The City of San Diego Is So Dysfunctional, It Can’t Even Build a Public Restroom at the Beach

by on February 3, 2011 · 64 comments

in Economy, Environment, Ocean Beach, Popular

This is what Ocean Beach has now and has had since July 2009. (Photo by Frank Gormlie.)

Brighton Restroom Won’t Be Constructed Until September and Will Cost $200,000 More

The news last night (Feb 2nd) was not good for those who have been anticipating the City of San Diego beginning  its construction of the Brighton Avenue public restroom, down at the beach.

OB Planning Board meeting where the bad news was delivered, Feb. 2, 2011.

Kevin Oliver and Elif E. Cetin from the City of San Diego Engineering and Capital Projects Department presented the bad news at the Ocean Beach Planning Board’s monthly meeting. It doesn’t look like the City will begin construction of the “comfort station” until September 2011.

September 2011?? That means we have to go through another summer without adequate public restrooms in North OB. No sinks, no dressing rooms, no showers for another summer.

When the old restrooms were torn down in the Summer of 2009, the City said the new ones would be up in 18 months. That would have taken us to December 2010. Yet the completion date is 7-8 months away.

It is “disheartening” as one Planning Board member said.

Not only that. The price … last July the Planning Board was told by the City that the cost would be $480,000.  Now the City is saying it needs an additional $200,000 and has to identify where those funds would come from.  And the City cannot do that until after the start of the new fiscal year – July 1st.

And due to the Coastal Moratorium (no construction can occur at the coast from Memorial Day to Labor Day), it does not look like the City can even begin construction until September.

So, there you have it in a nutshell. Sort of.

Unless you have been paying attention to this issue since its inception. Then it’s a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.  Or WTF? in the shorthand of the internet.

Cardboard model of new design presented at July 7, 2010 meeting of the OB Planning Board. (Photo by Christina Dallenbach.)

And it dawns on the attentive observer: this City is so dysfunctional, it can’t even build a public restroom at the beach!!!

Time Line of the Brighton Avenue “Comfort Station”

We need to step back and try to re-grasp how far we have come on this issue exactly.  Let’s look at a time-line of what the City calls a “comfort station.”

Mid-1970s – The Brighton Ave. restrooms are built and opened to the public. (This date is up for contention, but I think it was around 1973 to 1975, not the “1964” date that some have used.)

Late July 2009 –  hazardous conditions at the restroom building are reported when a city worker finds concrete breaking from the ceiling. An engineer determined the structure had to be shut down.

July 25, 2009 – City fences off area of restrooms;

Sept. 17, 2009: Reporter Helen Gao, when she was still with the Union-Tribune, reported on the rotting structure of the restroom and its closure. Her article stated several very interesting things: the City has decided to demolish the structure, instead of just replacing the roof. Also, her article states:

  • the City deferred maintenance on the structure to save money, then is caught needing to spend even more funds replacing a public facility;
  • Gao reports: “City officials plan to demolish the structure and build a replacement in 18 months.”
  • Gao quotes David Jarrell, the city’s deputy chief operating officer for public works, who says

the restrooms are more than four decades old and have deteriorated beyond repair. Pieces of the concrete were beginning to break off and fall into the inside of the facility,” he said. “All the plumbing is pretty well corroded. All the electrical stuff is.”

  • In order to provide some restrooms for the public, the City has set up two rows of 10 portable toilets, and the city is leasing them for $1,341 per month.
  • It is reported: before the start of the next tourist season – Summer 2010 –  Jarrell said the city will replace the portable toilets with more appealing trailer restrooms, which include multiple stalls and hand-washing sinks. He expects the trailers will be brought in over the winter.
  • Finally Gao reported:

Rebuilding the restroom will require the city to obtain a permit from the California Coastal Commission. Reconstruction is expected to cost $500,000 to $600,000. Money is available in the city’s Park and Recreation Department’s budget.

This last point is important. Reporter Gao wrote in mid-September 2009 that the “money is available in the city’s Park and Recreation Department’s budget” – this presumably means the 2009 budget. Not some mythical budget in the future. When I asked City officials at last night’s meeting, “weren’t the funds for the restrooms to come originally out of the 2009 budget?” – they didn’t know what I was talking about.

Fall 2009: the Ocean Beach Planning Board formed an ad-hoc sub-committee that had members of the Board, OB Town Council, OB Mainstreet Association, and citizens of the community to give the City input.  The Ad-hoc sub-committee helped to choose an artist -Shinpei Stakeda – and architect -Kevin Defreitas – to develop a conceptual design.

Winter 2009-2010: the promised trailer restrooms, which were to include multiple stalls and hand-washing sinks, never materialize. There had been promises that “the trailers will be brought in over the winter”

June 16, 2010: the OB Project Review Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of the project as presented to the full board.  See a background article here.

July 7, 2010: The conceptual design is presented, and the cost to build is stated to be $480,000. Elif  Cetin and Kevil Oliver from the City joined architect Defreitas and artist Stakeda in giving a PowerPoint presentation at OB Planning Board meeting. The Planning Board votes unanimouslyto approve the designs. (See Dave Rice’s wonderful coverage of the presentation article here.)  We reported:

With a few minor tweaks, the plans are tentatively scheduled to be submitted to the coastal commission in the coming weeks. Approval there could take up to six months, and the goal is to have the new facilities up and running by summer 2011.

December 2010: City places construction of restrooms out to bid.

