UPDATE: No More U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition, Organizers Said

The U.S. Sandcastle Competition is too expensive to continue, especially in this economy, organizers said.

Updated Thursday 3:33 a.m.

Citing increased costs and the challenge to locate more sponsors, the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition will no longer be held, the annual event's organizing committee said Wednesday.

The single largest increase in costs in recent years came in the form of San Diego County Sheriff's Department security costs, which went from .

The committee almost canceled the July 2011 competition, but .

At its start in 1980, 30,000 people attended.

By 2011, organizers estimate more than 400,000 people attended, ranking it among Comic-Con, the San Diego County Fair and the largest events held in San Diego County every year.

While there have been incidences in the past when the committee said there is a threat the competition may not happen this year, this is different because the committee has voted unanimously to end the sandcastle competition and to dissolve the organization, said Debbie Longley, chair of the 40-member committee that organizes the event every year.

 "It really has been a matter of the economic challenges we've faced in the past as well as the resources. We have tapped out pretty much every resource at this point," Longley said. Current economic conditions and an ongoing lack of volunteers and committee members also played a role, she said in a letter sent to the city. 

"It's been a long and heavy weight decision process that we've went through," she said.

Conversations with the Sheriff's Department remained ongoing after the 2011 competition but reduced rates were never discussed, Longley said. 

Without further conversations with members of the competition committee it is difficult to say whether or not reduced security costs would have made a difference.

Security costs made up 28 percent of the event's budget. 36 percent of the budget went towards paying $21,000 to the top winners, equipment rental, charitable donations, private security and city services.

What she was willing to speak for on behalf of the rest of the committee was the fact that the decision was not made lightly. 

"I grew up in this community. I grew up with the event as well, so it definitely does weigh heavily on myself as well as the rest of the committee," she said. "We've taken pride in what we've done with the event and all the hours and effort put into it and what we brought to the community with it," she said.

"Sometimes you have to make a decision for the better of the organization then continue and face the challenges and worry about what could happen," she said.

 Since the vote was taken the decision is final. Additional meetings will still be held to follow through with the final steps to dissolve the 501(c)3.

When asked whether she felt the event has become part of the city's identity, Longley said "Some people think that. Personally I feel Imperial Beach is much more than that, but it has had a significant impact."

The city of Imperial Beach, Imperial Beach Chamber of Commerce, South County Economic Development Council and San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau never measured the economic impact of the Sandcastle Competition.

Lunen Vera serves ice cream at  next to the pier and knows the competition's impact on business.

"It's pretty much the one weekend a year I know my boss wants all of us here,"  he said. During the sandcastle competition business multiplies and "we get a constant line pretty much from when we open until 7 p.m.," or until the cafe closes.

Local nonprofits will also feel the sting of no Sandcastle Competition.

was often the recipient of  donations from the organizing committee.

Providing parking for people going to the Sandcastle Competition was the largest fundraiser of the year for the South Bay Union School District's Education Foundation.   

The Education Foundation hosts fundraisers for programs that assist local students and teachers, and told the SBUSD Board of Trustees that it raised about $42,000 from August 2010 to August 2011, several thousands of which came from parking cars during the sandcastle competition.

"This would be a huge blow to the Foundation’s coffers," said Dana Tomlinson, the Foundation's president and a teacher. "I am hoping that some organization picks up the torch and funds the event."  

John Golden, 18, was with friends playing hacky sack and riding bikes near the beach Wednesday evening when he learned the sandcastle competition will come to an end. After moving to Imperial Beach in 2004, he began coming to the Sandcastle Competition every year. He did not understand why the event was ending. Sand is free he said. 

He wants the event to continue and suggests prize money for winning sandcastle teams be reduced. Each year $21,000 in prize money is awarded to top teams of sand sculptors, including a $5,000 grand prize. 

"Anybody would build sandcastles for $7,000," he said.

