This is what gentrification looks like in OB

by on July 27, 2009 · 26 comments

in Economy, Environment, Ocean Beach, Popular

This 3 story behemoth is at the corner of Del Monte and Bacon - it dwarfs anything else around. Photos by Frank Gormlie.

Originally posted July 22, 2009.

OCEAN BEACH, CA.  Recently, we have raised the issue of gentrification here in Ocean Beach, the controversial process of urban renewal.  Acknowledging that it has been on-going here in OB since at least the early 1970s, it is important to understand it and to appreciate it when it rears its head.

This 3 story giant on Muir was actually denied by the OB Planning Board, but later approved by the San Diego Planning Commission.

Many neighborhoods in major cities across the country have experienced gentrification, where older housing is torn down to make way for newer, spiffier, and more expensive homes, condos, and apartments.  The process often displaces the poorer – and in many cases – ethnic minorities – from neighborhoods that have historically been theirs.

Often, entire communities have been transformed due to gentrification and entire ethnic groups have been removed over the years.  The most clear example is what happened to Richmond, a strong, African-American neighborhood in San Francisco. After years of people and housing renewal, it has been totally changed – and there’s hardly any Black families left – especially poor or lower working class.

Gentrification happens because the new housing can only be afforded by more affluent residents.  Whether the new owners move in themselves or rent out to higher-income tenants, the results are the same.

A close-by example is what has happened to Mission Beach. It has been transformed into a tourist-town, with its bay-side housing being turned into a sea of daily, weekly, or monthly rentals for out-of-towners. In the process, the entire neighborhood was destroyed. Take a walk or ride a bike along the bayside pavement and you will witness a ghost-town of historic proportions. There really was a community there once.

These condos on the last block of Saratoga give gentrification a bad name.

Another example of gentrification at the coast is Imperial Beach. Virtually every small house, cottage and shack that lined the sand has been torn down and replaced with two or three story condos.

This is also happening to Ocean Beach.  Check out how few smaller, one-story houses remain at the edge of our beach. Recently, there was a spurt of construction and new giants have replaced what once were homes to seniors, students, surfers and young families.  The new giants stick out as they are not in conformity to the surrounding houses in terms of bulk and scale.

It is about to happen to the southwest corner of Abbott and Saratoga.  An old two-story apartment and the four-plex behind it next to the Saratoga Park, plus the site of the old Dempseys (original home of Hodads) will all face the bulldozer.  A dozen three-story condos will replace them all. It is only a matter of time.

The 2 story apartment in the background and the four-plex and old Dempseys site in the foreground will be replaced by 3 story condos.

I drove around OB yesterday and snapped a few photos of more examples. If large houses or condos are raised on every block over a span of a couple decades, it is a slower process of gentrification, but it is gentrification nevertheless.  If entire blocks are changed, OB becomes changed.

One of the latest new constructions at the edge of the beach. Two small cottages were destroyed to make room for this building.

If many of the smaller homes, cottages, beach shacks are replaced, OB will lose its character.  If the community loses its character, it is no longer OB.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Frank Gormlie July 22, 2009 at 9:50 am

For you old-timers, I can remember Jay Frank (of Dolores and Jay Frank) worrying that we were saving OB for wealthy people – this was in 1975 or 74? Of course, his exact words were : “we’re saving OB for those who make $14,000 a year!” LOL


avatar jon July 22, 2009 at 10:04 am

I’m feeling very poetic today. This story inspired a Haiku:

The age of excess
Circles OB like buzzards

I promise I didn’t eat those mushrooms guys.


avatar Dallas July 22, 2009 at 10:15 am

What I don’t understand is why these people can’t revitalize and renovated the old neighborhoods. Bring them up to date. Rather than completely knock down buildings to put new ones up. Where are these people like in the show “Flip this House”? I saw a project of cottages on the corner of Cape May and Cable go through this process. It was amazing to see these original buildings given a makeover!

We’ve seen what happens with improper gentrification. Look at the downtown East Village District. Tons of high-rise condos stand nearly empty that once stood a culturally rich and artistic neighborhood. I’ve witnessed this in three other cities that I’ve had the pleasure to live.

OB has always prided itself on being it’s own independent community. One in which its citizens support each other. OB has always been a place for people to go when they wanted to truly get away from it all. Sure, gentrification may be needed to keep a community financially stable, but in gradual doses (as it has been for years). Don’t let the greed of short-term profit (ie: condos that rent for $1500 a weekend vs $1500/month) blind that of which is truly one of San Diego’s last great communities.


avatar Pat July 22, 2009 at 11:47 am

I see you get it


avatar lane tobias July 22, 2009 at 11:50 am

this is a common problem in cities across the country; I had front row seats to gentrification in Central Harlem -HARLEM – a neighborhood that was once “off limits” to white folks and represents the capital of black culture in this country, now has brownstones selling for multimillions (and lots of white people living there).