February 2, 2011: the City’s Elif  Cetin and Kevil Oliver give the Planning Board and the community the bad news. Because of the need for additional as-yet identified funds on the level of $200,000, the City has to wait until the next fiscal year, and construction will not begin until September 2011.

More of the Dirty Details

As Kevin Oliver reported last night, when the City placed the construction of the restrooms out to bid in December, it originally received four bids.  Two of these – and at least one of them was a low bid – were disqualified. And at least one of these was disqualified because the format of the bid did not meet the City’s guidelines.

Local blogger, activist, and construction contractor Geoff Page has questioned in the Voice of San Diego why the City would go for a “design-build” project bid.

The lowest surviving bid was for $797,000. At this point the City determines that it needs more funds for the project and that it could save some money by tweaking the conceptual design.  For one thing, the construction schedule was too expensive, it was told.  Other tweaks include doing away with the solar panels – too expensive; changing the material of the roof, using galvanized steel instead of stainless steel.The City also has to build a concrete path to the street, for ADA reasons.

So, in the end, all the bids were rejected as too high (not the disqualified ones). That places the schedule to build back to the fiscal year of July 1st and the September date for construction.

Some people were visibly unhappy with this.  Board member Scott Waschitz, who has experience in building restrooms, said it was downright “disheartening.” Businessman Dave Martin said:

“The business community will suffer another summer.”   Its customers and the tourists will not have access to needed public facilities.  He urged everyone to contact Councilmember Kevin Faulconer’s office to help expedite the process.

In conclusion, this project has gone on way too long. The City should have simply replaced the roof of the original restroom. Or City workers should have built it. If they had – it would already be up.

Is this an example of what happens when a City and Mayor bent on “privatization” rely on the bureaucracy to enable private contractors?

Would it be out of order to say that the community of Ocean Beach has been given the runaround on the restroom? That things promised and pledged have not materialized? OB can’t even get a restroom while La Jolla got a new lifeguard station.  Perhaps the City switched funds around as the comfort station was supposed to be built with 2009 monies and now we have to wait for the next fiscal year which doesn’t start for 5 months. We were repeatedly reminded that the City budget is in the crapper (pun intended).

The business community will be upset. Residents and visitors should be upset. This is outrageous and unacceptable! But what to do?  For starters, call Kevin Faulconer’s office and politely ask him to look into this. 619-236-6622.

It’s an unwritten rule that the folks downtown don’t like OB. It gets more plain everyday.

{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

Joshua Utley February 3, 2011 at 11:41 am

I just liked it, tweet’d it, shared it, posted Kevin’s # and I’m dialing the digits right now. Join the fun! j/k Come on everyone! (=


Frank Gormlie February 3, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Thanks Joshua for doing that. Please let us know if you get any response.

BTW, I am not blaming city workers for this mess. As I said in my post, the thing would have already been built if city workers were allowed to do it. It is the management of this project that is to blame.


just my 2 cents February 5, 2011 at 8:46 pm

City workers building a project like this ? Frank are you serious ? You must be kidding . The vast majority of people who work for the City have taken the job for the lax oversight, laid back conditions, average salary , FAT ASS PENSION and health benefits for life. And the 40 hour week….real work time 20 hours. If you really doubt this take a drive to Sunset Cliffs on a BIG SURF day …you will see more ” general services trucks, waste water vans, park and rec trucks, and every other type of city truck car and van down at the cliffs checking out the surf” It is disgusting….With them are SDGE , Phone Company and San Diego Unified School District trucks, vans and cars….All these people in all these cars and trucks must have something to do I would think. But on big surf days they are checking out the waves …..
In 1973 I went into residential home construction , worked my ass off made a few bucks….no pension no nothing…..After the boom of the late 70s a mass exodus of construction workers went to the City the draw was the fat pension and little work you actually had to do compared to the ” real construction world”

I could go on for a week on this but will spare you.
City workers are soft!!!


Frank Gormlie February 6, 2011 at 10:45 am

just my 2 cents: You are way over-generalizing here with this: “The vast majority of people who work for the City…” (won’t repeat your ridiculous assertion), so much so that I’m not going to respond. Next time you’re at the cliffs seeing all these trucks and vehicles, grab someone with a camera and take some shots.

Initially I thought your rant is against government workers, but then you threw in SDGE, phone company trucks, etc, because they’re all down at the cliffs watching the big surf roll in. (How often does big surf actually roll in? I mean out of 365 days do you think?) I think you’ve included these vehicles because they have logos and insignia on them, so they’re noticeable. But you know what? I’ve seen plenty, I mean plenty of private contractor trucks down at the cliffs on those type of days, also, plus there’s the people who book from work in their private cars and trucks.

I think you’ve picked up on a southern California human trait. When the big surf rolls in, people from all walks of life who like to surf or watch it head for those cliffs.

But your one-sided rant against all government city workers is simply misplaced, born no doubt from years of being ripped-off by the giant corporations and empire-builders but taking it out on the little guy.