Virginia Syverson November 10, 2011 at 12:16 AM
I have been aware for several years that the Sheriff's Dept. was charging exorbitant fees to cover Sandcastles, but I had no idea they doubled that in one year! I congratulate the committee which has worked so hard to keep this going. The demise has little to do with the competence of the committee; it has everything to do with the need to raise thousands of dollars to pay for "public protection." And there was never negotiation about this, it was an ultimatum. The NO signs all came from the Sheriff's Dept. This competition brought pride, fun, and money for many non-profits and businesses in IB. Perhaps it became too successful and attracted too many visitors to our beach. Virginia Syverson
Mike G November 10, 2011 at 12:42 AM
I seem to recall ONE year where there was a problem with some undesirable elements making trouble at the sand castles event. As usual, the powers that be over-reacted and apparently doubled the police presence, with the doubling of cost as well. Personally, the last time I actually attended sandcastles was 1994 because it turned into a B.S. sanitary, corporate environment without any local flavor. "Hey come on down and pay Qualcomm stadium prices for a beer that you can only drink in our designated area. Bring the whole family and get raped for everything from a four dollar hot dog to a three dollar 12 ounce bottle of water". I say good riddance. This quit being an I.B. thing long ago!
Marcus Boyd November 10, 2011 at 12:46 AM
From yours and most other comments above, it really sounds like the cancellation of this community event should have involved community input. I wonder if there are committed committee members who are still willing to keep the event going? As Davis mentioned above, a nominal fee does a wonderful job of limiting crowds to controllable and focused beach goers, as well as a providing an fun and easy annual revenue source for the city. All kidding aside, I'd volunteer time and energy to help save this community event.
Mike G November 10, 2011 at 01:06 AM
From what I heard on the news this evening the LLC that represented sandcastles was also dissolved so no amount of sponsors, volunteers or dollars can revive the event short of starting from scratch. Good Luck.
John Haupt November 10, 2011 at 03:31 AM
400,000 people attended last year. Roughly 30,000 live in IB. The rest came from somewhere else-presumably by car. Put 4 people in a car, and that's approximately 90,000 cars. Offer parking at J Street somewhere for $20 per car with a shuttle service to the beach by bus. Assume 1/3 of those 90,000 drivers accepted the offer. That's $600,000 in revenue. That would be enough to cover buses, staff, and have enough left over to pay the sheriffs for at least the next 4 years. Oh, and since there would be so much less traffic and congestion, we shouldn't need as many sheriffs either.
christine howell November 10, 2011 at 03:43 AM
Hello, this is Christine! First of all thanks guys, I don't believe in giving up so soon, and really I don't think the committee does either...I still have faith! Fayette let me say thank you for all the hard work you do with Special Olympics, I too have a 21 year ols son with Aspergers/autism.......this wonderful city saddens me, I come from Humboldt County, a small town called Fortuna, the events that are many are what create a wonderful community,and a wonderful place to raise children, generations after generations still live there. This town is 10,000 people. I haved lived here for almost twenty years, and it just seems the town has lost it's lust, and I have heard this from old locals.........bring back the excitement please!
T-Bone McGee November 10, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Ed Teel November 10, 2011 at 03:42 PM
It would be a hudge mistake to disolve the 501c3. Stay together and use it to run smaller events a few times a year. Money earned can be used to run the once a year major event. There are other groups in the county that have been very successful. Ask their advice before taking such drastic actions.
Christie Kay Wieber November 10, 2011 at 03:55 PM
Why do sheriffs always seem to ruin everything? Because they can! Why cant the event be 'policed' by a private security company?
Cj November 10, 2011 at 05:01 PM
So sad to see it go. I grew up in IB and attened the event every summer. In 96 I moved to Riverside and still made it a point to come down and enjoy this event with my children. However I noticed a change after 9/11. The police tower with a sharp shooter sitting atop scared the hell out of me and never attended after I saw that. I feel bad for IB.
Janice Mixon November 10, 2011 at 05:03 PM
I agree with VIrginia. Unless anyone has worked on the Sandcastle committee, you just don't realize the negotiations that have to be done to make the whole event be successful. Unfortunately, we moved from that wonderful city and haven't been able to participate, but it was always a good time even with all the hard work that everyone did. I just don't think that some of the city officials understood what it took to organize this event and they sure didn't pitch in much work wise or money-wise. It was all done by VOLUNTEERS. I was so disappointed when the parade stopped; then the fireworks. Little by little it dwindled away. Yes, charging a fee would be magical, but how do you keep the non-payers out? Then there was they year where security was on the roofs of local businesses because of gang violence. It goes on and on. The committee did a wonderful job while they could. I can't give them enough praise. Janice Mixon
