The Battle Over the Ocean Beach Precise Plan- how urban planning became a democratic process and how OB was saved

by on June 17, 2009 · 8 comments

in Civil Rights, Environment, History, Media, OB Time Machine, Ocean Beach, Organizing, San Diego

This is the image the original Precise Plan had for Ocean Beach, 1971.

Originally posted June 12, 2009

OCEAN BEACH, CA.  The wonderful and warm community of Ocean Beach thrives on, even while it harbors scars of tagging, and while its business folk plan for the annual festival, the residents go about their days and lives with a harmony uncommon in this day and age of high-tech, high-rise and low markets.

The contentedness – yea, even bliss – of the seaside village’s people, can be traced in good part to the comfort of living by the ocean in one of the City’s most hip and friendly social arenas.  This neighborhood, this OB, lives up to its name, as it has remained the hip town for decades – since the Sixties.

Ocean Beach has kept the hip-way because as a community it survived the onslaught of urban development of a generation ago, an onslaught pushed upon our sandy shores by influential and local economic forces and interests. It was the local power elite, rich Point Lomans and their downtown allies.

These were forces not to take for granted, because these same type of forces drastically altered much of the rest of the Southern California coast.

The fact that our village survived the horrendous direction that building interests had planned for OB, represented in the drawing above, is a testament to what can happen when local citizens and small businesses stand up to the planning elite, the so-called “experts”, and to powerful financial interests.  The fact that we today can enjoy OB is a demonstration of the citizen power and community organizing of an earlier generation.

The Seventies witnessed the power struggle over the future of Ocean Beach, and that story, the story of the battle over urban development here is a wonderful story in itself.  It is a story about the battle over the Precise Plan, the urban plan for OB, and it’s a story of how modern urban planning first became a democratic process here in our very own neighborhood.  But more significantly, it is a story of how Ocean Beach was saved – saved from over-development, saved from “Miami Beachization”.

What we are doing here now, is the beginning of a short series on the history of urban planning in Ocean Beach. What immediately follows, our first segment, is a repost of part of the longer accounting of the early OB Rag of the 1970s, on how the funky alternative newspaper helped to lead the fight against the Precise Plan.

Rag Leads Counter-Attack Against the Precise Plan

Precise Plan Proposal

Beginning with the early November 1971 issue, the OB Rag charged headlong into the despised Precise Plan, taking it and its sponsors, Peninsulas, Inc., to task for pushing an elitist, anti-poor plan for gentrification. It was class warfare and the Rag was leading the counter-charge. It was the early years of the seventies, and the Rag promoted the first rumblings of a grass-roots counter to the establishment’s resort plans that was then taking shape. These rumblings would later morph into the Ocean Beach Community Planning Group two years later – the forerunner to OB’s current Planning Board.  A number of progressive activists were involved in these early days of organizing a grassroots answer to the developers.

In the Rag’s own words, from a front page article in early January 1972, (Vol II, No.4) with a giant headline of “The Rape of Ocean Beach”:

The Ocean Beach Precise Plan is an actuality but how many people have read it or even know of its existence? Well how are 13,000 OB residents expected to know of it or to have read it when the Precise Planners had only 200-300 token copies printed and made available to the public? The Ocean Beach Library thoughtfully kept a copy for reference.

But who has done this planning? An “interested” citizens group has worked with the City Planning Department for 3 years spending huge amounts (close to $50,000 annually) of tax money to devise the Plan. The group is composed of several members of the Board of Directors of Peninsulans, Inc., (who so kindly took care of Collier Park for us), augmented by residents and merchants. The members of the small group conveniently have large land interests in Ocean Beach. At the same time they have drawn up a plan to greatly increase the monetary value of that land. Are these people, who are 1/4 of 1% of the local population, a good cross-section of Ocean Beach and have they represented us well in drawing up the Precise Plan?

The article, written anonymously, described what the Plan meant for the community:

Highrises will be allowed to blossom to the west of Sunset Cliffs. The Plan has Ocean Beach Park earmarked for visitor-residential, in other words, hotels and motels. All of these big economic interests coming into the community will mean a highrise oceanfront, one-way streets with freeway on-off ramps (introducing a very high degree of overpopulation in terms of air, noise, traffic, and accidents), difficult access to the beach area and tremendous pressure on small landowners.

The same issue printed another long, full-page analysis, entitled: “Ocean Beach: Community In Crisis” which discussed the impact of the Precise Plan and how it represented a different value system than that of OB residents. It also recounted a history of “confrontation over the conflict in values of the two cultures,” citing the dawn of counter-culture OB in 1967, police-youth fights at the beach (Easter weekend and Memorial Day, 1968), the Jetty battle (July 1970), the Collier Park riot (Spring 1971), and the development of alternative services over the past several years as efforts to build a self-sustaining community. Yet the Precise Plan was a threat to Ocean Beach.