JEC February 7, 2011 at 8:44 am

I’ll not dispute the City has a terrible culture – but then contracting simply adds to it and costs us more in the end. Consider – San Diego streets – some of the worst in the nation – for years. I know, all the ice storms we must deal with, not. San Diego gets the same money as everyone else – why so bad? Contractors do crappy jobs and there’s no one in the City with the wherewithall to do anything about it. Consider this bathroom. A brick building, one story, less than 2,000 sf, no glass no kitchen, sewer lines already in, yet the bid is equal to about $375 per sf – a high rise class A office building can be built for less. Let’s consider some possible numbers – labor – oh pay ridiculously high, 6 workers @ $100 per hour fully loaded, 3 Superviors @$120 – and 4 weeks of labor to build (160 hrs,$153,600), plus 10% for office supplies ($15k) then another $20k for renting equipment and just to fatten the pot add $30,000 for a facilitation fee and a $5,000 completion bonus for every person involved ($45,000) and then another 25% of this running total for engineering, design, add $66,000 and then a contingency (State law limits to 15%) add another $50,000 – where are we? $380,000, less than one half the bid. Submit the numbers to the truth test – and what if they don’t make sense? They are nonsense. Yes, on this item it would be cheaper AND more efficient to use city workers.


Geoff Page February 7, 2011 at 11:34 am


Definitely have to take issue with you on this post. I used to work as an equipment operator on rented equipment. On a number of occasions, I found myself on a city crew and I can tell you firsthand that these were the most inefficient, ridiculous projects I was ever on. Go out and observe a City crew sometime and see if you can make the statement that they are cheaper and more efficient. Here’s a for instance. City workers are paid “portal to portal,” meaning for travel time from the City yards to the projects and back. Between that feature, scheduled breaks, and lunch, their work day is 5 to 6 hours. Private contractors start pay when the job starts in the morning, workers are not paid to travel to and from the projects.

As I said in another post, the City does not have crews equipped or capapble of building a vertical structure like this, they simply don’t do this work.

The price was so high because it went out as a design-build project, the costs in the overall price were not just to build a building, they included permits and design and other things besides construction. These costs included the cost of geotechnical reporst, structural engineering, electrica and mechanical engineering, etc. And, the design-builder assumes all the risk, which also cost money. This doesn;t include the money the City already spent on the design architect who prepared the concept plans.

If you want to estimate this project to make your point, look at the RFP and see what you come up with. Your numbers are unrealistic.


JEC February 8, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Poor management – I’ve seen the same on private crews as well – it’s poor management, lousy executives – I’ve seen good, I’ve seen horrible, I can tell you horror stories – as noted the City has a crappy culture – but it’s not universal. The city currently does not have the talent – true, neither does a single contractor who will bid on the job – will they not hire them for the job, pay them hourly for a few weeks? That’s the way I’ve done it, pay a completion bonus, it works fine. I am familiar with design-build, ie the Hall of Justice, the ARCC Bldg in Kearny Mesa (which is tilt-up by the way, a speedy and cost effective building method – great for a concrete beach bathroom). It has definate advantages – but if the best bid is to high, then the contractors are gaming you (ie University HS for gaming history) and if you don’t push back you’re inviting even more theft of public monies. The goal is to get the most bang for the buck is it not? FHA standards call for public buildings to last no less than 75 years, preferrably 100 years – the County has been trying to tear down a 50 year old courthouse for 10 years. So what standard? Stick built? But Geoff as you outline the engineering specifics please keep in mind the project at hand – a concrete beach bathroom. It’s not the Taj Mahal or a city jail, or a courtroom. Just a concrete space with water fixtures, automated lights and steel gates – no dinning rooms, no views, no decks – just faucets, drains, stand pipes, that’s about it. As I outlined, $380,000 is a high price for the true cost for labor and materials to build that bathroom. Anything more is a corruption of logic.


Momentum858 February 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm

At a bare minimum- Portable Toilets should have been brought in .


dave rice February 3, 2011 at 9:39 pm

There are the basic portable pit toilets in place, but what was promised as an interim solution – fully functional temporary facilities including running water, have yet to materialize.


OB Dude February 3, 2011 at 1:57 pm

What a bunch of CRAP! Our city should be ashamed of itself. Just put up a simple concrete block building with bathrooms and some heads for ourdoor showers. It doesn’t have to be fancy it just has to work!

Quit wasting time and money. Faulconer …..DO SOMETHING!


jacqueline February 5, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Hear hear! What the heck? I used to live in OB and now just bring my dog to Dog Beach from time to time. I am appalled every time I come through the lot and that damn bathroom STILL isn’t built. It’s a joke! except that it isn’t funny…
It was a hike to go to the john from dog beach…I feel like it was already under accommodated with just that one facility and now all the way to the lifeguard tower?! I agree with OB dude…for cryin out loud all it needs to be is a simple structure like in MOST parks in SD county.


Outlaw February 3, 2011 at 2:02 pm


^(#%@& Idiots.

I’m not going to bring a shovel


Seth February 3, 2011 at 2:16 pm

This was an unfortunate turn of events. Speaking as a private citizen, I thought the City staff did a fine job trying to get this project through, and were very cognizant of involving the community in the process. I also don’t think that the design added a ton of costs to the project. As stated by the City reps last night, the issue seems to be more or less that none of the appropriate private contractors who have managed to stay in business made cheaper, valid bids for a project as relatively small as this one. This does not address Frank’s point about city workers doing the project as opposed to contractors, but as was also stated last night, there aren’t exactly an abundance of those guys available with the City in such dire financial straits.


Charley February 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Nobody’s asking what the city did with money they should have set-aside in the budget to replace/repair existing infrastructure….or did they wear us down with rhetoric and we voted them back in office ?


