The Good, Bad and Ugly of the New Ocean Beach Community Plan Update – Part 2

by on July 3, 2013 · 6 comments

in California, Civil Rights, Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, San Diego

sunset jim g aug 2010

OB sunset by Jim Grant, 2010.

This is a continuation of my thoughts, concerns, and questions about the brand new Draft Ocean Beach Community Plan Update that the City has worked out for us.  The OB Planning Board will be holding a public forum tonight – Wednesday, July 3rd – at the OB Rec Center to begin discussion of its proposals. All are encouraged to attend and lend them your ears and voice.

For the last several days, I have been reviewing the 166 page document prepared by the City’s staff, and have begun writing a critique. It is NOT a point by point, page by page analysis but more of a compilation of issues. Part 1 focused on an introduction and overview and on the Land Use element.

Since the early 1990’s I have served on the OB Planning Board for 3 years, with one  year as the Chair of the Board (2002-03).  I was involved back in the mid-Seventies as a founding member of the OB Community Planning Group; we worked with several other groups – such as the OB Town Council – trying to formulate a community consensus in an alternative to the original OB Precise Plan – which was a developer’s handbook – .  Our work was finished and a new plan born; it was passed in 1975 by the San Diego City Council, and authorized the first OB Planning Board  – which has existed ever since.  The Board’s function is to enforce and carry out the directives of the community plan.

Now, after an 11 year process, a new plan has been written – fundamentally changing the old Precise Plan.  This is the proposed Draft Update that has circulating.  The public will  “officially” have access to the Update on July 12th. However, it has been available here at the OB Rag, on the OB Planning Board website and at the City Planning Commission website.

 Mobility Element

There are a lot of great words and phrases in the Update promoting bicycle and pedestrian-friendly attributes.  It endorses walkability and public transit.  Here are some of the recommendations:

  • Implement pedestrian improvements including, but not limited to, sidewalks and curb ramps where missing, bulbouts, and enhanced marked crosswalks aimed at improving safety, accessibility, connectivity and walkability as identified and recommended in the City’s Pedestrian Master Plan effort.
  • Provide pedestrian countdown timers at all signalized intersections.
  • Provide street furniture where needed in the commercial core and the beach areas.
  • Improve pedestrian connections within the parks and along the beaches, to/from transit stops and with other communities. These connections may include, but not limited to:

Sunset Cliffs Boulevard sidewalk along the bridge that leads to paths to Mission Bay Park, Linda Vista, and Mission Valley.

W est Point Loma Boulevard, across Nimitz Boulevard on the south side of West Point Loma Boulevard, leading to the inbound (eastbound) transit stop on West Point Loma Boulevard at Nimitz Boulevard.

Voltaire Street, Point Loma Avenue, and other local streets that connect over the hill to the Peninsula community.

 How can anyone argue with these recommendations? Particularly about providing street furniture in the commercial core and the beach areas – as there really is insufficient benches and sitting for weary visitors and residents.  Of course, it’s not designated who or what will provide the street furniture – will it be the merchants or their organization, or the City, or will we have to rely on honorarium benches?

This is a good example of the flowery language of the Update but with no real way to implement the recommendations.

Regarding public transit, the Update talks about transit ridership is expected to grow by 35% by 2020 for OB’s two bus routes. What projections these estimates are based upon is not fully explained or analyzed.  But SANDAG’s Regional Transportation Plan is proposing a new Rapid Bus Route to be extended to OB with stops at key intersections.  This could be very good news.

OB definitely needs more access to public transit – as in general, San Diego needs it.  Everyone knows how inadequate public transit and the City’s bus service are, therefore, installing a rapid bus line would be very positive.

Another great recommendation is this:

Coordinate with MTS to provide a shuttle service during summer months to serve the beach and residential areas via a route that would travel east-west with transfer opportunities to and from the two bus routes serving Ocean Beach.

But again, in order for this recommendation to be actually implemented, the City has to “coordinate” with MTS for the summer shuttle service – which means another agency has to facilitate it.  No funding is provided, of course.

