Bianca Koch, a resident of Ocean Beach in California and a freelance reporter who has had articles published in The Peninsula Beacon, said her 1991 BMW convertible’s top and interior were completely burnt out and the exterior suffered substantial damage in the early hours on Friday 11 February.
One of Koch’s neighbours reported the fire about 5 am to the San Diego Fire Department, which was able to extinguish the blaze within minutes after it began.
Fire Department personnel on scene told Koch the fire was intentionally started. They said they found evidence of charred wood in the back seat and indications that some kind of accelerant was used, according to Koch.
Some community members speculated that the torching was in response to articles Koch has written for The Peninsula Beacon, which some have interpreted to be favourable to the homeless.
Glen Franks, director of Second Chances Bread of Life ministry that operates on behalf of the homeless in Ocean Beach, said there is some tension in the community between the merchants and those who serve the homeless.
"Some of the merchants blame every crime committed in OB on the homeless, and they are not happy that we are feeding them,” Franks said.
The torching of Koch’s car happened less than 24 hours after a front-page article about the treatment of the homeless, transients and disadvantaged appeared in The Peninsula Beacon weekly that covers Ocean Beach and Point Loma. However, neither Koch nor the police can prove a connection between the controversy and the fire.
When Kevin Alsobrook, manager of Nick’s at the Pier, a restaurant in the Ocean Beach business district and one of the organizers of the Ocean Beach Restaurant, Entertainment and Lodging Group, was asked if he had a problem with the homeless, he responded: “They hang around here and once in a while we have to run them out of our garage area, but that’s about it.”
He said he was unaware of the torching of Koch’s car.
“I’m sorry to hear about it – that kind of thing is not good for our community,” Alsobrook said.
As of this writing, the San Diego Police Department is not involved in any criminal investigation.
Department Spokesman Gary Hassen said: “We were called, but we were not needed. The Fire Department took care of it.”
Koch said her car had been parked in its usual spot in an alley behind her home, next to several other vehicles and some buildings.
“My neighbour told me the flames were shooting 12 feet in the air,” Koch said. “If it wasn’t for her quick action, the entire neighborhood could have caught fire.”
Koch said her landlord has given her a 60-day notice to move out.
“Now on top of losing my car and my business, I’m losing my home,” she added.
For more information on the tension between merchants and the homeless in Ocean Beach click here.
To read a LATimes blog on the issue click here.
To read an Ocean Beach blog on the issue click here.