Editor: This is Part 4 in a series on the early history of the OB Planning Board, the Ocean Beach Precise Plan, the planning crisis that faced the community in the early 1970s, and OB’s response – which by the middle of that decade – made California history. Part 1 is an introduction to the story about OB’s historic battle over the Precise Plan and about the fight to make urban planning a democratic process – which in the end directly saved Ocean Beach from over-development, enabling it to be the quaint village it is today. In Part 2, we take a look at the history of urban development and planning on the Peninsula, and how the planning crisis which developed during the early seventies was resolved with the formation of the OB Planning Board. And in Part 3, we reviewed what the first Precise Plan represented, and just who were the members of Peninsulans, Inc., the local establishment group who wrote it. The reader is encouraged to review these earlier posts at some point as background in order to fully appreciate the context of the following.
It’s been nearly half a century since the Peninsula Community Plan was officially launched by Peninsulans, Inc., its creator, in December of 1965. For the first time the organization of Point Loman business and property elites opened their vision of Point Loma and its sub-communities to the public.
The first urban plan for Ocean Beach was to grow out of this endeavor, as OB then was simply viewed as one of those sub-communities of the greater peninsula.
Peninsulans, Inc., or just “Pen Inc” – itself the child of the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce – had been officially endorsed by the San Diego City Council as “the citizen’s committee” for area planning on Point Loma. In 1968, three years after its launch, the Peninsula Community Plan was adopted by the City Council as the official plan for the Point Loma communities.
The First Precise Plan for OB Makes Its Debut
One of the recommendations of the over-all plan was to develop a more detailed roadmap for future development of the northwest corner of the Peninsula – OB -, something that was to be called the Precise Plan for Ocean Beach. A separate sub-committee of Pen., Inc. was created, the Ocean Beach Implementation Planning Group, to work on the OB end of things.
Nearly three-quarters of this sub-committee of over a dozen members themselves – or their spouses – owned income-producing property in the area they were making decisions about. Only three actually lived in the Ocean Beach area.
It would be in mid-1971 that the first draft of the OB Precise Plan was finalized. Public hearings on the draft were begun in October. And that’s when, to use the vernacular, the shit hit the fan.
Sometime in the Summer that year, a group of concerned citizens from OB had gotten hold of one of the draft plans – and they were just dumbfounded at what was being proposed for the community. High-rise development, increased density, emphasis on tourist-oriented facilities, the trashing of an entire section of OB – the northwest corner. It was incredible. People were outraged and began discussions among themselves and friends of what to do.
OB Planning Organization Forms in Response to the Planning Crisis
Phone calls, discussions at the store, small meetings in people’s living rooms – all among concerned OBceans, led to the realization that OB was facing a planning crisis of a monumental nature, and that something had to be done by those who loved the seaside neighborhood and who cherished its character.
This was all happening in the context of some pretty heady times: at the grassroots level, opposition to the Vietnam War was spreading, as the war was still going and Richard Nixon was still President. And on a different plane, environmental awareness was also spreading. The first Earth-Day had been a year earlier.
Activism was in the air.
The rowdy but successful jetty battle had just occurred the summer before – July 1970, the Collier Park riot had just happened that Spring – in late March 1971. The political atmosphere was emotionally charged with calls for change, and amid all this was a deep frustration and anguish with the status quo on all levels.
In August 1971, there was finally a coming together of middle-class, mainstream Point Lomans, and hairy, hippie-looking radicals from OB – who all had had enough with the new, draft Precise Plan for Ocean Beach. They decided that OB needed some kind of voice of opposition to the Plan. What was needed was some kind of legitimacy. It was decided to form a group, called the Ocean Beach Planning Organization (OBPO), to take the lead in doing a survey of OB residents on issues such as high-rise, development, density and the direction of the community.
Their thinking was that the broader community – the residents, the tenants, the small property and home owners, and the small business people – did not support the Precise Plan’s vision for OB. They needed to substantiate their opposition with some kind of mandate, a poll or survey of the neighborhood’s residents. OBPO began its survey, with a dedicated core of a dozen or so activists, and they went door-to-door, up and down the hills and the flatlands, trying to cover most of the community with the survey.
They did this for two weeks, leaving a survey at every address. The survey asked questions about the population increase in OB, whether “high rise” buildings should be prohibited, whether they favored a building moratorium on all new construction until a majority-backed plan was approved.
In the meantime, events were moving ahead. In October, the public hearings on the Precise Plan were held and there was dissent, but unorganized. The local establishment’s steamroller looked unstoppable. Yet, the opposition hadn’t even been heard from.