Nancyib November 10, 2011 at 05:16 PM
The coverage on the local tv channels last night - never mentioned the cost of the Sheriff Department nor that the whole function is volunteer operated. The coverage left you with the impression that the Community of IB and City of IB didn't want it here anymore. It was not good for IB!
Shorebird November 10, 2011 at 05:22 PM
Is it really cheaper for the city of IB to contract with the Sheriff's Dept than to have our own PD??? Whom among the city council and committee didnt make enough money this year? City Council has done so much to kill any tourist enterprise while crying the entire time we need more visitors...Just another turn IB into a rest home move.
Chico&The Man November 10, 2011 at 05:35 PM
How much revenue does the city o IB generate from the sandcastle event ?
Mike G November 10, 2011 at 05:58 PM
So it's no problem to build a $150,000 fence around a puny skate park, that has no sponsors and generates no revenue, but coming up with the cash to overpay SDCSD to patrol Sandcastles is out of reach? What's wrong with this picture folks?
Jay Novak November 10, 2011 at 06:16 PM
Am I the only one happy to see the event go away? I have lived through every one of these weekends, well actually I leave IB on SandCastle Sundays. Smaller events are a great idea, but do they generate $$$ ? Maybe we can actually become a "classic Southern CA beach town" and not be over run one weekend during the summer.
Mike G November 10, 2011 at 06:18 PM
Because private security can't issue revenue generating citations for inconsequential crap. Also you're forgetting being able to pay the sheriff's all of that abundant overtime for the obligatory DUI checkpoint on the way out of town.
David Melcher November 10, 2011 at 06:52 PM
Where was all this concern and community pride when there was work to be done ? This is a year around volunteer 'job', I personally commend Deb and all the folks that kept it going. I somewhat resent the second guessing and tried-and-failed ideas being forwarded now. You had 31 years to volunteer, you showed your colors. Don't complain now.
Patty Sambrailo November 10, 2011 at 07:14 PM
I grew up there back in the 60's.. I agree it has lost a lot of what it needed to be a great place to live. Too many restrictions and rules for every little thing. Makes one feel as though they can't be trusted to do anything right.
Patty Sambrailo November 10, 2011 at 07:19 PM
I am 53 and it is lame that a beach town has such restrictive rules. I grew up walking our dog to beach, friends skateboarding or biking, people able to hang out and watch sunsets with a beer... Wow, that was just horrible. Good thing there are so many laws that people can just sit on their backsides in front of T.V. and watch nature programs since they can't really go enjoy it in person.
Lenora Porcella November 10, 2011 at 07:56 PM
What a shame... Sand Castle meant good wholesome family fun in IB and was something many of us looked forward to. I wonder why the committee didn't bring this to the community, solicit input, or hold a contest for the best $ making idea? I agree with John Haupt and Christine Howell... charge a nominal fee, and keep what is good in IB going.
christine howell November 10, 2011 at 08:18 PM
Had no idea how to become involved, though showing my Colors is rather harsh, I do much volunteering, maybe they should have reached to the community, but to tell the truth, I am 92154, 2 blocks from IB. Again as large as this event grew, the community should have been INCLUDED...........
Eric J Wallis November 10, 2011 at 09:33 PM
This is a shame, shame on the organization for not using a simple fix like enclosing the food area and charging a dollar entrance fee. That right there would solve the financial challenge. Also shame on the whiners who can't be "inconvenienced" one weekend a month for such a great event. This will truly be a loss to the community.
Bosn November 10, 2011 at 11:53 PM
Sad that Sandcastles is gone. Maybe now city officials will begin concentrating their efforts into developing events and venues to cater to the locals on a daily basis rather than always trying to bring in outside crowds and tourists for a one-weekend event. There are thousands of people here in Imperial Beach who would definitely frequent new establishments or exciting events tailored to its own citizens. Where are the movie theaters, the arcades, the Belmont Parks of Imperial Beach? Where are the batting cages and bowling alleys? Fishing boats? Where are the fine restaurants? If you build it - we will come. The residents of IB would gladly spend their paychecks here rather than leaving the city. Instead of building hotels and condos which will likely not be utilyzed to capacity, and shopping centers which will eventually house thrift shops, city leaders should canvas the citizens of this great city and ask us for input on what we'd like to see here. "Community Vision" with open dialog will identify the role of every individual and organization in achieving a collaborative vision for our city. This will ensure positive projects, programs and activities are generated. City leadership and the general public should be engaged in moving together toward shared community goals and objectives. Only then will we be able to ensure that promising ideas are nurtured and brought to fruition. This is our city and we all need to be involved in planning a direction for our future.