Robert Burns February 3, 2011 at 5:49 pm

I tried to send you a lengthy post and got this BS: “Error: please fill the required fields (name, email).” I included my name but not my E-mail that time. I’m not posting again.


Frank Gormlie February 3, 2011 at 6:01 pm

We don’t require that you give anything but a name – doesn’t have to be your true name, and an email that no one else sees. You’ve been on the blog before, so should not be a problem. Once your first comment has been approved, you can post anytime. So I don’t understand why there is a problem unless you’re using a new email address.


dave rice February 3, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Sorry to hear Robert, I’ve been burned filling out online comments before myself, so I understand how frustrating it is when a carefully crafted response disappears into cyberspace…and it’s a problem with every discussion forum, not unique to the Rag. That said, I hope you’ll try to throw together a brief recap of whatever it is you had to say – having read your remarks before I find you contribute to the general discussion as well as anyone.


Geoff Page February 4, 2011 at 10:30 am

Small piece of advice, write it in word and paste into a post. If it fails, you still have it.


dave rice February 4, 2011 at 7:30 pm

I’ve learned to at least highlight and copy the post if it’s a big one before I hit post, just in case..


ss February 3, 2011 at 6:29 pm

The Mayors great reorg at work. Did the City person say what rule could not be met and why. What was the casue for bid rejection.

Now lets get positive, Maybe the city could sell naming rights and adds on the restroom wall. I’ll bet they could get close to .5 mil, surely after a few years. That might get a comfort station built. I am guessing city staff is as frustrated as we are, amazing amounts of BS being thrown around. Where is our councilman to help.


Geoff Page February 3, 2011 at 7:18 pm


Excellent piece. I do have to take issue with a couple of things.

You stated that City workers could have built it and it would be up by now. Not in a million years. First, the City does not have any crews that build buildings. Second, no City crew could compare to a private contractor.

This is not the result of the Mayor’s drive to privatize, and I am never one to defend Sanders. This kind of work would always be bid out to contractors. No one is enabling contractors for a project like this. The City simply ran out of money and did not carry through with the project. Usually, the design work is bid out to an architect who handles all the design and the other designers for the plumbing, electrical, mechanical, etc. Once complete set of plans is finished, the work is bid out to the low bidder. The City tried something completely ill-suited to such a small project by using design-build and the result they got was entirely predictable. I think they thought they would get a cheaper all around price, for both design and construction. Keep in mind the price tag included design and permitting, it wasn’t just the cost to build the project.


Frank Gormlie February 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm

ss – They were not specific, but gave this as an example: if the City format rules required a 3-ring binder and the bidder didn’t provide one – BOOM! Disqualified!

Geoff – excellent points. I was being partially facetious on the city worker aspect. I did speak to a crew of City maintenance people out on the beach, and they agreed with me on this point. It’s fun to imagine such an enormous feat.

You say the City simply ran out of money. Yet the project was already funded with the 2009 budget. It is possible that the City simply transferred the funds set for the project to something else. Meanwhile, the City is paying – what? $1300+ a month on rental fees for the porta-pottys.


ss February 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Your right Frank pretty bad logic on the city’s part I am sure the staffers feel the same way. Spending a $1 to save and track a nickel. Crazy. Ask the city specifically what was missed I’ll bet it was not stated in the request for proposal.


Geoff Page February 4, 2011 at 8:52 am


Sorry I didn’t pick up on the facetious remark, I guess I run into too many people who actually do believe that City crews are more efficient than private contractors.

Yes, the project was funded at one time but I am positive those funds got moved somewhere else because the City is in such dire condition. Hey, maybe Susan Golding will step in and fund it since she stole all our future money in her ill-fated quest to be a national politician.


ss February 3, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Actually this project as simply as it is is uniquely suited for a design build team. A contractor should be able to put a number on a restroom/comfort station real easy. Then you just need the architect to design it. You have already defined the design cost. It is up to the A&E to hit it. The design is pretty straight forward for a restroom. The city probably just defunded it when the realization came that the thing was going to go in the allotted time.
I would like to know why the bids were rejected. What didn’t the contractor do to be rejected. He already had put a lot of time into the job to lose it on a missing a bid requirement. Most city contractors know the procedures so this doesn’t happen it sounds like the requirements are changing and less than clear in the spec.


Geoff Page February 4, 2011 at 8:58 am

I’m afraid I have to differ with you. First, these are not regular bids, the contractors had to put together detailed proposals and most of them, small enough to be interested in doing this work, have never put together a design-build proposal. This was an entirely wrong approach and the results proved it. Take a look at the link in my blog on VOSD’s People’s Post, Frank included a link to that. Read the Request For Proposals (RFP) and see for yourself.


Geoff Page February 3, 2011 at 7:23 pm


You said that the City reps said the issue seems to be more or less that none of the appropriate private contractors who have managed to stay in business made cheaper, valid bids for a project as relatively small as this one. That was definitely not the problem. There are plenty of private contractors available to build a project like this. But, these smaller contractors are not design-builders, that’s why there were so few responses. Look what happened, only four proposals – not bids mind you, proposals – and two were disqualified. Take a look at the link on my blog to see what the proposers had to put together to be considered. If this was a traditional design-bid-build project, there would have been 12 to 15 bidders.


Seth February 4, 2011 at 9:40 am

Geoff, appreciate the response. The staffers present were pretty forthcoming that they had misread the “bid climate”. Not being a contractor, I will defer to those in the field as to the extent of the error there, but as one who participated in the process, I really do appreciate the efforts of the staffers involved. Hopefully, the necessary remaining funds can be obtained in the next fiscal budget.