Building Moratorium Called
This began to change. On the cover of the early November 1971 issue of the OB Rag, large hand-written words screamed out: “Hey there what’s that sound? It’s your community being torn down!” The cover signaled the beginning of the newspaper’s campaign against the Precise Plan. The article on the Precise Plan called out, “We must stop this so-called ‘plan’ before it is too late,” and urged people to sign the petitions currently being circulated, and to contact the “Committee to Save OB” to support the halt in construction.
The call for a stop to the Precise Plan was formalized into a demand for a “moratorium” on all new building construction until a new community plan was developed and approved by the community – and not just by an elite group like Pen, Inc. Petitions were being circulated, lobbying of local politicians was going on … and the campaign to save Ocean Beach was picking up.
The Committee to Save OB was the more activist front of the movement to curtail development, while OBPO was involved with doing the survey. Throw in the staff from the Rag and rope in the OB Ecology Action Committee, and you had quite a plethora of activists, many doing double duty. Who were these people?
Activist Couples Inspire Their Peers
There were two activist couples who represented the spectrum of the activists: Dolores and Jay Frank – a middle class family living up the hill, very straight looking and appearing, and Kathleen and Dennis Doyle, a scruffy-looking and long-haired hippie couple whose house grew to be a center of the radicals’ activism down in the flatlands.
Dolores Frank was a tireless activist in her own right, persistent and plodding, who never uttered an unpleasant word or thought. Her never-complaining attitude inspired her younger friends, as she attended every City Council meeting and every public hearing on planning issues for OB. Jay worked as an engineer and was a bit more skeptical than his spouse. His biggest fear was that OB would be “saved” for the affluent – in other words – gentrification. They opened their living room to countless meetings and late-night discussion sessions. In a way, the Franks gave the younger, more hip activists legitimacy.
Kathleen and Dennis Doyle were also tireless activists, but of the young, hippie variety. They were into everything and were doing everything. The OB Rag, the Planning Organization, the budding Free School, the Save OB Committee. Kathleen – who later changed her name to “Lucha” – and Denny – as he came to be known around town – were the counter-pole to the Franks. The Doyles were so full of energy – and a compelling “can-do” spirit that their house too became a center of activism, with Kathleen’s ubiquitous coffee pot always gurgling and Denny’s penchant for always volunteering for everything- caused the other radicals to be in awe of them.
Both the Doyles and the Franks were involved in the door-to-door survey. It was their energy, insight, and drive that enabled the project to be completed. And it was finally completed, and the results were presented to the community in an April 5th, 1972, town hall meeting. The survey results were substantial and impressive.
Survey Results Give Anti-development Activists a Mandate
The OBPO survey had been delivered to 8,500 households in the OB area. 2,805 surveys were returned – an amazing statistical achievement of 33%. Here were some of the statistical findings:
- 90.4% favored the small-town character of OB;
- 83.9% favored the use of down zoning to control population growth;
- 90% believed high-rise buildings should be prohibited (this was before the 30 foot height limit had been installed);
- 60% felt apartments should be limited to two stories;
- 87.3% favored a moratorium on new building construction until a community plan was approved by a majority of the residents;
- 75% wanted more neighborhood parks;
- 88% wanted the results of the survey to play a major role in determining a community plan.
Flushed with this backing and support for their primary thrust, the activists of OBPO now were in a position to open a broadside against the Precise Plan. Survey results were sent out to all probable supportive politicians, including Jack Walsh on the County Board of Supervisors and Maureen O’Connor on the City Council, both of whom represented the OB area. O’Connor pledged to conduct her own study of the issues.
Organizers organized a “Stop the Apartments” concert at a local activist house on April 16th. The OB Rag (Vol. 2, No. 10) reported:
Nearly 600 people turned out … to boost the building moratorium effort. Hundreds of people signed petitions calling for a halt on all new buildings in OB until a plan approved by a majority of the residents is adopted.
The opposition that Pen Inc. had imagined had materialized. It was too much. The political pressure too great. By early May, the City Planning Department had canceled or postponed all meetings or workshops on the Precise Plan.
The community and especially the activists and their supporters breathed a sigh of relief. The crisis was at least stopped temporarily. Ocean Beach had awoken and its residents had successfully responded to the threatened onslaught of development.
It would be nearly another year before the main muscle of the anti-development crowd was created: the OB Community Planning Group. And it would be four more years before the first election to what was to become the OB Planning Board, officially recognized by the City, was to take place. But at least by now – the Spring of 1972 - the worst was over.