Dangerous Cave at Foot of Orchard in Ocean Beach Allowed to Exist

by on September 2, 2015 · 12 comments

in California, Environment, Health, History, Homelessness, Ocean Beach

OB Orchard cave sd Frt1OB Rag Demands Immediate Emergency Mitigation of Dangerous Conditions at the Cave

By Frank Gormlie

Based on complaints heard at the most recent Ocean Beach Town Council meeting, the OB Rag sent a small investigative team out to the end of Orchard Avenue to check into reports that a cave with dimensions of 30 feet by 30 feet existed in the coastal bluff.


Condos on cliffs near the end of Orchard Avenue.

My associate, Shawn Drake, and myself set out on an overcast Tuesday with cameras in hand to investigate just what was there, who – if anyone – was there, just how dangerous the cave or caves were, and if the condos above were in danger themselves.

What we found was both disturbing and partially reassuring.

Yes, there is a cave there – along the bluffs between the concrete stairs at the foot of Orchard and the steep drive-way that goes nearly to the ocean.  We can definitely confirm there’s one cave.


First view of cave opening while coming down stairs at foot of Orchard. Mouth of cave is directly below 2 palm trees in distance.


Trail from stairs at end of Orchard.

The cave is not 30 by 30 – but has an opening estimated at 10 feet across, with a depth of about 8 feet and a height of also about 8 feet. Shawn Drake is over 6 feet tall and he could stand up inside the cave.


Warning sign greets visitor along trail to cave.

And the cave, although apparently stable, is in a dangerous condition. Due to decades of water, rain and wind, and probably due also to human activity, the sandstone behind the concrete covering (don’t know what else to call it) has eroded enough to provide living space.

It is dangerous because the concrete covering could collapse at any moment. Look at the thickness of it.

We saw bedding material, including a small mattress and several pillows for two people. The cave was not trashy, had a blue rope across to hang stuff, and some trash was stashed in a corner, including a torn-apart suitcase. (See the video.)


Shawn Drake at mouth of cave – with condos above.

The living space inside the cave appeared to be on a sandstone ledge, and the rear wall displayed some bedrock – and more sandstone.  There were no signs of recent digging, however.

OB Orchard cave sd InS1Although any occupants of the cave would be in danger, it did not appear that the condo above was in any immediate danger of collapse (although I am not an engineer).

OB Orchard cave sd InS2The cave is not easily accessible, as one – after going down the stairs – turns south and for a few yards, can traverse flat rocks and concrete, but then in order to go into the cave, must climb up the revetment wall.

OB Orchard cave sd InS5

Ceiling of cave shows roots and blue rope.

Shawn Drake was able to do that and assisted in taking photos and the video, below.

What is disturbing is that this cave is dangerous. And it has been allowed to exist for some time now. Despite months of complaints by local neighbors, the City and any private property owners involved have allowed it to continue in its dangerous state.

The City of San Diego is well aware of the cave. It has been spotlighted in some local TV news, Councilwoman Zapf’s office has received numerous calls on it, a police sergeant at the last OB Town Council meeting told the audience that police and law enforcement agencies have taken over 200 photos of the cave.  The sergeant also stated that police have to treat the cave as any homeless encampment where there are time limits in any noticing.


Side opening on same cave – showing trash.

It has been said that there is a dispute between the police and the Park and Rec Department over just who is supposed to deal with cave. If true, this is unacceptable. This problem and issue has been festering for months.


This shows thickness of concrete covering over cave – how long is its shelf life?

We don’t care who deals with it. Perhaps the Coast Guard and the California Coastal Commission should also get involved in the dispute. But somebody needs to deal with it immediately.  The cave’s concrete could collapse at any time and anyone inside would be seriously injured or even suffer death.

We call upon the City of San Diego to determine who is responsible and immediately engage in EMERGENCY MITIGATION OF THE DANGEROUS CONDITION OF THE CAVE.


Video of Orchard Cave by Shawn Drake

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy Swink September 2, 2015 at 11:32 am

I think a serious concern must be if we have El Nino spawned storms this winter – high waves breaking and washing into the cave could cause further erosion and eventually threaten the condo building above. I’m sure the ‘creation’ of this cave and the area to the south of it (see “First view of cave opening…” photo) where the concrete down the slope also has broken were due largely to storm-caused damages as well as sub-surface drainage from irrigation; these aren’t the only indications in the photo of damage to the bluff and bluff concrete covering..

This is a perfect example of why trying to “cover” ocean bluffs to protect from erosion is essentially a short-term solution which leads to even longer term problems, especially for those buildings which were allowed to be built so close to the edge of the bluffs.


rocky September 2, 2015 at 11:42 am

the condos should never have been built greed pure greed


rick callejon September 2, 2015 at 11:54 am

Is the cave available as a vacation rental?


Frank Gormlie September 2, 2015 at 12:02 pm

I’m sure Airbnb has already signed them up. Ocean View, room with breeze.


Jane Gawronski September 2, 2015 at 1:34 pm

We received a NORA that the City plans to remove the concrete around the cave thus eliminating the cave. Don’t know the timeline though.


Micporte September 2, 2015 at 1:39 pm

Enjoy it while ye can.


Larry OB September 2, 2015 at 2:38 pm

I looked at google maps, and the property is tagged as Pete Fuentes Vacation Rentals. Maybe that’s just a portion of the units.

We had a little beach at Cable Street back in the day…early seventies for me. Personally I think the fix to this problem should involve a public terrace or viewing ledge.


Sammy September 2, 2015 at 7:21 pm

A Very Good Idea. Big enough for a stage for a band too. !


Suzi More September 3, 2015 at 11:39 am

I remember that, Larry. Lots of us wore “Save the Cliffs” t-shirts and donated money to the campaign to stop the rip rap from being dumped there. There was a billboard-sized sign at the top saying that that area would be restored to its original condition. Then they put the concrete ramp and the riprap. I can’t believe that I DID believe it. No more beautiful little beach.

Frank, thanks for the report.


Frank Gormlie September 3, 2015 at 1:05 pm

The City is moving on the cave – but mitigation is a month away. See : http://obrag.org/?p=98625#.VeioHX2ulX8


Christo September 14, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Nuke the entire site from orbit–it’s the only way to be sure.


Geoff Page September 14, 2015 at 12:13 pm

So, let me see if I understand this. The Rag’s investigation found a cave that us 10 feet across the entrance, about 8 feet deep, and about 8 feet tall inside. 720 cubic feet. 26 cubic yards of volume, about the size of a small bedroom in a house. And the police say they have 200 photos of this cave?! 200 pictures of a space that size? Has anyone seen this giant collection of photos? I don’t believe those pictures exist at all, what the hell would be in 200 pictures? Maybe the Rag can request access to this trove and let us all know what was in them.


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