OB DUDE February 4, 2011 at 9:52 am

Misread??? How many of the staffers misread? More than one, really? If I misread something my boss would fire me especially if I cost the company money. If I didn’t get fired…I would certainly be on notice. Have heads rolled at all on this poor handling of a project?

The effort I would like to see is to get employees that don’t misread and stop wasting taxpayer dollars.


Geoff Page February 4, 2011 at 10:44 am


I appreciate your willingness to be generous with the City staffers. I don’t know who made the decsion to use design-build on this project; they may not have been the ones to criticize for that. But, just because the people in front of you, in my own opinion, are not the ones who made the decision the criticisms should still be delivered as if they were.

This is similar to the Torrey Pine issue that came before the OBPB. When the time came for the City to reverse its decision, the two people who were there the previous month didn’t show up and I’m sure the criticisms were muted because the person who did show up wasn’t them.

The damage in this situation is palpable. If the work had bid last year, as it should have, or even now, the City would have gotten the best pricing possible considering the competition. In times of a good economy, there are five or six bidders for most City projects because most contractors don’t like public work. These regular bidders specialize in public works. When the economy goes in the tank, you will see double or triple the number of bidders because public work often continues during a down economy. Only four proposers for this project was ridiculous. If the economy improves by September, it will cost more. This was a real missed opportunity.


dave rice February 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Frank – great follow-up piece, thanks for picking up my slack. The only thing I have to comment on is regarding build date – the city claims the old structure was opened in 1964, which is why I’ve claimed that date…you were here with boots on the ground, so you’re more in a place to know. In 1964 my mom had Beatlemania, my dad was surfing rocky breaks in Rhode Island, and I was better than a decade and a half from even being the nightmare teenagers dread.


thinking out loud February 4, 2011 at 8:48 am

This whole thing is a joke. It was joke months ago. It is a joke now.
I will ask the question again just like I asked months ago.
1. What fantastic City worker/employee/management team or Big Wig Suit was asleep at the wheel to let this building deteriorate the way it did ? He /they should be fired.
In private practice you are held accountable. With the city they pass the buck plain and simple. Everybody points at everybody else.
2. EVERYTHING HINGES HERE ..In July 2009: A worker discovers ” concrete breaking from ceiling” and ” a engineer determined the structure had to be shut down” With the plethora of Full Service Restoration Contractors in San Diego you cannot convince me that some concrete restoration could have been done to make the building safe for a year or two. The plumbing and electrical could have been reworked ” IF” needed. I will assure you that Contractors would have come out of the woodwork to do some temporary retrofitting to keep the structure open UNTIL the new building was ready to be built.
3. How did the building go from being used everyday …TO CONDEMNED …Typical knew jerk reaction by the City. Yes it was in bad shape….BUT come on its a bathroom. Do some repair and keep it open.
4. Final question if somebody can answer this. Did the City consult with anyone else : Restoration Contractors for instance before tearing the building down? And who is the Einstein Engineer who decided the building should be razed ? The City may have felt the building was beyond repair but rest assured Contractors who specialize at this type of work could have kept that building open AND safe for several years. They chip out the spalling concrete use a high tensile strength patching compound and its done ….inspect the wiring , replace a few plumbing fixtures and your good to go for several years, would it have been perfect and new NO but it would work for a beach bathroom. Then have the property inspected every several months for any issues. BUT NO they tear it down and haul it to the dump, with no money to replace it. REAL Smart. I know they/city could have spent 10-20k on some temp repairs to keep the thing open for a few years.
As far as the NEW bid process and contractors.I worked extensively with the City /Feds for 3 years good luck on this one. It will be 2 more years before they get a revised RFP.
It’s a big fat joke being played on the OB Community.


OB DUDE February 4, 2011 at 9:46 am

Thinking Out Loud….you are needed on the OB Planning Board…..or better yet our next council person. You make sense, no nonsense, no excuses and a have a take charge approach.

San Diego is “America’s Finest City” and one of the largest in the USA ….they are no contractors out there to build a bathroom? Then open up the bids to Mexican contractors and let’s get the work done and for a reasonable price. Design build blah blah blah…there should be one basic design for public beach bathrooms which are preapproved by city’s development division and all that is needed except for someone to give a quote for the cost to build. If city employees are making the process complicated then they need to be fired. They are costing the taxpayer time and money….both of which we do not have enough of.

Come on now….it’s just a bathroom!


Geoff Page February 4, 2011 at 10:29 am

I actually pointed out that it would be easy to temporarily shore up the ceiling but got no response before they tore the structures down.

The enginner that condemned the structure was from Parks and Recreation if I was correctly informed. You are right, the building could have remained functional until the new one was ready to be built. The first task for new construction should have been to demolish the old building.


dave rice February 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm

I believe much of the money for the build was based on receiving ’emergency funding’ – had the old restroom remained functional, it wouldn’t have been classified as an emergency. Though the way they’re treating this situation makes me wonder about that designation – if the bathroom was on fire, would you wait three years to send an emergency fire crew?


Geoff Page February 4, 2011 at 4:29 pm


The City uses emergency funding to do things like removing hazardous conditions, like buildings falling down or trees falling over. They don’t use emergency funds to build something unless it is critical to the public’s use usually meaning safety. The restrooms would never qualify for emergency funding. They did have enough money, however, to tear it down on this basis.