rasmarcus November 11, 2011 at 12:49 AM
Please correct me if I am wrong, however, I don't see anywhere where anyone asked for any help at anytime... There are old sayings for this, "Ask and Ye Shall Receive" and "Seek and Ye Shall Find" immediately come to mind... The decision to end this event was made unilaterally by the committee, and city officials according to news reports, cancellation of the event was not made public beforehand, nor was there a cry for help to the City Council on public record or to the public at large. For those reasons I have the right to, and will continue to 'complain' today and going forward about the decision to cancel the event. In fact, I personally have not given up on a Sand Castle event for IB, I personally don't see why it needs to be a huge International event. I don't believe a sand castle event needs to be promoted beyond the South Bay to draw a crowd and to be considered a success for local community businesses, nonprofits and schools. Management allowed the event to grow to big to handle, I get that. So, scale down the event and keep it going for the community. How about a new IB Sand Castle Competition? It's not too late, we still have the sand, it's still public property, and for now it's still free.
Mike G November 11, 2011 at 03:42 AM
Bosn, this was so well written it got me a little misty. Salient points all. And allow me to piggy back on another poster regarding all of the B.S. rules, regulations and laws that are in place for the sole purpose of squashing any and all attempts at fun in a beach community. This is NOT La Jolla, Del Mar or Coronado so quit trying to make it that way. A couple of quick questions... Why is there a booze ban on our beach? Because they have a problem with a FEW drunks? News flash! It's already illegal to be intoxicated in public and/or disturb the peace. But let's screw it up for everyone because the overpaid sheriffs can't or wont enforce laws already on the books. Can't smoke on the beach because ciggy butts are litter. Psst, littering, also already illegal. Do we even have fire pits on the beach anymore? I don't know because I don't frequent the stalag that passes for our 'public' space anymore. The new Seacoast Inn will be a joke. Tourists will be amazed at the lack of local attractions about 15 minutes after check in. On the upside, our two local cab companies should make good bank getting them to Coronado or downtown where they will spend their tourist bucks.
David Melcher November 11, 2011 at 05:01 PM
Well...where to start ? I take great humor from all of this. I have volunteered for the triathlon, the 15K run, sandcastles, car washes for the High school, etc. Volunteer opportunities have been posted in the Eagle-Times every year when appropriate, including for sand castles. I parked cars and started out as a 'volunteer' coach at the high school (Mar Vista) years ago. I also work full time as did the folks on the commitee. Did I mention I live in 92154 ? The city didn't put on the event, so they were never going to 'canvas' the community for opinions.Of every volunteer opportunity I ever took, I don't recall anyone having to come and ask me. That is the nature of volunteering.Every year volunteers were solicited in the Times, conveniently skipped over in reading the paper. Some commitee members were from San Diego, Chula Vista, Bonita due to the 'overwhelming' local support. I commend the locals who kept it going for 31 years and weathered all the storms alone. As far as the criticism of the circumstances now, you had your chance for the last 31 years. Why complain now ?
IB me November 12, 2011 at 04:19 AM
There's also eco-tourism and bird watching to promote. We have an estuary and bay with one the most bio-diverse populations of birds and other wildlife in the world. Tourists already come from around the world to bird-watch; it's time to promote Imperial Beach as a place to stay rather than visit for just the day.
IB me November 12, 2011 at 04:24 AM
How do you propose to cover the myriad of ways to enter Seacoast? You can't close off the beach, let alone all the streets, alleys, and areas in between the houses and apartments. When I go down to the beach, I go to see the sandcastles. I could see all the crap they sell at the stands at one of the hundreds of free street fairs across the county, why would anyone pay for that?
kate November 13, 2011 at 11:08 PM
If the Sandastle Committee had put put some type of notice that said they needed volutneers in order for it to continue I know people would have signed up to help. The only thing I ever heard about was lack of sponsors not volunteers.


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