Shutdown Shuts Down Sand Castle Contest

Marwa Bouabibsa put an awful lot of thought into how to design a sand castle.

It wasn’t going to be one of those run-of-the-mill fill up a plastic bucket and dump it upside down jobs.

This was going to have pizzazz.

“I just imagined something,” said Bouabibsa, a fifth-grader at San Francisco’s John Yehall Chin Elementary School. “It just came up to me and it was an octopus.”

This Saturday, Bouabibsa planned to join 500 other San Francisco school children sculpting their sandy designs on Ocean Beach as part of the 30th annual LEAP Sandcastle contest. But like the beach bully stomping on a sand castle, the National Park Service canceled the event because Ocean Beach is subject to the federal shutdown.

Bouabibsa’s principal broke the news to students Wednesday morning. “Some of my classmates were crying about it ‘cause they really wanted to do it,” said Bouabibsa. “I was about to cry but I just wanted to hold it in there.”

The tears didn’t flow, but the anger did. Instead of an experience building sand castles, students got a hard luck lesson in political science. 

“That’s one of the hardest things of having to postpone this event,” said Julie McDonald, executive director of LEAP, “is watching the faces of the kids and hearing how disappointed they are.” McDonald’s face revealed her own level of disappointment.

The annual contest provides half of LEAP’s operational budget, which it uses to create student arts programs in schools. McDonald said the contest was expected to generate $270,000 for the organization’s budget. She said the group offered to supply its own security for the event, but was informed by the National Park Service it would be trespassing.

“If we showed up at the beach,” said McDonald, “we were warned that local law enforcement would be 'empowered.'”

Just up from Ocean Beach, a mini-rebellion by the owners of San Francisco’s Cliff House was similarly shut down.

Since the restaurant is on National Park Service land, it's also subject to the shutdown. But co-owner Mary Hountalas pointed out the restaurant isn’t funded by tax money and its 170 employees are all civilians.

So earlier this week, she and her husband decided to defy the shutdown and reopen.

“We felt for that reason we had the, I might say 'right' to reopen,” said Hountalas, “and provide our people with their lawful employment.”

Hountalas said the restaurant is losing more than $10,000 dollars a day, and having to cancel weddings and private parties. 

But two days after the defiant reopening, Hountalas said she received numerous calls from officials in Washington, D.C. laying down the law.

“When it came to the point if we didn’t shut down we would possibly never be able to reopen,” said Hountalas, “we had to do it.”

Hountalas said the Cliff House, which she and her husband have owned for 40 years, would now remain closed until the end of the shutdown.

Likewise, McDonald said the sandcastle contest would hopefully come back, once the shutdown ends

“Every day the government is closed there’s going to be more and more stories like this,” said McDonald, “and more people impacted like we are.”

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