Frank Gormlie February 4, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Geoff, thanks for the link to your earlier article, as I had not seen that.

There are so many side issues to this crappy predicament, that if I wasn’t so pissed off about it, I would certainly be bemused.

We could look at this as symbolic of the break-down of government in general, or as I suggest here – a symptom of the dysfunctional City of San Diego and the establishment prejudice towards Ocean Beach.

Or we could view it as simply a bunch of errors compounded which results in north OB, which serves hundreds of thousands in the Summer months, not having adequate public restrooms, sinks, and showers. This “break-down” then adds special strain onto the other public restrooms at the beach – restrooms that are wholly inadequate in and of themselves. There are no other public “comfort stations” in and around downtown OB. There is the one free shower over at the main lifeguard station.

Public facilities in OB are just not sufficient for all the folks here, all the residents, tourists, homeless, bar and restaurant patrons, – did I say tourists – that need them. It’s kind of embarrassing, but it’s the reality. This blog has been railing about this inadequacy for awhile.


Geoff Page February 4, 2011 at 4:35 pm


I agree with your second paragraph entirely. One thing I want to point out is that they left the two outside showers standing, those were not demolished. There is no place to change of course, no running water to wash hands with either, which is a violation of the health code. Wherever sanitary facilities are provided, there must be hot and cold running water. The trailer they promised would have provided that.

All of these day to day necessary things for the general public are suffering and being ignored while the elected officials look skyward and dream of stadiums, city halls, and a giant library. That’s where the money is. How many developers and big contractors care about an 1100 square foot comfort station in OB, the land of hippies and bikers? None.


Sarah February 5, 2011 at 9:53 am

But Frank, have you forgotten? There are plenty of bathrooms here for “us”. There always have been!

If we build bathrooms we’ll just have more homeless people. Everyone knows that!


bodysurferbob February 4, 2011 at 2:20 pm

this is a sh*tty development. but look on the bright side: porta-johns can be fun places to hang out in. you can get away with smoking a cigarette or something else, even take a gulp of booze. you can even take a short nap. why? because you’re all alone in a porta-john, unlike most of the bathrooms that the city has built at the beach.


RB February 4, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Too bad the project wasn’t shovel ready. The Fed’s just spent a trillion on stimulus projects. It would have been nice if OB would have gotten a restroom.


ss February 4, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I still think it is a perfect candidate for design build. The project is just not that tough especially if the city assists in the permitting process, which is probably the toughest part I would agree whole heartedly that the city construction/contracting method is very dysfunctional. One of the problems is that the Project Managers, those responsible for the project, don’t have the authority or lack the huevos to raise hell with the other depts. that affect the award of the contract. That will stop any upward mobility in city ranks. Granted the whole thing should serve as a great embarrassment and that itself should stop upward mobility. Your right to say the 1st order of work should have been demo especially if the sewage was still making it o the sewer. The whole process as a DB project should have taken no longer than 5 mths from NTP to completion. A Design Bid Build (DBB) would have taken a bit longer and cost more because of design review etc. Permitting is the key with both methods in this case.
Bad planning on the PM part and Parks & Rec’s call on closing it down instead of even an open roof restroom. Public Work bids through out the SW been coming in way below estimates.
I still want to know just would the low bid guys didn’t do and why wasn’t just rebid right away.


Geoff Page February 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm


We can agree to disagree on this point. I’m very familiar with the DB process, and as a small contractor myself, I would not have touched this project. The proposal process is a real pain in the ass for starters and if you have never done one, as most contractors capable of doing this work probably haven’t, it is a daunting task. But what makes it really discouraging is the decsion on who gets the work is subjective. The proposals are reviewed and ranked using a point system and the low bidder is not guarenteed to get the work. The reviewers consist of a panel of people who read the proposals and rank them. The proposer’s experience performing DB, the experience and quality of the proposer’s staff, the “construction strategy,” and a a lot of factors other than pricing are considered. What kind of strategy do you need to build an 1100 square foot structure like this? This was a 121 page RFP. Take a look at attachment B and you will get an idea. There is also a clause in there that states the City is not obligated to award the work to anyone. This was too small a project for DB and entirely too much work for contractors.


thinking out loud February 5, 2011 at 11:35 am

Having dealt with the City and Federal projects, I can say this. The same bunch of contractors bid the projects. A small time contractor bids the 50k- 200k …..medium size contractors 150k – 500k and so on…..
The team that looks at the bids/proposals for the city knows the contractor pool VERY VERY well and believe it or not they have favorites !!! They know who the A holes are and they also know the contractor who simply ” makes problems go away” The City loves this contractor because it make the job run smooth. That contractor is also privy to lots of inside information . I have seen it a hundred times. Its a big scam….They put out the bid and they already know whose going to come in at what figure plus or minus 10% ….The City contractors pool is a big scam…..same contractors get 90% of the work BECAUSE they know the system and the ins n outs of the scam……For this project NOT to be let out to bid tells me something fishy is up !! City has made it hard to build that way they keep the $$$ in the account….After all its just OB !


Geoff Page February 6, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Thinking out loud,

It is true that, usually, the same bunch of contractors bid City work because they decided to specialize in it at one time. There are contractors who specialize in Navy work, or county work, or other agency work. This has nothing to do with having inside information or favoritism, the low bidder gets the work. Contractors have to learn how to manage each agency’s work, all have a bunch of different paperwork and other requirements. During a good economy, this group stays pretty constant. During slow times, the bidding rolls swell dramatically as it is the only game in town. But, this is for hard dollar bids, not design-build proposals.