What is most disturbing about the gentrification of our little village is that as Frank said, OB will fail to be OB anymore if the affordability, and permanence, of housing disappears. The vacation rentals really do put a dent in our community. In a recent post, I talked about getting to know your neighbors and basking in the eccentricities of the people around you. How can you do that if right next door there is a rental that sits empty for a few months a year and has a revolving door of visitors the rest of the time? Really, it is a blind money grab.

Thanks Frank for pointing this out and taking pictures.


avatar Abby July 22, 2009 at 1:47 pm

I currently live in one of these newer, ugly houses. It stands out like a sore thumb. And it’s one of the most poorly designed houses I’ve ever lived in, as if no one actually thought what it would be like to live in it.

The owner build it to flip, and got stuck with it. I think we’ll see less of this with the market falling apart.


avatar BillRayDrums July 22, 2009 at 3:07 pm

What ethnic group are we? Obecians? Haha! I’ll wear that hat gladly.


avatar annagrace July 22, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Gentrification causes collateral damage. The monstrosities in the photos have little to no landscaping. Tear out a cottage with a small yard and trees, put in a 3 plex on the same property with a crappy strip of grass that is over watered via sprinklers on timers or simply pour concrete over everything. This is why we struggle with urban run off and beach pollution- nowhere for water to go except down the storm drains and out to sea.

Gentrification pushes out mom&pop businesses, ethnic restaurants, car repair businesses, and street vendors. In poorer neighborhoods these kinds of businesses are critical to keeping people employed and providing meaningful services. Put up a megabox retail/business space and you get generic- a Panda Inn, Denny’s or Starbaucks instead of a small family run Vietnamese restaurant or independent cafe. This is economically devastating to the poorest among us and makes neighborhoods virtually indistinguishable from each other.

Gentrification often carries with it a certain perceived privilege of setting “standards,” which become code for largely white middle class aesthetics. Navajo white is the paint of choice, rather than brightly colored (read ethnic); no hanging out clothes on the line; the ice cream truck can only come by once a day. Etc, etc.

Gentrification carries a high price. It puts additional stresses on the environment, promotes over consumption and displaces small businesses, the working poor and minorities- particularly new immigrants.

Gentrification? Don’t much care for it. It may raise the value of my house, but it bankrupts the value of my home. There is a difference.


avatar BillRayDrums July 22, 2009 at 5:15 pm

I lived in Suburban Oceanside for a while. The multi condo complex we lived in was like the twilight zone. Nobody knew the other neighbors, and they seemed to like it that way.

The fact that I have noisy neighbors that I sometimes go over and ask to keep it down is a welcome change; at least we have a dialogue and respect developed. I’d rather it be like that, than never having contact at all.


avatar ClubStyle_DJ July 22, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Random thoughts.

Add to that set of pictures starbucks, jack n the box , World Oil’s Sunset Plaza and NIMBY no beer, boring and deserted beaches.

When I got here from cold heartless Cleveland, I was told OB didn’t conform to the norm, The person I talked to said OB’s beach won’t ban alcohol…maybe the other beaches but not OB we do our own thing, we’re the epitome of mom and pop shops at it’s finest. With a much needed and heart felt exhale…I was HOME.

I predict new money WILL NOT gentrify this The Last Bastion of A Dream.
It would be like adding kool-aid to vintage wine. Sure the kool-aid gets better but the wine is ruined.

Whisper words of wisdom… Let it be.
The Beatles


avatar Danny Morales July 22, 2009 at 8:01 pm


Thanks for doing the leg work on the World Oil/Gentrication articles.
You are simultaineosly breaking my O’Bcean heart and making my head want to explode(#:>| The subtext of fatalism I found particularly disturbing regarding the development encroaching upon Saratoga Park. When did this issue come up before the OB Planning Board? And when did the public OBPB become a rubber stamp for private developers? And when did I become so poor in spirit that I quit paying attention?-Dan(:>p