For a long time there has been a great deal of talk about the possibility of a plan by the city of San Diego to change the Ocean Beach community into a high-rise apartment district serving the interests of rich land speculators and owners of tourist-oriented facilities. That possibility has materialized itself in the form of the Ocean Beach Precise Plan. The Plan, formulated by Peninsulan’s Inc., will force the displacement of many of the people currently living in OB to make room for housing which most of those living here will not be able to afford.

The article ended by declaring that the new Rag was renewing its dedication to “the struggles of the people of Ocean Beach.”

At this critical point in the development of our community a continuous flow of information is vital. All that has been built over the past five years will not be lost. Dare to struggle and a thousand parks will bloom.

Resist the Precise Plan.jpg

A political spraypainted message on the fence at Collier Park, circa 1972.  When we first posted this old photo, we did enhance the lettering a tad.

The long battle over and around the OB Precise Plan had many twists and turns. But the “crisis” – which was very real – would eventually be resolved by the mid-seventies, with the creation of the OB Planning Board and the writing of a new Precise Plan that reflected the views of residents and local small businesses. But that’s a story for another page.

The Rag Critiques the Precise Plan - Vol. 4, No. 6 - early January 1974What is significant, however, is that here, at this time, Fall of 1971 and early 1972, the OB Rag, along with OB Ecology Action and the OB Planning Organization, were involved in waking the community up about the dangers and threats that the Precise Plan represented. Issue after issue, and over a couple year period, the Rag hammered at the Plan. Five years later, Rag staffers would be running for election to the first democratically-elected community planning committee in the history of California.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

shizzyfinn June 13, 2009 at 9:20 am

Big thanks to the activists who fought for the new precise plan – and to the OB Rag for spreading the word! Your actions are appreciated by everyone who enjoys OB today, whether or not they realize it.

Man, that image of the high rises they wanted to build is frightening. Thanks again to those concerned citizens who stepped up to preserve OB’s unique flavor.


ClubStyle_DJ June 13, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Interesting reading…Thanks Frank. Thanks to those who fought….I know you’re still here. Based on the triangulation described “Abbott, Long branch and West Point Loma” My apartment would be smack dab in the lobby of that high rise. Whew!

Thanks again for saving:
To quote Daniel Clamp of Gremlins: “…most sensational quiet little town ever.”



Frank Gormlie June 13, 2009 at 1:08 pm

This and following articles about the battle for OB’s development back in the 1970s was inspired by a spike in interest in OB’s Precise Plan. Watch these pages for future posts about that battle and for copies of old leaflets and fliers.


Dave Gilbert June 13, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Long live the OB spirit and the Rag!!! ;)


Seth Connolly June 13, 2009 at 5:35 pm

This is a great article, Frank. As a current representative on the OB Planning Board, whom I do not speak on behalf of here, I really hope that people realize how important that (revised) document was in helping to make OB the type of place that is it is today. It was not by accident that larger development interests were essentially prevented from making this La Jolla South. Committed community members obviously had to fight and fight hard to help maintain the “small town in a big city” community character that we all enjoy today. Fortunately, they won.

As this document has become increasingly toothless and out of date, many others have fought hard to help update this precise plan to help meet current challenges and to help shape OB for the *next* 30 years. I am sure that you will speak to this in future articles, and I encourage people to read them and to get involved. Without an update to this document that represents the community’s long-term vision for land use and development, it becomes much, much more difficult for OB to have a say in what happens to OB.


bodysurferbob June 14, 2009 at 10:26 am

Power to you Seth, for being a progressive voice on the current OB Planning Board. Being on that Board is a thankless, tiresome job, and OBceans have to remain vigilante and up on current development projects slated for our community at all times. Speculators, big-developers and the City of San Diego need to be watched and monitored. The City historically has constantly tried to water-down our Precise Plan, the rewritten in the 1970s. The City does not want local planning committees to have much say. Over the years, the City Planning Department has been gutted – which means developers have more power than the limits that were placed on them starting in the 1970s.


Kathy Blavatt June 15, 2009 at 5:02 am

The developers never stop, get active, it is happening NOW! Item 333 on Tuesday afternoon June 16th at city council is critical. If passed it will constitute rape of all the protections of our Coastal overlay zone land use codes including the 30′ height limit by permitting the deviations in section (b). All this done with the stealth approach under the guise of affordable housing.
Please contact council members and constituents in other districts and come down to the city and oppose this. We don’t need Miamization of our Coastline, more devaluation of one of our local and tourist attractions and existing residential property values.


Kathy Blavatt June 15, 2009 at 11:01 am

Retract previous K. Blavatt 5:02, We need to SUPPORT Council Item 333. The Coastal Commission wants the City to keep the 30 foot height limit in tact and other codes.


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