Ocean Beach Planners Take Fight With City Over Variances to City-Wide Board – Tuesday, Feb. 28th

by on February 26, 2012 · 14 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Popular, San Diego

The OB Planning Board - this is from Feb. 2, 2011. Photo by Frank Gormlie.

The Ocean Beach Planning Board is embroiled in a fight with the City of San Diego.  And it’s a fight that goes to the very essence of what it means to be an OBcean, a resident of OB – a community about to celebrate its 125th anniversary.  The City right now has been granting variances that improperly allow developers to build beyond what is allowed under local rules.

By doing this, the City is over-riding the Ocean Beach Precise Plan – the governing document that directs development in OB – a Plan that was won by OBceans nearly forty years ago.  And by over-riding the Precise Plan with the granting of improper variances that allow for beachfront McMansions – new development on the front lines of the  efforts to gentrify northwest Ocean Beach – the City is over-riding Ocean Beach – once again.

The Stebbins residence on West Pt. Loma. Only with variances from the City that violated the OB Precise Plan, was this 3-story, single family residence, allowed to be built, over the objections of the OB Planning Board.

But now the OB Planners are taking the fight and the issues they have with the City to the committee of planning board chairs who are holding their next meeting this Tuesday, Feb. 28th. The OB Board members are hoping that the city-wide group will agree to sponsor an investigation into the variances that the City has been granting to property owners who wish to throw up three-story houses on West Point Loma Boulevard.

The Committee of Planning Committees is holding their meeting Tuesday night, February 28th, 7:00-9:00 p.m., at their Kearny Mesa location, the Metropolitan Operations Center II Auditorium, located at 9192 Topaz Way, Kearny Mesa. 

OB Planning Board members are car-pooling to the meeting and are urging OBceans to join them in support and solidarity by attending the meeting – at least that part that involves OB, which is  scheduled on the agenda for 8:25 p.m. People who are interested can join up at the OB Rec Center and likewise carpool.

The entire agenda for the CPC is shown below.  The OB agenda section is listed as this:

ITEM #8 – 8:25


In an area of Ocean Beach, six variances have been approved that allow development projects to be built that are potentially inconsistent with underlying zoning. The Ocean Beach Planning Group seeks clarification whether this type of serial variance is appropriate; or whether a rezone should take place permitting the development projects.

OB Planners have been resisting the City’s efforts to grant floor-area-ratio (FAR) variances – variances that go against the OB Precise Plan requirements for new single-family development. And their resistance and efforts to force the City to abide by the community’s own blue-print, a blue-print that has governed the Planning Board since 1976 – 36 years ago, has been documented in our posts. (See here, here, here, and here.)

5100 block of West Point Loma - the front line of the gentrification process.

The gentrification of Ocean Beach has its front line on that stretch of West Point Loma Boulevard that bends around near North Beach, and where properties butt up against the beach park.  Part of that stretch includes over a dozen one-story older duplexes that are slowly being torn down, and property owner after property owner has been gaining variances that allow them to build out and up, violating the requirements of the Precise Plan.

The OB Planners hope that the CPC – chaired by Leo Wilson from the Uptown Planners – will create a committee to further investigate the issue and further force the City towards a public hearing on the matter where the impacts of the variances can truly be discussed and hopefully resolved. By creating a committee to conduct this investigation, the Board from OB will have managed to escalate the issue to the CPC level and will have forced the City to deal with the issue on a citywide basis, as opposed to just dismissing the issue at the community level, which is what the Planners feel that City has been doing.

A show of solidarity by OBceans Tuesday is critical to demonstrate that the community stands behind the Planners. And they believe that there will eventually be a hearing at City Council level on the issue, where again the village will need to be rallied.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 – 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Metropolitan Operations Center II Auditorium

9192 Topaz Way, Kearny Mesa

 Here is the full agenda for the CPC meeting:

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Landry Watson (OBPB District 1) February 27, 2012 at 7:13 am

My thanks to the OB Rag for keeping this issue in the forefront of the community. We’ve been in disagreement with the City over this issue for quite some time now and it is easy to lose track of the issue over the course of time that it takes to resolve such a pivotal issue.

As a board, we’ve taken numerous actions over the last 18 months to demonstrate our opposition to the City’s actions in continuing to ignore the established code, process and specifically our advice on the issue and what effects it will most certainly have in the community and to our overall community plan.

The meeting at the Community Planner’s Committee will be an important step in escalating the issue to a level appropriate to where we all can have an open and democratic discussion on this issue and ultimately, to move to a resolve with the City.

