjoy the scenery and not be a nuisance.”
Nonetheless, the sudden disappearance of the benches has upset locals.
Neil Miller walks along the shoreline three or four times a week, sometimes sitting on one of the benches to take in the view.
“This is an iconic setting! You cannot take the benches out! There’s other solutions,” Miller said. I understand the homeless situation is complicated, but that’s penalizing all the taxpaying citizens and tourists.”