Ocean Beach Planners to Consider Lifting Construction Limits

by on August 3, 2010 · 18 comments

in Culture, Economy, Environment, Ocean Beach, Organizing, San Diego

OB Planning Board 8-5-09 002-smOn Wednesday night, August 4th, the Ocean Beach Planning Board will consider requests by San Diego City Planners to loosen construction restrictions that apply to OB multi-unit properties.  The City is interested in eliminating the more restrictive requirements for floor area ratios (FAR) and for parking.   Currently, OB properties are limited to a .7 FAR with 25% of the floor area reserved for parking.

Both FARs and parking requirements were responses to problems exhibited in apartments being constructed during the Sixties and Seventies at the beach.  Apartments being built then were little more than giant boxes and had little requirements to include parking in the plans.  These lack of restrictions ushered in a wave of curb cuts – less street parking – and required little space for landscaping or other outside amenities.

The OB Planning Board is hoping local residents and property owners will come out and express their opinions of the City’s plans to lift these decades-old restrictions in OB and Point Loma constructions.  The Board will meet Wed, August 4th, at 6pm in the OB Rec Center, located at 4726 Santa Monica Avenue.  Here is a link to their agenda.

obpreciseplandensityIf these changes are made, they may apply to other, single-residential units.  Some Board members fear that when the housing market rebounds, all cottages in OB will be at risk.

City planners notified the Board with the following:

One item that was submitted is a potential change to Land Development Code Section 131.0431 to address applicable development regulations for properties in the RM-2-4 zone in the Ocean Beach and Peninsula community plan areas. Currently, properties in these two plan areas are treated differently than RM-2-4 properties in other community plan areas citywide. Ocean Beach properties in the RM-2-4 zone are limited to a .7 FAR with 25 % of that floor area reserved for parking. This existing floor area restriction applicable to multi dwelling unit properties is more restrictive than many single dwelling unit properties, and as a result is a requirement where deviations are commonly requested and granted with no opposition. The Planning Commission had previously asked staff to address this issue.

In response, staff has been looking at various options including either eliminating the (Table 131-04G footnote 29) requirement in section 131.0431 to instead apply the same FAR to all RM-2-4 properties, or to modify 131.0446(e) and the footnote to eliminate the requirement that at least 25 percent of the floor area ratio be reserved for parking.

Staff is interested in community input on this issue so that we can determine whether this item should be included with the 7th Update project.

(From Amanda Lee,  Senior Planner, Development Services Department, Land Development Code Section.)

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

sunshine August 3, 2010 at 10:48 am

could someone explain to me in common English what this will mean for OB? higher buildings? bigger lots? less parking? less cottages & more condos? what???


Andy Cohen August 3, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Damn good question! Having briefly worked for a developer, I’m vaguely familiar with many development issues, but this one is escaping me. I can’t tell if changing the restrictions will be a good thing or a bad thing.

One thing I’m reasonably positive about is that the height restrictions will not change: The California Coastal Commission forbids any structure within (I think) 1 mile of the coastline to be taller than 30 feet. There are very few exceptions (one high-rise condo in PB which if I’m not mistaken was built prior to the law being instituted, and the flume ride at Sea World, where the voters granted an exception, just off the top of my head), and they are very difficult to come by. So I wouldn’t expect to see a Miami style skyline with huge buildings blotting out the coast.

It could, if approved, have a very significant effect on the community and culture of OB as a whole. It will depend entirely on how many buildings are torn down and replaced, what they are replaced with, and the the cost to the occupants who move in. On the bright side, it could rehab or replace a lot of very old, unsightly apartments/condos. On the downside, it will likely put living in OB economically out of reach for a large proportion who currently live there.

Somehow I don’t think turning OB into another La Jolla is in the best interests of the community at-large. I would sure hate to see it.