I hope that if our fellow OBceans can take the time to come up to the meeting in Kearney Mesa on Tuesday night and help us voice our position that the City needs to resolve this issue in an appropriate manner as opposed to continuing to grant these approvals with deviations attached. If you can’t take the time to come up, please send us and email either through our website or even directly to my OBPB email so that we can share that with the Community Planner’s Committee —


Whether or not you agree or disagree with the issues of the underlying code’s guidance on FAR or not — What we can all agree is that the City needs to resolve this in an open and democratic forum instead of continuing with these “by exception” approvals.

We hope that whether or agree or not — that you support the OBPB’s effort to hold the City to their own rules and guidance on how to behave themselves.

Thanks again to the Rag for keeping this in the community’s focus.


avatar Molly February 27, 2012 at 11:24 am

Landry, cannot agree with you more. It is very important for OBceans to turn up Tuesday night in support of our planning committee. Our planning committee is like the little Dutch boy with his thumb in the dike. Please if you want OB to stay its unique character put some effort in helping to preserve the small-town we call Ocean Beach.


avatar OB Joe February 27, 2012 at 11:26 am

Molly, good to hear from you. Yes, put down the bong long enough to go to a meeting in solidarity of our Planning Board. Show OB some support, so get off the couch, go to a meeting up in Kearny Mesa on behalf of your village.


avatar Shane Finneran February 27, 2012 at 12:01 pm

I really appreciate this effort by the OB Planning Board. When it comes to new construction in any local community, the city should certainly respect the desires of the community itself.

Good luck to those participating in the hearing. I expect to be there to watch on Tues night.


avatar nostalgic February 27, 2012 at 1:02 pm

To see the city’s vision of Newport Avenue, try visiting Washington Street or La Jolla Blvd. The development of older community districts into 3 story, multi-block development is a common idea in othe areas. Any one story building is a building that needs to be replaced with that point of view. It is only the municipal code and the vigilance of community that will keep the community character of OB for the people who live here.


avatar Shane Finneran February 27, 2012 at 3:01 pm

I love the visual profile of the Fleetridge area — the one-story limit really keeps the neighborhood gorgeous.

On the beaches, I’m all for updating the 30-foot height limit to 20 feet! Future generations would owe us, much like we owe the forward-thinking folks who fought for the 30-foot limit.


avatar ob rat February 27, 2012 at 1:09 pm

We should all support the efforts of the OB Planning Board not only on this specific issue but for all they do for OB. I would like to personally say thanks to all of the current and past members they put forth a lot of effort and time and get very little thanks in return.


avatar OB law(yer) February 27, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Allright then….finally some progress on this issue besides just sitting on our hands and saying ‘whoa is me’ by voting against this project by project.

My thanks and admiration go out to this Planning Board (not that they need it) for continuing to press the issue and move it to a forum where the City will have to make a position or some kind of compromise.

I heard that the City Attorney had previously provided an opinion memo in support of the variances, but never so it posted anywhere. Can we dig this up and get it into the public discussion Mr. Gormlie?

I will continue to assert my position that the issue here will never be about gentrification, although I won’t deny that over the course of years and years…this variance will indeed attract a different demographic than previous. That doesn’t necessarily define gentrification….which is more like taking whole city blocks at a time and changing them.

The issue should simply remain around whether or not the City can proceed in this manner without providing proper environmental review or to address the effects of cumulative change as related to the community plan. Which I’ve yet to see them provide this analysis in any report to date.

In the only staff report I find online from a previous project in this profile…the City COMPLETELY FAILS to demostrate (with any significant info) the necesary 4 findings required to provide a variance. They simply didn’t do it correctly.

Good luck OB Planners! You have my support as always…from the etherworld.


avatar Cindy February 27, 2012 at 3:41 pm

I was out of town for the last meeting of the OB Planning Committee, so I was unable to ask one simple question, would they approve these projects without the variance? I also wanted to point out it’s been mentioned that building theses homes with the variances will cause a reduction in parking spaces and more congestion. This is not correct. These proposed homes are single family homes. The current duplexes are one & two bedroom units which could untimately host up to 4 vehicles depending on whom is living there. The current units have only 2 parking spaces in the front of the units. The proposed homes offer the same parking spaces, 2, but now you have a family living in the home. The Stebbins place one person lives there, Cox maybe only 2, and for the Douma’s it will only be 2. The variance requests a carport instead of a garage. A true statistic, 53% of Americans use the garage for what it’s really for, parking your car in it. The other 47% use it for storage or a game room, etc. With a car port you can’t use it as storage, you have to use it for parking your vehicle. My question is this, is the concern really the variance for the car port or is it about the 30 foot height of the building? If the plans were to be changed to include a garage, I can guarantee you the foot print of the home would still be the same. It would still be built using the same space and it would still be 30 feet high as this is allowed unter the Precise Plan. So which is it the variance or the height.


