OB Planning Area District 5: the Cliffs at Ocean Beach

by on February 28, 2014 · 10 comments

in Culture, Election, Environment, History, Ocean Beach

OB District 5 mapIn our continuing series of looking at each of the seven planning districts in Ocean Beach, we come to District 5 in southwestern OB.  (Here is a map of all these districts within the Ocean Beach Planning Area. )

The OB Rag is performing this public education service as the OB Planning Board is having its annual election on March 11th.  And we feel that development issues are coming to the fore once again in OB’s history, as funds bottled up during the Great Recession are being unleashed and the village is facing multiple pressures – and in fact, is at a development crossroads.   (Here are our views of District 1, District 2 , District 3, District 4. Here’s why it’s important.)

OB Dist 5 clifrocpierstairDistrict 5 – the Cliffs at Ocean Beach

The fifth district within OB is the smallest district geographically, but because it hugs the gorgeous Sunset Cliffs, it has some of the most stunning views of sunsets, the coast, the surf, and provides an aura of solitude at those cliffs.

OB Dist 5 BaconNorOnly about two blocks deep from the cliffs, the district includes approximately 8 blocks of residences – and is one of the most highly impacted areas of OB in terms of density. Mainly residential, with many apartments, the district does include those businesses along Niagara Avenue and along Bacon and Cable Streets.

The district’s boundaries include the alley between Newport and Niagara on the north side, Cable Street on the east side, the alley between Coronado and Del Mar Avenues on the south side, and of course, the Cliffs on its western edge. Niagara, Narragansett, Del Monte, Santa Cruz and Coronado avenues all traverse the area east and west, with Bacon and Cable interrupting the blocks of small houses and apartments with their north-south directions.

OB Dist 5 Apts 01High Density

Due to the many apartments in the district, it has some of the highest density within the Village of OB. Along with the apartments come traffic congestion, curb cuts and parking issues.  A number of large apartment complexes have been built right along the top of the cliffs, adding not only to the crowding but also stressing out the fragile cliffs themselves.

Other issues include those historic issues associated with the lack of public access to California’s coast, as many of the blocks along the cliffs are walled off due to all the buildings constructed right off the edges of the cliffs.  Scenic views of the ocean are prevented when this occurs.   This district suffered horribly during the late Sixties and early Seventies as developers went crazy installing massive complexes during a period of unbridled construction – before the days of height limits and planning committees.

OB Dist 5 AptsClifIn fact, it was the building of apartments on the cliffs in this district that led to galvanizing the community to fight for more access to the ocean, more limits on development and on building heights, and to the creation of the OB Planning Board in the mid-1970’s.  The planning crisis of the early Seventies was one of the key issues that challenged not only OB but the entire Southern California coast.  One of the results was the  passage of the popular grassroots initiative of the 30 foot height limit.

Local residents have been grappling with the increased density by putting pressure on the city to install more and more stop signs at intersections within the district.  How many stop signs residents will go along with has yet to be seen.

OB Dist 5 mixaptcotg 02In the meantime, the area continues with a mix of cottages, small homes, new large 3 story rehabs, and the many apartments built over the decades.

Saving Sunset Cliffs

Saving these beautiful cliffs has always been a community goal.  But the tension between individual property owners who have their homes or condos along the cliffs and those others within the community who wish to keep the cliffs pristine and “natural” has always been there. At times, it has been submerged. At other times, it comes roaring out and pressure is applied to the City to do something about the erosion of the cliffs.  Usually the City responds by dropping massive boulders and rocks over the side in an unwitting attempt to halt the slide into dust and water.

OB Dist 5 CoronaRocsAt other times, the property owners take matters into their own hands and construct their own barricades to the water, often putting in ugly concrete or blocks to shore up the cliff sides.   Lately, there is a consciousness raising that views this type of abatement as overly extensive and goes against the tide of public opinion.  Many believe that Sunset Cliffs is a natural resource for the entire community – not to mention the rest of San Diego – to enjoy, and any alteration of their naked state is an insult against nature.

OB Dist 5 PockBeachThe Cliffs provide other challenges too; they are marked up with graffiti and people cutting into the hard sandstone, plus the trash and cigarette butts left behind.

OB Dist 5 PathRocbeacOn a more positive side, along the cliffs are some of the most enjoyable pocket beaches in OB.

