Open Letter to Mayor Filner From the OB Planning Board on Variances Granted for West Point Loma Ave.

by on December 7, 2012 · 10 comments

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

A view of part of the 5100 block of West Point Loma Ave.

Dear Mayor Filner,

This letter is submitted on behalf of the Ocean Beach Planning Board in regard to the ongoing issues between the City and the Ocean Beach community involving the multiple variances granted on West Point Loma Avenue in Ocean Beach.  The block in question was purposely zoned under the Ocean Beach Precise Plan to be consistent with the rest of the Ocean Beach community.

The Stebbins residence, on the left, was built after City staff granted them multiple variances in violation of the OB Precise Plan.

The City has made the community aware that it disagrees with this aspect of the Ocean Beach Precise Plan.  However, the Ocean Beach Precise Plan was created democratically under the processes put in place to ensure transparency, equality, and community participation.

It is the application of the zoning regulations that have allowed the Ocean beach community to preserve the unique “character” touted on the City’s own website, “Ocean Beach is a small community that celebrates individuality and creativity in its preservation as a traditional Southern California beach town”. The City has benefited economically from the tourism draw of the Ocean Beach community.  It is this uniqueness that is now in jeopardy by the continued variances.

City staff is now attempting to rezone an area of Ocean Beach through repeated variances without going through the required official channels.  Against the recommendation of the Ocean Beach Planning Board, the City has approved multiple variances on one specific block of West Point Loma Avenue.

The variance requirement for a “unique hardship” clearly has not been met; there is nothing unique in Ocean Beach about these lots since we have hundreds of such lots.  In addition, Planning Commissioners have repeatedly overlooked the community by ignoring the recommendations of the elected Ocean Beach Planning Board.

Staff and Commissioners have relied on precedent variances to grant new variances to homes being constructed (even when advised by the City attorney not to take past considerations into account).  Commissioners have also repeatedly informed the Ocean Beach Planning Board that the variances are being granted because they do not think the zoning for this block is correct and have suggested that the Board reconsider the issue.

We are writing today to ask specifically for that opportunity.  Although we continue to disagree with the findings of the City, we have accepted that fact that we are powerless to stop the variances that staff have very directly told us will continue to be granted.  In light of this, we are asking that the Ocean Beach Planning Board have the opportunity to work with City staff to reconsider the zoning for this very specific block in Ocean Beach. 

We are specifically requesting an immediate moratorium on variances for this area while the city and the community work together to solve the zoning problem (as recommended by the Commission).


(signed) Jane D Gawronski, PhD
Chair, Ocean Beach Planning Board

The 5100 block of West Pt Loma Ave.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Seth December 7, 2012 at 2:33 pm

That is as eloquently as you are going to hear it put. Great job, Jane.

This needs to be fixed and clarified for all. If the homeowners were to sue based upon an infringement of their property rights/values that was inequitable relative to others in their zone, and a citizen’s group were to sue over the blatant misuse and abuse of the variance process to skirt the existing code of said zone, I think it is quite possible, and perhaps rather likely, that the City would lose both cases.


Judy Swink December 9, 2012 at 9:53 am

Can someone tell me when these duplexes(?) were built? Are they each owned separately or some of them owned as a group? This collection of matching buildings (except for the one that got away) is surely a clear illustration of the unique character of Ocean Beach.

There also are some across W. Pt. Loma Blvd. although many have been modified to some extent or another. I can’t help wondering if, as a group, they would qualify for some sort of City historic designation. I’m sure not all of the owners would support designation but perhaps some would?


Judy Swink December 9, 2012 at 10:05 am

On the subject of DSD, Planning Commission and variances, let’s hope that Mayor Filner will reestablish the Planning Dept. and consider carefully who he appoints to the Planning Commission as terms expire. Sadly, the one I most believe needs to be replaced is relatively new on the commission…. He’s the one who led the majority decision in Dec. 2010 to declare that a non-conforming development in the North City Prop. A lands was consistent with a use allowed prior to Nov. 1985, when Prop. A was approved by voters, so would not require a General Plan amendment/public vote.

I think we’ve scotched that and the property owner will have to proceed with a public vote if he wants to insert a dense development in the San Dieguito River Valley but it’s one more example of how Sanders’ administration rewrote or ignored the rules – remember when they tried to argue that the coastal height limitation was subordinate to the State law on density bonuses to spur affordable housing? That didn’t fly either but it was a pain to push back on it. I’ve little doubt there are numerous examples that could be compiled.


Sean M December 9, 2012 at 10:38 am

The Ocean Beach Planning Board has done a great job of ensuring that properties in OB continue to look like run down eyesores. The Stebbins property looks nice, much nicer than the neighbors. Not sure what Jane has to complain about and wonder what concessions Jane and the OBPB tried to extort.


