Originally published June 14, 2008
by Marc Snelling
In case you didn’t know you were in Hillcrest , or AbNormal Heights there is a big sign to tell you. Same goes for University Heights, which despite the marketing does not have a university. Even streets have them.
Nothing says NEIGHBORHOOD! in San Diego like a huge sign on the main road.
This got some OBceans to thinking that our puny sign, and the first few blocks of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard were not a complimentary enough entryway to OB. They had visions of something more pleasing to the eye, a reward for braving the traffic of Sunset Cliffs Blvd. They all agreed that the billboard needed to go. But OB has a wide spectrum of opinions and that’s about as far as the agreement went.
OB’s main entryway is Sunset Cliffs which brings in waves of traffic from the 8 & 5 freeways, and Sea World Drive. Once you are in OB, West Point Loma and Voltaire feed in even more traffic. On a busy weekend afternoon it’s normal to be stuck on Sunset Cliffs between Voltaire and West Point Loma. Both of these corners in our entryway have now sat vacant for 5 years. How did this happen?
Back in 1997 the entrance to OB on Sunset Cliffs was narrower. The right turn lane for West Point Loma was much shorter and could not handle as much traffic. What is now a vacant lot at the corner of West Point Loma and Sunset Cliffs was Anthony’s Pizza restaurant. There was a large billboard above the restaurant that many wanted removed. The corner at Voltaire and Sunset Cliffs had been a recycling center until 1998 but then became a vacant lot again when the rent suddenly jumped to $3000/month and the business moved behind Rite-Aid.
Around this time two different ideas started to take shape. One came from frustration building among locals who walked by a fenced off garbage-filled lot day after day. The other was a group who decided that OB needed a vehicle to bring in more money. In 1997 councilmember Byron Wear tried to bring a redevelopment zone to OB by labeling the area around the entryway as “blighted” so it would qualify for government funds.
His redevelopment scheme did not pan out and he left office under vocal opposition from locals on this and other redevelopment schemes. Still the money flowed into the entryway area through the Ocean Beach Community Development Corporation (OBCDC) for their Entryway Plan. Other local groups like the Ocean Beach Town Council (OBTC) and the Ocean Beach Merchant’s Association (OBMA) were also on board.
Over the next few years both ideas grew. One July 4th weekend in 2000 some person(s) removed the fence from the property at the corner of Sunset Cliffs and Voltaire. It had been vacant for 2 years at this point. A tree was planted in memory of Mica Buzkova, a beloved owner of the Bohemia Strudel Factory, and a park began. Community members came together to help build and maintain what was dubbed “Voltaire Park”.
Corner of Sunset Cliffs and Voltaire – August 8th 2001
Corner of Sunset Cliffs and Voltaire – August 8th 2001
Corner of Sunset Cliffs and Voltaire – July 6th 2002
Voltaire Park February 17th 2003
Corner of Voltaire and Sunset Cliffs, March 29th 2003
Corner of Sunset Cliffs and Voltaire – June 3 2008
Corner of Sunset Cliffs and Voltaire – June 3rd 2008
The lot Voltaire Park was on is owned by World Oil Corporation. Their plans to build a gas station on the property were denied 3 times at the Ocean Beach Planning Board and with the City of San Diego. But just because they couldn’t build a gas station doesn’t mean they couldn’t bulldoze a community park.
The May 2003 edition of the OB Rag reported on the surprise bulldozing:
On the morning of May 15th, without notice or warning to the community the World Oil Corporation hired Construction Fence to bulldoze and fence off the garden on the corner of Sunset Cliffs and Voltaire St.
Three years ago community members began planting trees and flowers on the long vacant lot. The garden had come to be known as Voltaire Park as trees matured and plants thrived in the polluted soil. The community organized cleanings and weedings to keep the park clean & maintained.
Apparently the police were notified as 6 officers were on hand. When asked what their duties were one officer replied “we were told to sit here and watch”
Some plants and trees were saved at the last minute by concerned community members. Many people asked the media and community members have gone unanswered. World Oil can is located at 9302 Garfield Ave South Gate, CA 90280. Their phone number is (562) 928-0100.
World Oil have been in business since 1941 and are a Southern California distributor for ExxonMobil. They own 2 refineries, a marine terminal as well as 125 retail properties. Their plans to build an Exxon gas station at this location have been rejected twice at community meetings attended by hundreds in 1999 and September 2000.
Voltaire Park bulldozing May 15th 2003
SDPD officer reading signs in Voltaire Park during it demolition on May 15th 2003
Voltaire Park fenced off and posted with ‘No Tresspassing’ signs – June 4th 2003
One individual who helped organize Voltaire Park was later charged with trespassing when a group of community members attempted to remove the newly added “No Trespassing” signs from the property. After that arrest the grassroots community efforts for a park at Voltaire and Sunset Cliffs ended. Ironically the billboard above the site of Voltaire Park was rented by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Their ad pictured a vacant garbage-filled lot with the words ‘Do you see a community garden? Then you see the power of community coalitions.”
During this time the OBCDC was building their bank account and political capital to push the OB Entryway plan a few blocks from Voltaire Park. They had other OB corporations onboard with their plan, including the OB Merchant’s Association and the OB Town Council. The OB Planning Board had given mixed reviews. By 2002 they had enough money and political clout along with the City to buy the lot at the corner of West Point Loma and Sunset Cliffs. This was the lot that housed Anthony’s Pizza, a local restaurant that had a loyal delivery and dine-in following among locals.
After acquiring the lot Anthony’s Pizza restaurant was demolished with promises of a beautiful new entry way, a new right turn lane and a “gateway park”.
The extended right turn lane and yet more traffic on Sunset Cliffs became a reality in 2004. Now many more cars, trucks and SUVs can cram their way in and out of OB on the expanded roadway. Unfortunately the surface streets are still just as small and traffic invariably grinds to a screeching halt once you get close to West Point Loma.
The gateway park was not so lucky. The government money train slowed, the City’s belt tightened and once again OBceans got an empty fenced off lot instead of a park. By 2007 the money had dried up even to pay Kurt Lutz’s $62,000 OBCDC executive director salary and he left the OBCDC. The entryway now sits as a vacant lot waiting for the community or city to pony up enough money to build a park.
Voltaire Park lasted for three years at the corner of Sunset Cliffs Blvd and Voltaire St without any support, financial or otherwise, from the OB corporations. Down Sunset Cliffs Boulevard on the corner of West Point Loma, the full support of the OBCDC, OB Town Council and OB Merchant’s Association has yet to produce a park. In just the last 3 years these organizations have collected $1,827,191 in gross receipts in the name of OB. Yet these two corners have now sat vacant for 5 years. If only the community people and the money people could have worked together we might have a park instead of a decade of empty lots.