avatar Pat July 23, 2009 at 7:52 am

One thing that doesn’t make sense to me regarding the Saratoga park project is the twenty something under ground parking spaces.
Under ground parking spaces in a flood plane?
Doesn’t seem like a good plan to me.
I’ve seen Saratoga Park flood years ago. There was a time when the parks turf was destroyed.
I’am pretty sure it was flood waters, not just sand that was blown up from a storm.
What will happen when the 100 year flood hits? Or even the 50 or 25 year flood. I’ve seen old photos of the old flat iron building was taken out by a storm. It sat where the grass area is between the veterans plaza and the life guard station.
I try to come up with ideas that would be better uses for certain areas like this. What about the City purchasing the property and building a new public facility with restrooms, showers, and maybe even locker storage where the Dempsys use to be. They (we) already have some unimproved land right there between the building and the park.
Then somebody can renovate the apartment that sits on Abbott.
I’ve heard locals and visitors alike complain about the condition of the exsisting restrooms at the life guard tower.
I know when I change there I have to sit my back pack in the sink and it usually ends up getting wet. This could be a win for the public and the life guards who I’am sure could use the extra space since I know lack of space has been a problem for them.
Just an idea I had in the middle of the night when I should of been sleeping. Thinking about a community I care so much for.
Far fetched? Maybe, but why not?


avatar Frank Gormlie July 23, 2009 at 8:02 am

Some good ideas here.
But Pat, I know what ya mean about the restrooms at the Life Guard station. Yet our City is bankrupt – it can’t afford anything – much less buying up that property. Weren’t we promised a new life guard facility a while ago? Yup, just like we were promised a new library. And where’s that? OB is promised a lot of things, but ….


avatar Pat July 23, 2009 at 8:48 am

Money is always an issue, especially these days, hence far fetched Idea.
But you never know, maybe some of that stimulus money will make it our way.
Just throwing it out there.
By the way did you see the city Oked the extension on building permits tuesday?
So now some of the projects I spoke against that stalled due to the down turn in the market may come to fruition after all.
The Childrens Energy Center and The big condo project on West Point Loma.
The one on West Point Loma would take out two nearly 100 year homes and didn’t require a traffic study.
What! no traffic study at one of the busiest intersections in town.
In my mine another case of bad planning.
Unfortunately due to business and family issues I haven’t been able to attend planning board meetings lately.
I’am glad OB rag blog is here now more than ever so we can keep up on the issues and express our concerns.
Thanks, keep up the good work.


avatar Dallas July 23, 2009 at 9:36 am

Sadly Pat, it seems that “the bottom line” is all many people *read developers* care about. Again, why salvage a 100 year old home with a yard and trees and grass *read culture* that will rent for $1500/ month when they can put 6 vanilla units on that same property that will attract out of state investors for $1500/weekend?

It’s greed and in these tough economic times, greed is what’s in. It’s the selfish mentality of short-term profit over long-term cultural benefit. Which, in my opinion, what makes OB what it is. This is one of the last culturally rich neighborhoods in San Diego.

BillyRayDrums – I completely concur. I grew up here in San Diego and spent my childhood summers staying with friends at Abbott & Brighton. I used to go to Abbott Liquor for a Dr. Pepper after a good day of surfing. The owner (whose name I still have never gotten right) remembered me from nearly 20 years ago. It made me smile. When I moved (back) here from Las Vegas where not only did you not know your neighbors, you didn’t care to know them. This was a bit of culture shock. But a welcome culture shock. I too, am a musician and a dj, and when I play my music loud and its disturbing to others they simply ask me to turn it down (and I comply). No anonymous police calls or neighbor threats. Hell, on the 4th of July I brought my sound out to our little courtyard and we had a “neighborhood BBQ”.


avatar Pat July 23, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Dallas your right. It’s the Investment groups and LLCs that come into our neighborhoods and exploit our community at the expense of it’s citizens. Degrading the quality of our lives by increased traffic and noise, and decreased sunshine and blue skies. Forever changing the character of OB. That makes me nuts!


avatar Danny Morales July 23, 2009 at 2:38 pm


A.L. Kroeber said that there are 3elements to an historical moment. Regarding gentrification the 3rd is the character element. Kinda like you can see the people move and document the Ojective Element (E1). *BUCKS, W’NGZ and ~UBWAY dovetail nicely with the stylized Nazi paraphenalia, national capitalism and LAND ROVERS as cultural(E2) icons for the NEW OB!

I had the fortune of encountering the owner of 5166 W.Pt.Loma as I did some prefielding for the Aug.5 meeting. Krober indicated something spiritual regarding the identification of E3. If that encounter is foreshadowing the spirit>character of OB Gentrif**kcation then we had better…GET RIGHT WITH THE LARD, FOR THE DVEL WALKS THE SAND AND THE END DAYS ARE UPON US!

Peace and Love,


avatar PSD July 24, 2009 at 8:37 pm

While I’d definitely prefer that people rehab houses with the intent of keeping their original character versus demolishing the original structure (or more likely meticulously preserving one or two of the load-bearing walls in order to call the project a ‘remodel’ instead of a new building), even a generally straightforward rehab (windows, paint, maybe re-piping or re-wiring) is going to add a hefty price to a house. And we’re getting to the point where the only way to keep affordability in the picture is to increase density…but I’d say we’re within a thousand residents or so of reaching our carrying capacity.

