OB Planning District 2 – The Heart of OB

by on February 25, 2016 · 2 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach

OB Dist 2 Map

A Review of OB Planning Districts – Annual Election for Planning Board is March 2nd

The Ocean Beach Planning Board is holding its annual election on March 2nd. To highlight these uber local elections and increase interest in planning and the Board itself, we are publishing a series of examinations of the different planning districts within the Ocean Beach Community Plan Area. (We began this analysis 2 years ago with the view that the Village of OB is at an historic development crossroads.

OB Dist 2 LongB 5100 02

The infamous 5100 block of Long Branch Avenue. (All photos by Frank Gormlie)

We are doing this in hopes that the series will encourage interest in and education about OB’s planning issues, the Planning Board and the election among OBceans.

District 2 – The Heart of OB

District 2 – the virtual center of the community – is indeed the heart and soul of Ocean Beach.

OB Dist 2 Abbot

Very few businesses in District 2; Abbott Street liquor store is one of the few.

Positioned within the northwest sector of the community along with District 1 to its north, District 2 consists primarily of residential units, apartments, cottages and houses.

It has about 12 blocks of residences along its 3 major streets, Long Branch, Brighton and Cape May Avenues; Brighton and Cape May have the awesome distinctions of being a few of the OB streets that end in the sand.

With the northern boundary the alley between Muir and Long Branch and the southern the alley between Cape May and Saratoga, the District runs from Sunset Cliffs Boulevard all the way to the beach. And it includes the major arteries of the north-south streets: Abbott, Bacon, Cable and Sunset Cliffs.

With very little business in the District, it does have some beach and park land on the western end, plus it is the main neighborhood facing “North Beach” – making it the entryway onto the beach.

OB Dist 2 grasspk

OB Dist 2 ResMix

The residential areas of the District are mixed with single family homes and apartments.

District 2 – being the “Heart” of OB – is also the most dense district within the Village in terms of people and housing. It is even denser than District 1 – because compared to the northern neighbor – District 2 is highly residential with little tourist and hotel-motel facilities.

It has its share of 2-story apartments – especially near the water – but there are many small cottages and houses snuggled within those neighborly blocks of primarily one story buildings.

OB Map Sold Props

Rough map of multiple unit properties (n red) sold in OB over last 4 years.

In the last few years, we have seen an unprecedented selling and buying of apartment complexes in OB, particularly in District 2. Here is an excerpt from our study:

Since the summer of 2011, there’s been nearly 20 of these transactions – the sale and purchase of multiple-unit properties in the OB village.  There’s been at least ten since January 2014 and 3 this year already.

In particular, what’s been called “the War Zone” over the years – northwest Ocean Beach, has been especially busy.

OB Dist 2 apts

There are older stock housing, some Craftsman, some of which may be called “beach shacks”, Spanish revivals, with representatives of each decade and style of frame. Lots of white-fences, a few large Cypress trees, a real mixed area.

And because of its high density and congestion, District 2 has all those attendant problems: traffic, congestion, noise – with parking a big one. With obvious pressures due to its proximity to the beach, the neighborhood gets crushed during those sunny summer days with tourists and visitors – and parking spaces during that season are impossible to find.

OB Dist 2 stopsigns

District 2 neighbors take care of each other. (The stop sign used to have a “Stop the War” message.)

Other than that, the District includes many younger, working people, students, retired hippies, and is by far a mostly renters’ district. It’s a very friendly, neighborly area of OB, where neighbors know each other – and look out for each other.

The “War Zone”

Along with District 1, this District also has the distinction of being OB’s “War Zone” – a title earned over decades of being the “rougher” section of town, with high numbers of college kids, surfers, bikers, sailors and hippies living and existing. It’s where the hip first met the surf in the late Sixties.

The area has been and still is the “low-rent” area of OB, as there are many beach shacks, cottages and cheap housing for the young, old and poor. It’s what made OB one of the last beach towns of Southern California where poor and working people could live at the beach.

Back in the day, however, with the low-rents came a higher crime rate, more drugs, more confrontations between young people and cops. And the District also became one of the principle centers of the 1970’s radical movements that helped transform OB and made it what it is today.

OB Longbranch riot LaborDay68

Labor Day 1968 on 5100 block of Long Branch.

The 5100 block of Long Branch became the epi-center of battles between OB’s youth and police officers. The 1968 Labor Day “Riot” certainly comes to mind for old-timers.

It wasn’t just rock and bottle throwing and baton time, it was also drug deals and experiences, rock and roll music, bands playing in backyards, and a sense of freedom from traditional social constraints.

OB Dist 2 RedHse

The infamous Red House – center of radical politics in OB during the 1970’s on Cape May Ave. Currently owned and recently repainted red by Tom and Jane Gawronskis.

Plus there was the infamous “Red House” over on the last block of Cape May – a center of anti-Vietnam war activism during the heydays of OB’s radicalism. The Red House owners threw a 100-anniversary party for the house in July of 2015.

That same block of Cape May – the 5100 block – also was known to house many grassroots activists, including the Cape May “Barracks” – a four-plex with each unit the home of several activists, including a number who worked on the original OB Rag.

For a while, the Rag was run out of an old shack in Red House’s back yard, and at the same time, it had a dark room in one of the garages at the Barracks.