I’m convinced the City has been stalling all along. They had several public hearings, from what I learned from the Ocean Beach Planning Board, to decide on a design. Apparently, some folks did not want just another utilitarian beach bathroom. That process added a lot of time to the schedule. I think the money to replace the bathroom was used for something else. I think the City also believed, incorrectly, that they could have the design and construction cost less this way and they were wrong. When you use design-build, you place almost all of the risk on the design-builder and risk costs money as the proposal prices showed.


dave rice February 6, 2011 at 2:58 pm

While the design process for the new structure admittedly did add time to the project, I did sit in on a couple of the presentations at OBPB, including the one where they unanimously agreed to support the approved design last July. The plan at that point would’ve included a call for bids and for work to be completed before the May coastal construction moratorium kicked in. It would seem 10 months would be sufficient for this process to occur.

I’ll also add my support to the notion that the city’s RFPs are unnecessarily cumbersome and thus likely scare off a lot of otherwise suitable contractors that would take part in the building, and add significant time and cost in addressing all the minutiae they contain for those outfits that are equipped to handle preparing such complex proposals.


Geoff Page February 6, 2011 at 6:13 pm

I was not being critical of the citizen review process but it can be a way to drag out the process, because the design can’t proceed until the aesthetics have been decided on. Once the decision was final in July, if the City had proceeded with the architect that did the architectural drawings, the design documents could have been done by bid time. But they didn’t do that. Nor did they go after the Coastal permit in a timely manner.

Your comment on how complicated the City’s RFPs are has me a little puzzled, wondering if we are talking apples and apples or apples and oranges. Perhaps, I haven’t understood you comment. The City’s usual bid packages can be complicated enough but they are not called RFPs. A Request for Proposals is an entirely different animal and far more complicated than a regular b id package. Not only are the small contractors not equipped to prepare these RFPs, probably none have ever had to do one. C0mpanies with this experience would have no interest in such a small project. The City doesn’t understand the process. They have a design-build RFP out now to reseal the windows at the Police Station. That makes absolutely no sense at all.


dave rice February 7, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Okay, color me confused. I wasn’t aware there was a simpler bid format for most city work. What I have seen in the small handful of Request For Proposals I’ve reviewed are numerous barriers to doing business that would stop a lot of contractors from bidding jobs – I didn’t read this RFP thoroughly, but one I did read regarding the installation of a closed-circuit surveillance system around the jetty called for (among a handful of other ridiculous items) the approved contractor to have in place an auto insurance policy covering all city employees and elected officials. Why would an elected official need to be on the auto policy of a contractor?


Geoff Page February 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm


If you go here, you will see the City’s bid site. There is a link to their E-Bid Board that lists the conventional design-bid-build projects. There is another link to RFPs and RFQs, which are Requests for Proposals or Requests for Qualifications, very different than conventional bidding.

I’ve never heard of a bid requiring a contractor to have automobile insurance for city employees and I doubt any insurance carrier would do that because auto insurance is dependent on the driving records of those insured. There is something called “Additional Insured.” Most owners require they and their employees be named as additiona insureds for both automobile and liability insurance. This doesn’t mean the contractor is insuring them. It means, in the event of an accident, the contractor’s insurance takes primary position in the defense and possible pay off and the plaintiff can only come after the owner if the contractor’s insurance limit is exceeded.


just my 2 cents February 7, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Well having been in this loop for years the answer is …IF a city worker EVER got in a contractors car or truck for ANY reason and something happened they want 2 mil in coverage. At least it USED to be 2 mil it could be more now…Its a mess trust me….
This is strictly CYA….


Geoff Page February 7, 2011 at 4:49 pm

The “additional insured” requirement is actually different. If there was an accident with a contractor vehicle and someone sued for damages, the project owner will always be one of those in the sights for liability. This is based on the idea “But for” the owner wanting a project built, the accident never would have happened. The addiitonal insured provision just puts the contractor’s insurer in the position of paying for the claim defense and paying damages first. If the accident is serious enough, the plaintiff can still come after the owner. This is standard stuff for construction contracts.


Unwashed Walmart Thong February 4, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Somebody in gummint suggested spending $480 k on 1100 sq. ft. of bathroom?! That comes to about $436.00 per square foot! One could have a rather nice house in most parts of San Diego for that price. Before the structure was demo’d, they could have sandblasted the place then shotcreted the whole thing for dirt cheap. Run the electrical conduits, upgrade the water lines, run the ADA sidewalk & railing, & yer done. Now, they could, if they wuzza thinkin’, use some tilt-up walls & roof. You could bring them in on a truck & bolt them down to a slab. Water & electrical conduits could be pre-installed before the concrete is poured. Someone, somewhere in City Hall just doesn’t have any brains.


Unwashed Walmart Thong February 4, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Yinz ought to check this out. All you gotta do is googletype “prefab public restrooms” & you can almost have one DELIVERED in about a week. CXT Concrete Buildings.
Check out American Restroom if you want some info on this socially important subject. Look at for some nice block buildings. Beware though, Romtec used that fancy, high end split faced block to build a facility! San Diego couldn’t afford that stuff, now could it? I won’t be their bird dog anymore. Someone grab a councilmember & make them googletype something pertaining to this deficiency in their thought patterns.