OB Dist 5 ClifBeachsThe rocks and beaches just off Santa Cruz Avenue provide some of the best areas to get away from the crowds over at Newport’s sandy stretches.OB Dist 5 bikealleySign

Also, there is OB’s great “Alley Bike Tour” through the back streets and allies of the district – a tour that takes you parallel to the cliffs.

The district does include the OB Pier (but not the Pier parking lot).

OB Dist 5 pier

OB Dist 5 outeat

Patrons enjoy outside seating at Raglan along Niagara.

Businesses in the District

As noted, District 5 has some businesses as the commercial overflow from Newport has strengthened the influx of merchants on the connecting streets.

OB Dist 5 UnionBkFrom Union Bank down Niagara to the restaurants that dominate the intersection with Bacon, there has been a noticeable uptick of pedestrian traffic and use of those eateries by locals.

OB Dist 5 Po n Na

OB’s oldest restaurants: Poma’s on the left and Nati’s across the street on the right.

That intersection of Bacon and Niagara has restaurants at all four corners, including two of the most venerable places in OB: Poma’s and Nati’s – both have strong roots that go back many decades. (Nati’s was the very first Mexican restaurant in the entire Peninsula.)

OB Dist 5 NewNoodl

OB Noodle House is expanding here and hope to be open in a couple of weeks.

Yet from the corner to the alley along Bacon has seen a rejuvenation of commercial enterprises that has led to a substantial shoring up of that section of OB’s main business area.

OB Dist 5 BizBacnOutdoor seating has arrived, as restaurant owners and their patrons take back public space. For decades, only Nati’s had outside seating – but now just about every other eatery has installed tables in the sunlight.

 District 5 business area also includes the offices of the OB Mainstreet Association.

Friendly Neighborhood

OB Dist 5 cool sidwlkDistrict 5 is a very friendly neighborhood.

OB Dist 5 tubflws 02Locals have on occasion beautified the sidewalks and other public areas.

Flowers in old bath tubs is a favorite.

Houses in the District

There are many great houses within this district, either old Craftsman homes upgraded or other houses demolished and rehabs taking their place.

Neo-Spanish Revival architecture sits alongside 3-story mansions.

OB Dist 5 SpanHos

OB Dist 5 CraftHos

OB Dist 5 RehabHos

The neighborhood remains very mixed however.

OB Dist 5 mixaptcotg 02

OB Dist 5 lrg Hse 01

A number of new large homes have been built, including this 3-story that looks way out of place. Certainly does not conform to bulk and scale of the immediate neighborhood.

OB Dist 5 LrgCondos

These condos wiped out a local neighborhood volley ball area when built. Notice the under-grounding of the garages – and this complex is but a few yards from the cliffs.

The Santa Cruz House

OB Dist 5 SantaCrz 01Once in a while, a housing developer constructs something out of the ordinary. On the 4900 block of Santa Cruz Avenue stands such a wonder.  When originally built, this two-story building consisted of 3 different architectural styles – each painted a different pastel color.  Mike – the current resident of the front unit – allowed me inside to take photos of the house’s curiosities and landmarks.

OB Dist 5 SantaCrz 05Ceiling downstairs.

OB Dist 5 SantaCrz 03

The disappearing hallway -notice how it narrows as it approaches the door.

OB Dist 5 SantaCrz 06

The builder certainly had fun constructing the interior. Look at this front door.

OB Dist 5 SantaCrz 02

Back of building. The stairs lead up to the 2nd unit.

Planning Board Reps

As with each of the districts, District 5 has two representatives on the OB Planning Board.  They include Gio Ingolia – who is being termed out on the Board but who was just appointed to the prestigious Mission Bay Park Committee – and Bill Bushe, a retired lawyer who has been on the Board nearly 4 years.  Ingolia’s seat is up for grabs at the upcoming election on the 11th of March.   There will be a candidate forum as well on March 5th at the Board’s monthly meeting up at the OB Rec Center.

 Photo Gallery

Join me in a walk around the district, taking in the sights and contradictions.

OB Dist 5 stairs

 OB Dist 5 Stairs02

OB Dist 5 oldapts

New paint on one of OB’s oldest standing apartments.

OB Dist 5 lrgHos

Another house along Bacon that does not match neighborhood standards.

OB Dist 5 OBMAofc

The offices of the OB Mainstreet Association.