To enhance traffic flow in OB, the Update calls for these very specific recommendations (all verbatim):

  • Synchronize and adjust traffic signal timing to address seasonal change in traffic volumes and patterns at all signalized intersections along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, Voltaire Street, and West Point Loma Boulevard.
  • Install a traffic signal at the intersections of Bacon Street with West Point Loma Boulevard as warranted.
  • Install a traffic signal at the intersections of Brighton Avenue and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard as warranted.
  • Install a traffic signal at the intersections of Orchard Avenue and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard as warranted.
  • Evaluate and install second left-turn lanes on the eastbound and westbound approaches of West Point Loma Boulevard at its intersection with Nimitz Boulevard.
  • Evaluate and install a second right turn lane on the southbound approach of the intersection of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard with West Point Loma Boulevard.
  • Support improving Nimitz Boulevard between Sunset Cliffs Boulevard to West Point Loma Boulevard to function as a six lane primary arterial.

How many signal lights OBceans will tolerate along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard is an issue. When I was on the OB Planning Board, we tried to get the City to install a signal light at Sunset Cliffs and Santa Cruz because of all the traffic accidents in that area. All they agreed to do was to install a yellow warning light. I don’t see it on this list.

Plus, do we really want to see Nimitz turned into a small, short freeway with 6 lanes (3 each way)?


The Update has a lot of great language regarding bicycles and bicycling  – as who in OB doesn’t want to see greater use of bicycles?   We are told that the City’s Bicycle Master Plan proposes nearly 6 additional miles of what is called “designated bicycle facilities” to our already 5 miles. But to say OB has “bike paths” within the village is to seriously underplay the needed space for safety that is not provided. We’re told – without definition – that the Master Plan proposes a Cycle Track on Nimitz and a “Bicycle Boulevard” along Bacon Street, Brighton and Coronado.

These have got to be more than painted strips on the roadway.  A real bike path is a protected strip of travel – there has to be more than paint between the bicyclist and a motorized vehicle. Biking in OB is good, should be promoted and there is plenty of bicycling – but none of it is protected – outside the paths along Robb Field and the San Diego River.

The concept of “bike sharing” is promoted by the new plan. It states:

In order to further promote bicycle use in the community and also address the parking shortage in an economical way, especially during summer months, implementation of bike share stations is recommended in Ocean Beach.

Bike sharing consists of a series of secure bicycle stations from where a publicly-owned specialty bicycle may be checked-out and returned at a destination bicycle station.

Great ideas! But – no money is identified for implementation. Should we hold bake sales?


I cruised through the section on parking to see what the Update says about public paid parking. Here is what it says:

While paid parking has been introduced on some privately owned parcels, paid parking should only be implemented in the context of a Parking District. All revenues generated from paid parking should be re-invested in the Ocean Beach community. This would allow the opportunity to manage and implement community-identified improvements.

The Ocean Beach community adamantly opposes paid parking at beaches. Therefore, paid parking on beach surface lots should only be considered as part of a city-wide beach parking program.

So, the Update acknowledges the horrible parking problem in OB during the summer months and notes that the community “adamantly opposes paid parking at beaches”, but it will be okay as long as it’s considered part of a city-wide beach parking thing – whatever that means.

Interestingly, there is no specific mention of using the dirt and gravel parking lot next to Bo Beaus restaurant at the entrance to Robb Field for public parking – as that lot is indeed a public lot – even though the restaurant and its patrons feel the space belongs to them.  There is, however, a specific recommendation to “evaluate the roadway access to Robb Field to implement additional parking spaces,” and the same type of evaluation for the “parking lots located at the northeast side of the community near Robb Field and Bacon Street for additional off-street parking spaces.”

Pedicabs are even encouraged by the Update to provide transportation between Robb Field and the beach and commercial areas.

Urban Design Element

Within this chapter, there is a brief course on architecture, roof designs, spacing of new buildings, etc.  There are several very good recommendations regarding avoiding new buildings with bulk and ensuring that the scale is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. Here is one:

  • Avoid large areas of uninterrupted, blank surfaces. Highly reflective, mirrored or tinted glasses are strongly discouraged.