Unwashed Walmart Thong February 4, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Check out the Romtec website. You can buy a tilt up w/ SIPS, seismic rating, hurricane rating, & I could have one delivered by Monday February 6th had I the money! Here’s an example of how the govorporation could work to the people’s advantage. If the jerks in all the city halls across the nation want to privatize everything, well, they could have had this bathroom done in no time (figurative language). I’d like to comment further, but I have to use the restroom. Ciao.


OB DUDE February 4, 2011 at 9:06 pm

I almost SH*T my pants when I checked out the price list….hell, we could get 4 of these and put them up and down our beachs

Faulconer, you pay your staff salaries great than yours….do you think any one of them might be able to take the ball and run with a prefab? Somebody needs to turn this city upside down and inside out!

Thong you rock!


dave rice February 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm

While I like this guy’s posts, I just want to nominate him for Best Interweb Pseudonym of 2011…


micaela shafer-porte February 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm

how amusing y’all, because it seems that now the PB planning board and the city are suddenly trying to push through a $415,000 4 stall public bathroom re-construction of an existing 4-stall bathroom on Palisades Park ( that’s Law St. in PB for the locals)without informing the neighborhood… that’s $100,000 per toilet stall, folks! This was okayed by the PB Planning Board last week, see Beach and Bay Press Feb 4, 2011,
Local residents and beach goers are surprised and dismayed at the potential of interminable public works on an envirnomentally fragile bluff with ridiculous over-developed designs, completely unfamiliar with the problems of coastal construction, public beach bathrooms, security, etc…
May we use your problem of getting attention from the city for your public comfort station to deflect the city from ripping apart our bluff for unnecessary and extemely expensive construction?
Considering that we’re broke, why re-model the Law St. bathroom at this time? Good luck on your project! micaela shafer-porte, with local residents of north PB.


Frank Gormlie February 6, 2011 at 10:36 am

Ugh! but thanks for sharing MSP. If you know of anyone who could put together an article about t his, we’d publish it. Contact us at our email address:


OB Dude February 7, 2011 at 5:28 pm

“In order to provide some restrooms for the public, the City has set up two rows of 10 portable toilets, and the city is leasing them for $1,341 per month.”

Now I wonder, does it even make any financial sense to build a permanent structure? 10 toilets that I assume get cleaned and stocked by the lessee at $1,341 per month or $16,092 per year is a money saver. It doesn’t make any sense to spend $500,000 on a comfort station when $500,000 will buy 31 years of port-o-potties.

If people don’t like the port-o-potties then don’t come to the beach or ride your bike home and use your own bathroom or just stay a few hours and leave before you have to do your business.

We all use port-o-potties. We use them at fairs, over-the-line, concerts, swap meet etc.


Geoff Page February 8, 2011 at 10:20 am

OB Dude,

Never trust the City to provide correct cost information. The average cost of one stall is $100 to $225 per month for 10 people cleaned weekly. There is much more traffic at this site and they are cleaned daily, I can attest to that as I use them on occasion when jogging early in the morning and they are newly cleaned. I suspect it is costing more than they said.

More importantly, this City depends on tourism, like it or not. Not everyone who comes to OB lives within a bike ride of the beach and we don’t want to tell people to jsut stay home. OB needs the tourism business for the merchants to survive. Newport Avenue is what makes OB unique and desirable. A fenced off wreck of a building at the beach, with a whole bunch of portable toilets is not the face the City should be presenting the tourists who contribute greatly to the economy. I doubt that anyone would want to have to look at port-a-potties for 30 years.


OB Dude February 8, 2011 at 10:45 am

No, I am no trusting of the city but I am just quoting what is in this article. If you have information on what the city is actually paying, please share.

As for “The average cost of one stall is $100 to $225 per month for 10 people cleaned weekly.” No entiendo lo que quieres decir – still is cheaper than the proposed. All the tourists that visit the bars and bathrooms on Newport can use the facilities of these businesses. A nice pretty building is NICE but certainly not a nessisity. The city COULD tastefully put up port-o-potties and get rid of the fencing.

I guess my main issue on this item is the crazy proposed cost of the a comfort station and the waste of our tax dollars. There are other alternatives available, somebody has to pursue them. Maybe the city needs to do a study on this issue?

A porto is better than nothing? NO?


Geoff Page February 8, 2011 at 2:13 pm

OB Dude,

The pricing I was quoting was for one stall for only ten people cleaned weekly. Tha cost came out about to what the City said it was paying, but those stalls serve many more than 10 people and are cleaned daily. The clear implication is that the $1,341 per month was low.

The tourists who frequent the beaches during the summer and the rest of the year can’t easily use the restrooms in the bars and restaurants unless they are patronizing those businesses. Rightfully so, the businesses are not providing public restrooms, they are providing facilities for their patrons. Restroom designs take into account the traffic of a particular business and provide accordingly; these designs do not account for an unknown amout of public access.

I do agree wholeheartedly with you and others about the cost. They do need to look at alternatives or at least explain why it will cost so much. I was amazed when I heard that a year and a half ago. I sympathize with OB wanting a pleasing look structure and that still could be achieveable at a smaller price tag.


portable toilet guy February 8, 2011 at 5:50 am

OB Dude I love you! How’s about you come over to the UK and spread the word about how cost effective portable toilets are? :)


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