Editor: Mike James responded to our article entitled “Public Hearing” on Ocean Beach Proposed Density Increase Falls Flat with the following. Mike was part of the original James Gang and over the years, was involved in just about every Ocean Beach group. He now lives in La Mesa.
By Mike James / Special to the OB Rag
In the fall of 1983 it came to the attention of the Ocean Beach Planning Board that certain large property owners and local Realtors had persuaded then Councilman Bill Cleator to silently put before the Council an amendment for the Ocean Beach Precise Plan. The amendment would have doubled Ocean Beach’s residential density from 25 units-per-acre to 52-units-per-acre.
Due the quick action of a few O.B. activists, we were able to rally the community to stop any changes to the Plan. One element of our effort was a flyer I drafted that spoke of the disastrous effects of increasing the population of an already overtaxed infrastructure. We filled City Hall and stopped them in their tracks.
I think you find the following article from the San Diego Business Journal of interest with the current effort by city planners.
OB merchants, residents agree on growth plan
By Ted Woerner / San Diego Business Journal / November 7, 1983
Ocean Beach is a community in transition.
After more than a decade of bickering amongst its factionalized and diverse populace, a consensus solution to growth and development is emerging. Community and business leaders appear to agree that the landmark San Diego beach area indeed will remain a broad-based citizen collage.
The synthesis of business and social groups, and the feeling that Ocean Beach has leaped a great hurdle is due in large part to the passage last September of the community precise plan by the San Diego City Council and the Ocean Beach Planning Board. Not surprisingly, getting that far was not a simple process.
A last minute zoning controversy sent the precise plan process into stormy seas.
The debate centered on the proposal to increase residential density to 52 units per acre, rather than 25 units per acre that had been approved. The lesser density finally won out, but not before the factions in Ocean Beach did battle.
Large property owners and Realtors – led briefly by San Diego Councilman Bill Cleator, who represented the area – wanted the increased density. They claimed Ocean Beach would become a “ghetto” unless incentives to replace older homes with income-producing-properties.
But others in the community were incensed by the possibility of doubling the residential density just before the plan was voted upon by the City Council. They pointed to the city planning department statements that were critical of the 52 units-per-acre proposal.
But some shop owners believed that either zoning decision would be have resulted in a no-lose situation for the business community.
“It’s not that I wasn’t interested,” says merchant John Burdine, “but the way I saw it was that either I was going to have had a lot of people coming in and buying (if the higher allowable density had been approved). Or, I would have fewer people with more money coming in to buy.”
Burdine runs a stationary store on Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach’s main commercial thoroughfare, and the hub of single-owner enterprise. Burdine subscribes to the law of “unintended consequences.”
“If you look at what the community planners were saying 10 years ago, you would find it’s not very practical today,” said Burdine. “And if you look at the reasoning behind keeping the density lower and what will happen to a beach area – which is one of the more attractive places to live – when this plan is put in place, I think you might find something unintentional occurring.”
Translation: The prices for rental units and for home buyers will rise as the demand to the ocean increases, while the number of residential units available stays the same and fails to keep up with demand.
However proponents of the 25-units-per-acre proposal were well aware that fewer homes and apartments would in the long run push prices up as more people compete to live at the beach area. At the same time, the slower-growth advocates were also aware that property values would have jumped had the higher density plan been adopted.
Local planning board member and homeowner Rich Grosch wanted the lesser density, he has already worked within its restrictions. Two years ago, he bought a home on a 50-foot-by-140-foot lot for $116,000. Since then he has added a two-room townhouse and a studio apartment in the back for $50,000. The townhouse rents for $575, the studio for $300.
“ There were many people on my block – homeowners, not just renters – who were strongly behind the lower density proposal,” he said. “The plan is not a no-growth proposal – it’s a growth plan, or planned growth. It’s not laissez-fare. You have to consider the bad that comes along with the higher density; over-crowded schools, over-used sewage system, traffic, parking problems and over-crowded beaches.”
Grosch concedes rents are bound to rise but said his motives for backing the plan to preserve some of Ocean Beach’s character.” Some of the homes people are calling shacks I think of as quaint cottages. I’ll admit some have to go, but they shouldn’t be replaced by the big square boxes that are prevalent around here.”
Larry Kline does much of his Silvergate Reality’s business in the Ocean Beach area, and he is distressed by the density decision. “From a strictly business standpoint, if you can’t buy it, develop it and make money from it, then there’s no use doing it. So what you have is an instant slum; you can’t upgrade the property.”
Kline said that many property owners – primarily older people – had hoped that they would have made money from their property to have a cushion for retirement. “I think they’re owned what they lost. If I can only build four units where once they could build eight, I think they’re owed what they lost – four units,” said Kline. “I think people should have reasonable rental rates. The only way to do that is have the supply to meet the demand.”
A ‘case study’
But trying to meet demand with supply by dealing with existing structures and a community plan has its limits. Ocean Beach, as a result could be become a case study for development of an older community.
It is virtually an island, surrounded on three sides by water and on the fourth by Point Loma. There is only one main road into the area, and its streets were laid out more than 50 years ago. These two factors have resulted in a community that has limited space and a street-alley configuration that was not designed for its current use.
Councilman Bill Cleator was thinking about days gone by when he first pursued a density change from 25 units per acre to 52 acre. The lure if the beach brought Cleator and other young families to Ocean Beach years ago. Too, rents were low and housing was affordable.
Cleator said he initially thought additional apartment space would allow a new crop of young people to live near the ocean by increasing housing. But after examining the situation and with heavy lobbying from a vocal and well organized low density advocacy group, nostalgia gave way to imperatives.
“After I went down and walked through the area, talked with the people and examined the situation,” said Cleator, “I realized that Ocean Beach couldn’t handle the increase. I looked at the sewage system, looked at the elementary school (Ocean Beach Elementary). They’re darned-near meeting in closets now.”
Mike James – who along with his brothers runs a the James Gang beach wear store on Newport Avenue – is keenly aware of the space problems. As president of the Ocean Beach Merchants Association, he helped organize and was very vocal in the high-density opposition. Ironically, he understood that if more people were allowed in the area, he and his brothers might have made more money.
“If I wanted to live in a place with more people or run a business in a area with more people, I would move, he reasoned. “Ocean Beach is like a small town. There’s a real sense of community here that is worth preserving. If you had a lot of huge apartments, we might lose that. And it’s something we value.”
Others speak optimistically about Ocean Beach’s future. Excitedly, business-people say the merchant association grown form 50 members to 75 members in a year, has improved both planning dialog and the business climate.
“In terms of business – retail sales – you’ll see a great increase in the next 10 years,” said John Hensel, president of the Ocean Beach Town Council. “ Two things are happening: The positive image Ocean Beach has been trying to project the past five years is beginning to pay off. And second, there is development going on right now. If people are creative with their planning decisions, it can be enough; they just have to use what they have.”