Marilyn Steber August 3, 2010 at 6:07 pm

I believe Andy refers to the building at 4944 Cass Street in Pacific Beach. It can be seen from just about everywhere on the coast and I think it was hurriedly constructed in anticipation of the Coastal Commission’s height limitation.
I wonder whether Sharp Cabrillo Hospital in the Sports Arena (now defunct) may also be one of the buildings as well. That may be more than one mile from the coast, depending on how it is measured: coastal, San Diego harbor, or Mission Bay.
Whatever, I like the restriction on the basis of our shifting soils and the danger of instant liquifaction (as I understand that process during earethquakes) in parts of Pt Loma/Ocean Beach/Sports Arena.


Marilyn Steber August 3, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Correction to the last sentence: “earethquakes” should be earthquakes.


Andy Cohen August 4, 2010 at 2:49 pm

I knew it would come to me! Those temporary brain farts can be a bitch!

It’s called the Capri by the Sea. That’s the high rise condo building in PB. And I don’t think it’s on Cass St. It’s right ON the beach. They have floodlights on top of the building to light up the beach in front (or in back, depending on how you want to look at it) of it.


dave rice August 3, 2010 at 5:30 pm

I’m not entirely clear, but I think that means 70% of a lot can be built out, with 25% of the improvements reserved for off-street parking. For example, some of the smallest multifamily lots in town are 2,500 square feet – 70% of that is 1750, and 25% of that is roughly 450. So legally the biggest units you could build there would have 1300sf of living space (1750-450) and 450sf of garage.

As far as what that means going forward if these caps are lifted, I’d have to know what the default for the city is – if it allows for 80% of a lot to be improved but only 10% of that dedicated to parking, for example, you could build bigger (or more) housing with less dedicated parking. That’s probably a bad thing. Living down south of Newport with one parking spot in a two car family, I can usually park within a block or two of home, but back when I lived at the corner of Abbott and W. Pt. Loma I’d often have to walk a half mile or so to my apartment once I lucked out and found a spot…not that I couldn’t use the exercise, but it still probably speaks poorly of density planning in its current state, let alone if we’re packed in any tighter.


Andy Cohen August 3, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Underground parking anyone?


john August 3, 2010 at 11:29 am

Ah, at last we can pursue funding for Frank Lloyd Wright’s finest unbuilt vision

(only American architect worth spit. okay he’s a damn genius, not many of his designs as diverse as they were, are not iconic)


liveinOB August 3, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Sunshine, Andy, Dave & John;
Great Questions, hope to see you at the Meeting tomorrow night, 6pm Aug.4 2010 at the OB Rec Center, 4726 Santa Monica Ave
and we can all get a better understanding of what this all means, myself included!
Barbara Schmidtknecht
OB Planning Board of Director
District 2


Landry Watson, OBPB District 1 August 3, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Definitely an opportunity for people to come out and ask questions of the City and see what they are proposing to change and how that could impact the community.

@Dave – RM 2-4 FAR per the SDMC is 1.2 except in OB and PL.

See you all there tomorrow night to discuss further!


dave rice August 4, 2010 at 9:28 am

Thanks for the heads-up, Landry!


Robert Burns August 3, 2010 at 11:39 pm

The Shitty of San Diego and the whores who run it never have our interests at heart. Visit the 4800 block of Voltaire Street to see how corruption at the city has played out on parking. OB Noodle, Lucy’s, Namaste, and probably others are screwing us on parking. The freeways are clogged. The open space here is more scanty than in LA. We need a part-time City Council and need people with some expertise, not PR folks like the councilman we’ve been stuck with; then, maybe, they’d not have time to tinker here.


Smuffy August 4, 2010 at 7:21 am

Developers do not care about residents. Past behavior proves it. They always ram their projects through communites with little regard for residents. This just sounds like developers wanting to build baby build without regard for parking or the wellbeing of the community.

Parking is so restricted in OB some people don’t even move their cars after 3:30PM or on weekends because they won’t have any parking when they return. Our streets are packed with non-residential campers, vans, and visitors. I’d like to see us deal with our parking issue before we start cramming more cars on the pile.