Seth December 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm

It’s extortion to try to get the City to enforce its own code? That’s your claim? And that it is the OBPB who is making these people go through an expensive and time-consuming variance process, for which they do not receive a dime? Are they they ones who purchased these lots of substandard size with no alley access, in some cases even after the 0.70 FAR limit was adopted? Are the OBPB the ones who won’t allow them to build subterranean parking garages in a floodplain?

The OBPB has nothing to do with any of that, and my bias notwithstanding, they are not the bad guys here. They are just trying to help preserve the character of this place and get the City to enforce its own rules.

Three points here:

1. Right now, any of these homeowners are perfectly entitled to build a 1,750 sqft structure of which 1,300+ sqft would be habitable space (as in, not including a garage). No variance needed. That’s not too shabby, especially when you own a lot the size of a postage stamp.

2. While I think the City was motivated more by liability than revenue in terms of how this began, we are heading down a path where the City is essentially allowing these homeowners to buy their way out of the FAR rule, in order get another 450 sqft or so of habitable space. In any other context, this would be known as a bribe. And it is the OBPB that is extorting these homeowners? Just want to be clear that this is your take here.

3. If you had actually *read her letter*, you would have noted that Jane was calling on the Mayor to facilitate the OBPB meeting with City staff to seek a solution to this issue, and this nonsense status quo. Perhaps this meeting would even result in this block getting rezoned someday soon, actually making it easier for these homeowners to build on their properties, as opposed to making them go through a cumbersome and expensive variance process that is currently being abused six ways to Sunday.


Sean M December 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Surprised the NIMBY OBPB allowed development of private property without requiring an easement for a community garden, a dog park or a $100k contribution to the community.

Thanks for the explanation of the rule though.

I did overstate my point, but I stand by my assertion that much of the “war zone” properties are eyesores and that the OBPB does the community a disservice by stifling their renovation to meet the subjective goal of maintaining that “unique character.” Must be maddening for a property owners to sink expenses into planning and be subject to the caprice of the OBPB.


Seth December 11, 2012 at 12:36 am

Well… just spent 4 years on the OBPB and nothing you just said describes the board that I was on in any way, nor the people I served on it with. While I wasn’t on the board at the time of the vote, I believe that there was something like a 5-5 vote on the Stebbins proposal that had underground parking, which was probably a pretty bad idea in a documented floodplain — which is why it got nixed by the City Council, as far as I understand it.

Truth is, the OBPB doesn’t obstruct anything. They are an advisory board that the City overrules on appeal pretty much 100% of the time. At most, these votes against merely delay projects by a month or two, which is just a very small part of the red tape they face during the development process. My take would be that 90% of the people at the City don’t care about you or OB, and neither do most of these homeowners. That’s their right, just call it what it is. Your only voice in most of this, whether it is supporting property rights or opposing medicinal marijuana dispensaries or adult book stores opening a block from your house, is the OBPB. You don’t like the people on the board, vote in new ones. Or better yet, run yourself and protect OB from NIMBYs.

Bottom line, there is a way for North OB properties to be improved within a bulk and scale that is both fair to homeowners and the community at large, and compliant with code.

Just my two cents.


OB law(yer) December 12, 2012 at 9:39 am

my comments directed at Mr Sean….not Mr Seth…..darn technology….stilll cant figure out where to click when I comment.

Mr. Seth is correct though Mr Sean — please step up and run on the platform of ANTI-local, anti-community servants, anti-the-anti-builders and prove you have an electable constituency.

I’ll gamble that you don’t. Good day sir.


OB law(yer) December 12, 2012 at 9:36 am

Agina sir… should probably look into the facts before running your mouth and proving your ignorance.

Ms Judy is actually correct….those duplexes are over 45 years old and indeed that triggers historical review by the city’s HRB.

Now…Id on’t believe that anyone is rushing in to save examples of the 1950’s era Shipfront Duplex (look it up) but simply put – it is required.

Sounds as if the only party asking for concessions were the applicants who were trying to circumvent both the land development law and also the flood development code laws…. and they got greedy.

I’m sure we will see them again….with a modified approach to again dodge the law and build a better mousetrap.


John December 11, 2012 at 7:46 am

If you want to be fair about this the moratorium should begin after giving the same variance to 5168 that has already been granted to 5164, 5166, and 5170. Not just from a fairness point of view but from an aesthetic and symmetry aspect as well.
Think hillbillies missing half of one of their four front teeth, and not on the end.
Really, as I posted in the other thread, this one is backing down because he isn’t looking for a knock down drag out fight. Is it right that means he doesn’t get what the others did?


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