What immediately comes to mind was World Oil’s first design of its Sunset Plaza – full of mirrored glass.

There is a whole host of recommendations for Residential Neighborhood urban design:

  • Encourage inclusion of balconies and decks in residential design in order to engage the public right-of-way and increase pedestrian interest
  • Encourage new multi-family residential projects to be in the form of courtyard or garden-type units, to provide a visual  connection to the public right-of-way, and in keeping with the dominant small-scale character.
  • Avoid abrupt transitions in bulk and scale between new residential structures and existing adjacent buildings, and encourage gradual transitions.
  • Ensure that new residential development is compatible with the historic small-scale character of the residential areas in Ocean Beach.
  • Buildings should reflect the prevalent pattern and rhythm of spacing between structures, and the bulk and scale of the surrounding neighborhood’s character.
  • Residential development on parcels without alleyway access should enclose required parking on-site in a manner consistent with zoning requirements.
  • New structures should be built within existing lot lines to appear harmonious when smaller lots are joined to make one large lot in order to preserve the pattern and rhythm of spacing between buildings.
  • Development on larger lots resulting from lot consolidation should mimic the development pattern of the surrounding neighborhood with buildings and facades that are broken up to complement the smaller scale of the neighborhood.

 Mixed-Use Village Commercial

There is more talk of the mixed-uses of the Village strategy – and more encouragement that any new commercial development be compatible with the “historic, small-scale character of the commercial districts in Ocean Beach.’  Curb-cuts and drive-through businesses are discouraged.

Also included is more favorable language for public art and murals on public facilities and for street furniture.

And in terms of preserving coastal views, the design of multi-story buildings should avoid “walling off” public views.

Additional observations will be forthcoming.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Debbie July 3, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Frank, thanks for all your hard work and past service on the OB Planning Board and bringing the community plan document to the RAG. A few comments:

I am interested to know where the idea came from to have a six lane arterial on Nimitz Boulevard between Sunset Cliffs Boulevard to West Point Loma Boulevard. Who supports such a change and who thinks it’s an improvement and why?

Bike share stations…would this not been a small % of OBceans. Where would the city find money to buy bikes, store bikes, maintain bikes and associated liabilities that would go with such an operation? Can’t people buy their own bike? If one can have a cell phone, surely you can afford a skate board or bike if you choose not to drive or take the bus.

Progressive idea! 5.4.3 Seek opportunities to form a lighting and landscape maintenance district for the installation and maintenance of solar-powered
street lighting

How about require not support. Require undergrounding and completion of all sewer and water projects by xx/xx/xxxx in order to repair or replace poor surfaced streets.


avatar Sean m July 3, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Synchronized traffic lights are a great way to improve traffic flow and improve safety. More traffic lights would increase gridlock and red light running.

Adding lanes to Nimitz is a great idea.

Bike lanes are fine, but let’s not remove car lanes to make bike lanes.


avatar Jay July 4, 2013 at 11:41 am

Turning nimitz into six lane freeway is one of the worst ideas i have heard. More lanes only brings more traffic. (induced demand)


avatar Geoff Page July 10, 2013 at 7:10 am

Frank, I want to compliment you on an excellent job with your two articles on the draft OB community plan. This is a long document that most people would not have the patience to read through but those folks now have a very good idea what it is all about thanks to your efforts. I read most of the plan and I would agree with all of your commentary and I believe you covered all of the important points. Thanks for the work you do.


avatar Frank Gormlie July 10, 2013 at 8:42 am

Geoff – thanks, but I have not yet completed my review; like you said it is a long document – 166 pages including many colorful maps – and a long “history” of OB at the end – which for some reason fails to describe the battle for a new OB Precise Plan back in the early and mid-1970’s, well documented here in the Rag.

OBceans have to investigate and review what’s going on here in the planning world around this community. Nothing nefarious, but in the middle of the summer, the City unleashes the result of a 11-year process of re-writing the Precise Plan.Lots of people out of town, out surfing, etc. Last meeting of the OB Planning Board could barely muster a quorum.

One of the roles that the OB Rag has chosen is to help educate and remind OBceans of our urban planning situation, issues and history.


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