Gentrification issues have been on the radar since long before my time, but I think within the next decade or so we’re going to see it really coming to a head. But this time I don’t know if it’s going to be as radical a confrontation as that over the Precise Plan – I’d say Frank’s photos and what we can see all around us every day suggests the high-income folks have been slipping through the back door for a while now.


avatar PSD July 31, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Radical idea that’d probably never work – what are the chances of passing some sort of zoning ordinance limiting new residential construction west of, say Froude, to 1500 square feet of space per dwelling unit? It’s a size that would seem downright palatial to me (and I’m assuming likewise for a lot of the rest of us), but still far too small for most genuinely wealthy folk to stretch their legs…


avatar Frank Gormlie August 1, 2009 at 10:47 am

PSD – probably nil. There are all kinds of set-back requirements – which generally are good – atho on the 25 ft lots, it makes for that ‘Locomotive’ look. 1500 sf is only 500 sf per floor for a 3 floor deal. Plus the procedural process to get anything like that passed is a major battle. The OB Planning Board of course is only advisory, and the City Council and Planning Commission have final say and voting authority on passing any new ordinances.


avatar Seth Connolly August 1, 2009 at 4:03 pm


Great series of articles on gentrification and the history of the Precise Plan. Some thoughts and clarifications, as a private citizen:

~ As most of the readers seem to know, the threat of gentrification in OB is very real. Preserving the community character of OB is going to be a major challenge moving forward, just as it always seems to have been.

~ The Precise Plan is a pretty important tool in helping this happen.

~ Community engagement is an even bigger tool, as you document very well in recent articles.

~ People should know that a number of the development projects discussed here are not under the jurisdiction of the OBPB. The Coastal Commission is primary review agency for most oceanfront projects in our area. The OBPB did review (and, in a very close vote, approve) a Tentative Map waiver and vacation of the right-of-way-access alleys for the project at Saratoga and Abbott, but the potential condos there are not under our purview at all and were not up for a vote.

~ As you mentioned, the OBPB is merely an advisory agency. The public record would show any number of projects in recent years that the OBPB voted to recommend denial on, which were then approved by the City Council.


avatar Danny Morales August 2, 2009 at 12:01 am

Frank ‘N’ Seth,

Granting a tentative map waiver is the foundation for approving a condo project where I come from.

Community involvement at the planning board level is the first rule of engagement in this class struggle known as gentrification were I come from.

The Precise Plan is a useful tool, where I come from, when the planning board adheres to it!

I’d like to see the ayes and nays on some of these projects if for nothing else than to hold our planning board responsible to the community it’s supposed to serve. And speaking of responsibility wouldn’t it be refreshing to drop some of the fatalism, detachment and contentment with misery that hangs over not just our communities but our entire nation like a plague. Out of our hands indeed!

At least were I come from my mother didn’t raise me to be like that!

Howe’s Bayou


avatar jim grant August 4, 2009 at 10:08 pm

I am a simpleton. This is the same exact issue people in Southern Oregon had in the mid 80s n early 90s. The Califorina people were heading to Ashland, Medford, Roseburg,Grants Pass and other cities. The oldtimers in Oregon were pissed that the California people were coming to Oregon…THAT is until they could sell a 1/2 acre for 3 times what it had been selling for !!! BAM money cures all woes. With all the chatter about Gentrification in OB ask yourself this question. Should you be upset at the guy buying or the guy selling the lot or the beat up house??? In all likelihood the seller is from OB…..hummmmm……..


avatar Danny Morales August 6, 2009 at 3:51 am

Daniel Woodyard’s memory y’all
Got a clean sweep
under the Snake Moon.

It wandered the junkie streets
looking for an angry fix,

That wood be offered
if only one passed joints
On odd numbered 5100 W.Pt.Loma

Cox supporters stood erect
as they lined up to clean up
Ocean Beach, City of Dreams

Only the lonely
Skateboarder,smoke of cigarettes,
bonfires,sole dog.

An MT Shopping cart holds
The voices of whiners, complaints
plead for their life.

History is Bunk as they slaughter

-My Community
Early Thursday Morning


avatar john August 10, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Danny Morales: I live at 5168 1/2 W. Pt Loma, have for nearly 15 years. I’m the guy who used to own the big hearse. Maybe I’d recognize you, and you me, don’t know. Shoot me an email at and give me a quick summary of what you think “E3” is about. Once I know we’re in the same book, if not the same page, I have some revelations about this block that may interest you.



avatar Garvyn November 8, 2009 at 7:13 am

any updates ???


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