We need parking garages for visitors. The Apple Tree Lot, Corner of Sunset & Voltaire, Lifeguard station lot, Police substation lot on Newport, Rob Field, or Dusty Roads Park would all be great places to build parking garages. Perhaps Garages with rooftop decks! We could also use some East West street parking restrictions like they have in parts of LA. Up in LA there are signs posted of Wiltshire, for example, that restrict public parking totally or during certain hours to prevent visitors from consuming residential parking.

If we loosen restrictions for having proper parking for multiunit devlopments, we are just going to compromise our residential parking even more than we already have.


Andy Cohen August 4, 2010 at 11:19 am

There might be a solution to this, but it’s going to take some consensus and a bit of a leap of faith. The short explanation is “Automated Parking,” where you can get the same number of cars as a conventional garage in 1/3 of the space. It’s a near perfect solution to make use of the small parking lots now available in OB. These types of systems are prevalent around Europe, but have been met with a lot of skepticism in the U.S.

Anyway, I’ll be at the meeting tonight if anybody cares to hear about it.


Seth August 4, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Interesting thoughts, Smuffy. Parking is not an easy fix. In my opinion, many “solutions” will only serve to exacerbate the problem. To paraphrase something the Canadian Prime Minister said a few years ago, we have decades of experience that show us you cannot build your way out of congestion. More parking (or more highways) never seem to ease the problem of too many cars. It sounds counter-intuitive, but adding capacity almost always makes it worse, as an increase in supply will usually spur an even bigger increase in demand. 5-10 years in, you end up with an even worse parking situation than what you started with, and more cars all over the place.

That’s great if you are a commercial property owner in OB, and maybe for the City if they can find a way to turn it into a revenue stream via paid parking, tickets, etc… but it is likely a loser for the mom-and-pops (after the first few years, when they get priced out of the market), local residents and anyone who wants to help “keep OB OB”.

And I say this half tongue-in-cheek, as your point was valid enough, but please please please don’t ever cite Los Angeles as a model for anything related to transportation planning. Outside of Phoenix, they are one of the worst examples possible for how to get it right with planning for cars. Shoot, Los Angeles should be looking to US here in OB as an example of what to do. Many progressive communities are actually trying to find ways to *limit* parking in order to promote the use of other forms of transportation.

Yes, technically this may mean riding the bus once in a while (mostly for the visitors, however), but given what we know about how our car-obsessed lifestyle affects the planet, our communities and our quality of life, many would say that we need to start moving away from building for cars over people — particularly in Southern California. An automobile should be your slave, and not your master, as it is in Los Angeles.

Sorry for the rant, which really isn’t even directed at you, but I keep hearing similar thoughts about parking in OB, and just wanted to throw my two cents in the ring. I would be in favor of a big parking garage if, say… we closed down Newport Avenue to car traffic to make it a pedestrian promenade and needed to replace the parking capacity. Otherwise, I just don’t think it is where we need to go moving forward.


Pat August 5, 2010 at 9:23 am

It was a good meeting last night, I don’t think anybody there was in favor of changing our zoning.
So the message was sent loud and clear that where trying to protect our little beach towns character and quality of life here.
There’s a reason Ocean Beach has been able to maintain this .
It has been the effort of many people over the years.
Prsicilla McCoys name was brought up on a couple occasions.
She was responsible for our Historic Cottage Program.
R.I.P. Priscilla , and Thank You!


Frank Gormlie August 5, 2010 at 9:45 am

Pat, thanx for the update. I’m hoping one of our bloggers who was there will write something up. How many folks were in attendance?


Michael Crosby August 8, 2011 at 10:10 am

Did anyone go to this meeting? I thought I read in the U-T that there was a meeting of some sort tomorrow, August 9th, relating to the “density” issue in one particular area of OB. True? Where do we stand (or park)?


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