OB Dist 5 DelMonbenchclif

Foot of Del Monte Ave allows for some scenic viewing. Cost: Priceless.

  OB Dist 5 mixaptcotg 01OB Dist 5 lrgHssClif 02OB Dist 5 benchCoronaOB Dist 5 clifaptOB Dist 5 alleyclif

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

I.b.long February 28, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Great article that is interesting and informative. The excellent pictures add needed context. Quality work. Thank you.


Frank Gormlie February 28, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Unbelievably, OB was sunny – while for a change, the rest of the county was overcast this day. Great day for photos!


john February 28, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Thanks OB Rag!

Although I don’t like the “rag” denomer as that kind of self-deprecation might not be appreciated by others, it gives them an easy out (oh its just a hippie rag!).

Keep up the micro neighborhood view(s) news as that is essential for the future of news.

Big media is lost and twirled off into a sad politico-noosphere that means nothing to anyone (except other corporations, they’re all just paying each other back and forth).

These down to the pavement views will lead you to success, and I want to push OB “rag” (not) to keep going for it and keep it up. Lets learn all about oB neighborhoods and “real” people that live there, and what kinds of forces are afoot. Low to the ground and with details.

Its kind of wild that in such a short period of time we lost so much local news, as the Tribune tanked and became a lame duck “manchester” and then one after the other tanked: La Jolla News, Poway, NC Times, Del Mar … they’ve all manchester’d up and are virtually meaningless (unless I cared about pro football).

Stay local, and you will beat out the Tribune, people will appreciate the authenticity.


Seth February 28, 2014 at 3:53 pm

That out-of-scale Cable and Niagara building was unfortunate. The lot size was substandard enough to justify some degree of variances, but that’s just way too much. Really nice people who own it, but still.


Frank Gormlie February 28, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Thanks Seth – only you can give our readers more details on matters such as these, from all your time spent on the planning board. We sincerely hope you get re-involved.


Seth February 28, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Appreciated, Frank. There are a few others who can elaborate on that one, but essentially, there was a request for something like six variances on that project, mostly related to setbacks, FAR and maybe parking. Roughly a 50′ x 50′ corner lot. My attitude was basically that some of the setback variance requests were valid if the lot size and shape meant that they were not able to build to the same FAR as their neighbors in the same zone, but that there was nothing to support a FAR variance, which ultimately caused me to vote no. Again, super nice people. 3rd or 4th generation OB, and the owner was having his kid and their young family move in with him, so in that sense I don’t hate it – but easily one of the least compliant projects we visited during my tenure. Two other memorable things about that one. A young woman who was either the daughter or the wife of the son was pregnant at the time, and started crying during the meeting. How can you possibly vote no to that? I felt like the Grinch stealing XMas. The architect also had a broken foot and then stormed out on his crutches, which I sympathize with because I have been there, but it was still impossible to take seriously at the time, lol.

Anyhow, great articles. Thanks.


OB Andra February 28, 2014 at 10:52 pm

Frank, I commend you on the very informative articles you have been writing on the OB Planning Board. You have great insight and knowledge of the subject and your pictures are beautiful. As a formerly termed-out Planning Board member, I have learned many things that I hadn’t known. Your articles should be seen by a wider audience. Thanks for all you do.


Frank Gormlie March 2, 2014 at 4:11 pm

There may be older restaurants in OB than Poma’s and Nati’s over on Newport (and I won’t count the Jack-in-box as a restaurant.)


Debra March 3, 2014 at 12:08 pm

I really don’t understand why the architect and owners, on Cable & Niagara, with the (nightmare at Olive Garden)/”Tuscan” monstrosity couldn’t have settled for a design something like the house 2 pics above it–the beautiful, tasteful, colonial with brick and white picket fence. But what do I know…


Katie May 14, 2014 at 12:37 am

Great article.
Although I do think the Cable & Niagra house is a bit over the top in relation to other homes and cottages in the area, I think that calling it a “monstrosity” is extremely uncalled for and quite frankly, rude. Yes, it may not be to your taste, Debra, but keep in mind this is Ocean Beach. Home to many kind people from all walks of life, having respect is required. I think thats important to keep in mind when discussing things like this. Now I am not saying we should allow owners to build “La Jolla” style mansions on every corner, but I think given the circumstances which Seth mentioned earlier, the board made the right decision. I love OB and just want what is best for the enviroment and the community.


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