avatar Seth February 27, 2012 at 6:50 pm

To answer your question, they are different projects without the variance, and yes, smaller in scale (roughly 1,300 sqft of habitable space with 400 sqft of enclosed parking vs 1,700 sqft of habitable space with exterior carport parking). The height limit is not in question either way. Speaking only for myself, the issue at hand is exactly what is stated in the CPC agenda: whether or not this serial use of FAR variances, which could apply to as many as 200 properties within this zone, is appropriate. Are they being based on significant and demonstrable findings? Does granting so many of them constitute a “de facto rezoning” relative to the the FAR code for that zone? Is the City trying to create precedence against this existing code, which is in fact law, in order to avoid to force a change in the FAR variance, rather than go through the standard, more transparent process that would involve public meetings and the like? As someone who serves on the OBPB, I welcome a continued public discussion on all of this. I believe it is important that the rules are clear, fair and enforced evenly.


avatar OB law(yer) February 28, 2012 at 10:16 am

Mr. Seth is indeed correct. Different projects entirely, with different outcomes, but neither limited in MINIMUM height. Doesn’t seem to be a rule that says a person can’t build a smaller scale structure that reaches 30′ high.

This has been simply a long-going discussion about whether or not the City is going to follow the rules for changing this zone to a bigger FAR or not.

Right now… it appears as if they don’t intend to change the zone, but just to continue on the path of changing it by proxy through the variances. Not sure if that is ‘de facto’ or ‘by proxy’ or whatever fancy latin term.

Does the City fear that if they held the proper hearing that the community won’t support the change in the zone rule? If they didn’t….and the community were behind it….wouldn’t it save a whole lot of people a whole lot of time if they just chose to do the right thing and have the meeting?

Seems like they don’t want to hold that meeting to me…. but hey, that is just my take on it.

I don’t see any way this doesn’t end up in litigation, because in the end…the City Attorney is only in place to support the agenda of the Mayor, and the Mayor’s agenda is build at all cost, because they’ve been convinced by some amateur economists that without it…somehow SD will just crumble into the sea.

It is unfortunate that a community will have to hire lawyers to fight its own City to follow its own rules…. but hey. Lawyers gotta make a living right? Sorry….had to jab that in there.


avatar Seth February 28, 2012 at 3:32 pm

The City Attorney’s memo on this can be found here:

The zoning classification allows for this type of density/intensity, but the FAR zoning requirement does not. The term “de facto rezoning” may thus be confusing in that regard. The “rezone” applies to the requirements of the zone, and not the type of zone itself.


avatar OB law(yer) February 28, 2012 at 4:48 pm

I would agree with you Mr. Seth. And I obviously missed that article/post that included the memo from the Mayor’s Attorney.

It’s clear that they’ve taken advantage of the semantics of the question asked by Mr. Faulconer to avoid answering the question.

I don’t agree with their opinion on the matter. The OBPB should consider contacting me, I would consider working on this with them if (and when) this goes to litigation.


avatar editordude February 29, 2012 at 9:54 am

Here is a letter submitted to CPC by OB Planner Scott Therkalsen:

To Whom It May Concern,

I am a member of the Ocean Beach Planning Board and I could not attend tonight’s meeting but
I was hoping you might still consider my input regarding the variances for construction granted for some
of the properties on West Point Loma in Ocean Beach. I am concerned a precedent is being set that will
completely circumvent the communities precise plan for a large portion of South OB. The city
continually grants variances for these homes to be exempt from the space set aside for parking, thus not
adhering to the important FAR conditions assigned and approved by the community in the Ocean Beach
Precise Plan. I do not believe the city has proved that these homes meet the hardship burden (simply
because they basically would have to be 2 bedrooms homes instead of 3, or make a similar square foot
concession elsewhere). These Variances can potentially be applied to over 200 properties in OB and will
completely alter the character of the community and the specific intentions of the Precise Plan. The city
may not agree with the current precise plan but it was approved by the community and legally
mandated to be followed.

The city has continually ignored the recommendations of the Ocean Beach Planning Board in
this matter. If the city wants to change the plan for the community they should follow the legal process
to do so; there is a reason the process has been set up in the manner it has and the city is completely
disregarding it and rewriting the rules as they see fit. If this is allowed to continue the role of the
planning board as a direct link to the community will be meaningless (and perhaps this is what the city
intends, similar to the county).

I think this committee should take up this issue out of the interest of planning boards and
communities city wide because, not only is this precedent being set for one small street in Ocean Beach,
but if the city can do as it wishes illegally here they can and will do the same in your communities.

Thank you,

Scott Therkalsen


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