Sunset Plaza in Ocean Beach Unveiled

by on October 23, 2015 · 10 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach


Sunset Plaza at Voltaire and Sunset Cliffs Blvd.

Leaving a local OB restaurant after dinner the other night, a good friend looked up and exclaimed:

“What’s that building! Is that People’s?”

His shock at the edifice – and immediate reference to the other large building across the intersection – may mirror the reaction of other OBceans and Point Lomans upon their first view of the recent unveiling of Sunset Plaza – the large, 2-storied enterprise at the corner of Sunset Cliffs and Voltaire Street.


Approaching the building from the west along Voltaire.

Now to be fair, this friend lives near the border between south OB and Point Loma and may not venture into the village along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard all that much.

But it’s clear that the Plaza has shed its exterior trappings of scaffolding and mesh curtains for all to see. And it is quite a shock for some to see that box at that corner.


A vegetarian restaurant is planned – right across from Jack’s.

We do not know any of the other details, such as the “official opening” or what is going in – except for the vegetarian restaurant moving into part of the space on the bottom floor. (And no, there will not be a “drive-thru” as rumored.)

The unveiling represents the most recent stage in a long saga at this corner, a site that we have dubbed the “OB’s Corner of Contention“. Plus we have monitored and pictorially chronicled the progress and devolution of this corner (do a word search “Sunset Plaza”, “World Oil” on our search bar).

It was August 5th in 2009, when the OB Planning Board approved World Oil’s Sunset Plaza – but with conditions.  The original design was terrible – the developers came back with a better one, which was approved by OB planners on June 5th, 2013.

The original design concept had been approved by the Board back in December 2008. Here are excerpts of what we reported back then:

OCEAN BEACH, CA.  Tonight (12/03/08), in a 9 to 4 vote, the Ocean Beach Planning Board approved the “concept” of World Oil’s Sunset Plaza, a two-story 6600 square foot building for the corner of Sunset Cliffs Blvd. and Voltaire Street. Designed to provide medical and dental offices at the controversial corner, the building would include exterior walls of glass and stucco that force the structure to stand out architecturally, raising issues of bulk, scale and over-all conforming to community standards. The building’s parking lot would be in the rear and sides of the structure, with vehicle access only from Voltaire and the alley.

Three motions to approve the building with various conditions had failed earlier. The very first motion to approve the project as presented was defeated by a 5 to 8 vote.  The debate amongst the Planning Board members, in front of a sparse crowd that included only nine OB residents, was generally three-sided.

On one side were those who were dead set against it, as it was an affront to the community in appearance, bulk and scale, especially for that corner – which many consider an important entry-way intersection for the community with special significance. It looked as if 4 Board members were in this group.  There was another side that was ready to approve it as is, which included members who expressed reservations about the Board requiring any architectural controls at all.  It also included some who felt that World Oil had made compromises enough. This group had 5 votes.

Finally, there was the middle group, that believed, well, at least it wasn’t a gas station, and that with some changes to the design, such as rounding the sharp edges portrayed in the drawings, they would be able to support the project. There was discussion that the project was even a “community victory” because the developer had bent to the community’s wishes to not have a gas station at the corner.  The final vote to approve the project’s concept, which is a recommendation to the City of San Diego, was a compromise that allowed the Board to make a decision and move on, and allow the developer to move on the project itself.  A majority of the Board seems to think that some version of the building will be built.

Once the decision had been made, most in the audience left the meeting. One person was heard to call the building “butt ugly,” with several others agreeing. It is unclear exactly what mandate the Board set, and it is unclear as to just exactly what design changes the developer has to now make to satisfy the Board.

Development of this particular corner has been a hot issue in Ocean Beach since the late 1990s, when World Oil, the property’s owner, first proposed building another gas station at the corner. The corporation, linked to Exxon, has failed three times to get the community and City’s approval for such a station, the last attempt being in 2003. (See earlier post from Dec. 2.) The Sunset Plaza is their latest effort to move on the lot, which has being vacant for years, except for a three year period when Ocean Beach Grassroots Organization developed and maintained a garden at the corner.

Due to the controversial nature of World Oil and the history of their proposed projects, the issue of developing the lot was assumed to be a subject of interest for the community. Yet with the small turn-out tonight, that interest appears to have fallen like the Stock Market.  However, a couple of factors are also in play.  Unlike earlier times, there is no current activist group in Ocean Beach these days that is able to get the word out to the community on issues like this.

In addition, there appears to be some effort on the part of the Planning Board to downplay the controversy.  For one, the agenda for tonight’s meeting was not posted on the Planning Board’s website until Tuesday, Dec. 2nd, the day before the hearing. And for another, despite that the controversial Sunset Plaza agenda item was publicly listed for 7 pm, the Board at the beginning of its meeting, changed the order of the agenda, and took on the issue long before the appointed time.  A few community members who arrived for the 7 pm agenda time found themselves half way through the Board’s discussion with community input over. This procedural impropriety flawed the otherwise well-run meeting, chaired by Lantry Watson.

World Oil will move on its building.  The theme tonight at the meeting was ‘It’s not OB but at least it’s not a gas station.’ Hopefully, with this economy whoever is building it, will find the capital to build something. And the community will be left with a compromise. Yet, with half a dozen Newport Avenue storefronts vacant, and with a couple vacant on Voltaire itself, hopefully the community won’t be left with an “butt ugly” and empty office building at one of its most visible corners.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Tessa October 23, 2015 at 1:28 pm



Debbie October 23, 2015 at 2:35 pm

I am not a fan of World Oil since they destroyed the community garden and left an ugly vacant lot to sit there.

The building is pleasant looking IMO….(not as big an bulky as the corner of Voltaire and Catalina) it’s about the same size as People’s no?? Welcome new Vegie Restaurant. Better than an empty fenced lot!


PL Local October 24, 2015 at 9:00 am

Bring back the Recycling center!



Dave October 25, 2015 at 12:20 am

I’m gonna offer myself up for crucifixion here and say it’s not nearly as ugly as some of the early sketches led me to believe it would be – perhaps the brick accents help out a bit. Still out of character for the neighborhood in scale and style, but it could be a lot worse (looking at you, “Famosa” mixed-use building in Loma Portal)…


Frank Gormlie October 27, 2015 at 2:45 pm

What he said.


Lori Hegerle October 25, 2015 at 9:39 am

I think if they plant some very tall trees all around (though you have to consider water consumption these days) and possibly cover up the blue with wood or something it would be a bit better……Better then a gas station….glad there will be no drive thru, but does not fit OB character.


Cholly October 26, 2015 at 7:38 am

It’s absolutely amazing what trees can do for uninspired “architecture.”


Richard Hayes October 26, 2015 at 11:01 am

It used to be a garden… Sign of the times in OB. How sad.


Vandy October 27, 2015 at 6:37 pm

Damn…wish I’d been around then to see that.


A October 31, 2015 at 8:36 am

It looks good. Very OB as it is controversial.


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