OB Dist 2 CapM gard

Ye ol’ Cape May Barracks – every unit was home to OB activists. The Barracks were sometimes called “Cape May Gardens”. Today it has it own garden and some of the folks here have memories.

The block also was the site of an “underground” day care center run by activists. And at one point, a local historian counted 26 activists who lived on that one block during the mid-1970’s.

Over-all the District also got its reputation due to an extremely high turnover rate of its residents. An early 1970s survey run by a team of San Diego State professors and students found that the area that included what’s now District 2 had an annual turnover rate of 25%. That meant that within one year, one-quarter of the residents of any particular block would move or change. Activists then always found it tough to develop grassroots organizing with such a fluid human environment.

OB Dist 2 CapM st

The 5100 block of Cape May was OB’s “radical” center during the mid-Seventies.

OB Dist 2 dogbgsIt’s all mellowed today, of course, although there are occasional complaints of loud music or neighbors, and partying way too late into the night.

Whether due to its density or just to its nature, this District appears to be very neighbor-friendly, where neighbors look out for one another. A sign attached to a City stop sign warns that Thursday street sweeping is severe.

Someone else placed a pole with doggie bags near the beach for passersby and their canine wards.

There are hidden treasures of grand houses behind fences; rows of pastel cottages with white-picket fences; rehabbed courtyards that turned debilitated shacks into cutesy cottages – these are what make the District what it is.

OB Dist 2 QuigleyThe “Quigley Building”

Rob Quigley – the famous architect who designed San Diego’s new Central Library – got his start in OB. Working under the then “new” OB Precise Plan, Quigley designed and built a 4-unit, 3-story building, with each unit is different.

Built in the mid-seventies and since re-stuccoed, this building was designed and built for four units – 3 of them smallish -, all uniquely designed, with different floor plans, and several were multilevel. Three of the units have decks. The apartments are two-bedroom, two-bath and are 885, 931, and 1,059 square feet. One unit is 1,246 square feet with three bedrooms and two baths.

OB Dist 2 Old LB HseIt’s still there, over on the 5100 block of Long Branch Ave., but certainly Quigley is long gone. In 2011, it sold for a cool million.

Old Long Branch Building

Across Long Branch from the Quigley building is an un-named, old building that has been around for ages, definitely an historic relic. It’s still got a peace sign on it.

OB Dist 2 DefoeDefoe Street – What?

Before Sunset Cliffs Boulevard was itself, it was named “Defoe Street” for Daniel Defoe, and to fit in line with the other alphabetical streets, Bacon, Cable, Ebers, Froude, etc. (See more on OB street names.)

Gentrification and Short Term Vacation Rentals

As in other sections of OB – particularly those blocks close to the Pacific Ocean, District 2 has its pressures and challenges from the forces of gentrification and those of the short term vacation rental.

District 1 is the frontline of the battle against gentrification but vacation rentals are another thing altogether.

OB airbnb map

Each dot represents a short term vacation rental listing by Airbnb. District 2 is well-represented.

The challenge to District 1  is the potential “loss of community” to short term vacation rental companies like Airbnb. Here’s part of our analysis:

… [T]he even more drastic consequence of loss of community occurs when there are so many residential units within a neighborhood that have been turned into short-term units, that a goodly-sized chunk of the area has morphed into a resort candyland of beach, surf and sand. There are no longer any actual residents in the immediate neighborhood, and every unit is utilized as a vacation rental – every condo, every McMansion, every apartment, every little cottage – no longer are the houses of residents – the human make-up of a community – but of visitors.

Without actual residents then, that portion of the neighborhood as “a community” collapses into a mishmash of rental and property managers, online rentals, private trash and private security details.

OB Planning Board Representation

Currently, District 2 is represented by Nanci Kelly who was just appointed to her seat in May 2015. The other seat for the district is vacant. Even though Kelly is new to the Board, she speaks up for her district and is forthright in her opposition to over-development.

Come with us for a pictorial essay of District 2 – the Heart of OB.

Hidden Treasures

There are all kinds of hidden treasures in terms of great old houses or cute new cottages or rehabbed Craftsmen throughout OB, and especially in District 2. Behind this or that fence, around this hedge, across the street, down the alley. OB Dist 2 treasur

Pastel Cottages

OB Dist 2 cots pastl 01

Or hidden courtyards of rehabs.

OB Dist 2 Brightn cot 2 District 2 has alleys – and people live in or off of alleys in OB.

OB Dist 2 alleyThere is gentrification occurring in District 2 at the beach.

OB Dist 2 lrg hse bck 02District 2 is a friendly place.

OB Dist 2 signs2beac

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy Collier February 27, 2016 at 10:48 am

Thank you for this charming, informative, and useful series.


Nanci Kelly March 1, 2016 at 12:18 pm

Thanks so much for this interesting, comprehensive overview and history of District 2, where I have lived, happily, since 1971 – first on the the 5000 block of Brighton; then for 4 years on Long Branch; and finally to a home we were thrilled to be able to purchase, 4824 Brighton, in 1977. So it’s been 45 years of District 2 living for me! Neighbors, please contact me at 224-1084 or nkelly711@gmail.com if you have any issues or questions that you’d like me to bring to the OBPB. Also, consider attending our invigorating monthly meetings. Thanks again, OB Rag!


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