Imperial Beach occupies the extreme southwest corner of the continental United States, being bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, and Mexico on the south. Known as a biker town for its rough atmosphere and seedy beachfront area throughout the 70s, Imperial Beach has undergone a significant makeover in the last ten years. However, the town is still a low-key beach community, with a growing population of Latinos who make up the majority of the population, despite having no voice in local political affairs. For years Imperial Beach was controlled by pro-growth elected officials, but over the years environmentalists and other activists helped elect a group of smart-growth and no-growth elected officials. The City of Imperial Beach is now implementing an ambitious community redevelopment plan to improve the badly developed commercial corridor along Palm Avenue.
Imperial Beach was the location of fierce environmental battles in the 1970s and 1980s over plans to develop the Tijuana Estuary and build a breakwater to control beach erosion. Former Mayor Brian Bilbray, who later became a U.S. Congressman, lost both battles and the Tijuana Estuary is now a National Estuarine Research Reserve and State Park. The cessation of plans to build the breakwater was officially the first major victory of the then fledgling Surfrider Foundation, now an international organization with 45,000-members. The biggest obstacle to the renewal of Imperial Beach is the continued pollution of the Tijuana River and beach closures that resulted in Imperial Beach being named the most polluted beach in California.
While surfing comes in at number one, fishing, wakeboarding and jetskiing are also common activities in Imperial Beach. Surfing's popularity is catered for with activities concentrated north and south of the Imperial Beach Pier and in front of the Tijuana Estuary at the famed Boca Rio beachbreak. The Tijuana Sloughs, a fabled big-wave surf spot is now almost unrideable due to raw toxic sewage that flows into the break from the Tijuana River. WiLDCOAST, a coastal conservation organization based in Imperial Beach, launched a grassroots "Clean Water Now" campaign to support a comprehensive plan to clean up the Tijuana River and reduce beach closures along the U.S.-Mexico border. Beach closures and polluted water have had a significant impact on the health of surfers and children who frequent local waters.