Ocean Beach Growing Wary Over Private Encroachments into Public Space

by on February 23, 2016 · 16 comments

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


The Joint permanent fence and gate.

From Restaurants to the Beach, Private Interests Are Taking More Public Grounds

The recent uproar among OBceans over the intrusions into public sidewalks by two Ocean Beach restaurants illustrates a broader and growing wariness by the public of the larger issue of encroachment by private interests into public space.

Just several weeks ago, the 2 OB restaurants, The Joint and the yet-to-open OB Brewery – both on Newport Avenue – have installed permanent fixtures outside their establishments that seriously curtail pedestrian traffic and block the public accesss to the public sidewalk immediately in front of the restaurants.

The Joint put in tables with a metal fence and gate, taking the encroachment trend in OB’s “outdoor cafes” to a new level.  The OB Rag ran a poll where 42% of the respondents agreed that what The Joint did was an encroachment into public space and agreed that the fence and tables should be removed.  The OB Brewery also installed exterior fencing that significantly narrows the public walkway.


OB Brewery squeezes pedestrians into narrow space.

The future of these intrusions into what many feel are the public’s right-of-way has yet to be ultimately decided, but the response by locals reflects a growing wariness among OBceans – and others who live up and down the coast or near parks – to what they perceive as an invasion into public space by people with private interests as their motivation.

Restaurants are one of the primary group of culprits in this new invasion. By our count, 14 other restaurants besides The Joint and the OB Brewery have outside seating, including tables and chairs, or have fenced in deck areas for their customers – and their customers only. A few of these decks protrude into the public sidewalk.

Many OB Restaurants Intrude into Public Space

Consider the following list of OB restaurants that, rightly or wrongly, permitted or not, with or without Planning Board or community approval, have invaded the public space – or what is perceived as public space:

In the Newport Avenue main business area:

  • South Beach Bar & Grill;
  • Newport Pizza;
  • Gallagher’s Irish Pub;
  • Azucar’s;
  • Ortega’s;
  • Yogurt Farm;
  • The Joint;
  • OB Brewery – yet to open;
  • new OB Noodle House Bar 1502;
  • Poma’s on Bacon;
  • Raglan’s;
  • Newbreak on Abbott;
  • Arizona.

In the Voltaire Street business area:

  • Hungry Lu’s on Voltaire;
  • Litickers Liquor grill on Voltaire;
  • original OB Noodle House on Cable.

Issue of Restaurants Is Complicated

Now, the issue of restaurants moving into public space is complicated. Many of these efforts towards outside seating have actually been encouraged by a recent turn of public and municipal sentiment in favor of so-called European dining or “cafe-style” dining, where restaurants (some with bars) expand outside, taking over sidewalks, plazas and other public space.

This new-found favoritism for an “old-world-style” of outdoor cafes was part of a wave of recapturing public space – important space that had been given up to an auto-dominated, concrete and asphalt world – now it’s a virtual “taking back” of lost public space. And it’s a trend that explicitly allows the private sector to do the actual “taking back”.

The positive bias towards cafe-style outside eateries also fit the new municipal development models, such as the “City of Villages” concept with its mixed use of commercial and residential, near mass transit, with a definite architectural style of more airy, open areas, plazas, walking and pedestrian orientation.

It’s part of the wave of a renewed interest and support for the pedestrian, trying to make the urban landscape more suitable to the pedestrian, to encourage people to get out of their cars, use bikes, mass transit, walk more, making small business areas more centralized, making business areas more walkable.

As part of the new wave of cafe-style dining in OB, it was in early May of 2013 when the original OB Noodle House received approval for their deck. They approached the OB Planning Board, after having received support from the OB Town Council, the Mainstreet Association and the OB restaurant group. Here is how we reported it then:

Steve Yeng- one of the owners of the OB Noodle House – appeared at the recent meeting of the OB Planning Board, requesting sidewalk seating in front of his restaurant on Cable Street. 

OB Noodle House wants to construct a 485 square foot “sidewalk cafe” as part of their popular place, complaining of the proximity to traffic and a sloping sidewalk that makes the current seating in front of the restaurant uncomfortable and even somewhat dangerous. …

 And at their meeting of May 1, the planners voted 9 – 0 – 1 in favor of the request by the restaurant, which was just recently visited by a well-known TV foodie.

Many of the other restaurants, bars and grills in OB followed suit and began the move outdoors.  And usually these efforts were applauded by local residents and businesses.

Many of these “encroachments” into public space are temporary, that is the tables and chairs are usually removed once the place closes down for the day or night. Or some of the intrusions are into public space that has room to spare – where the sidewalks are wide enough or where there aren’t large crowds of pedestrians on the sidewalks.

Understanding that not all “encroachments” are equal is important. The “encroachment” by Shades and Tower Two onto the type of deck area at the commercial structure on the corner of Abbott and Santa Monica, for example, is not any kind of intrusion into public space, as it is privately owned space. (There have been no complaints, by the way, that we have heard about either one of those restaurants expanding their successful operations outside.)

Many times the individual circumstances are paramount in deciding whether there is an actual intrusion or encroachment or not. And many of the so-called intrusions are so minor that there is no concern. No one is saying that those restaurants with outside tables and chairs that are inside while closed ought to be removed.

Yet, there is a growing sense now among many in OB that the recent permanent fence by The Joint is too  much, that the restaurant has gone too  far – it’s just too dangerous for the thick crowds that often pass through that part of the busy intersection.

And the push-back against the restaurants’ take-over of public space is just part of a broader revulsion and a growing anguish against what is perceived as private interests staking out claims not just on the sidewalks, but also on the beaches, the cliffs and even access to the coast.

OB surf school Ace 04Other Type of Intrusions into Public Space

Restaurants are only one type of encroachment into that valued public space. There are other ways that public space is curtailed – and it’s a growing trend that our beaches and coastline are being used more and more by private companies for their own profit.

Consider the following:

  • Yoga and exercise classes increasingly use more and more public beach, bluffs and coast;
  • Volley ball teams and their nets take over more and more of the sand, run by private companies that charge local residents;
  • Surf schools and camps stake out sections of public beach and use the waves for private lessons;
  • Surfboard and mat rentals are set up on public land;

Then there’s other uses by private parties of our local public space:

  • The series of restaurants where Bo Beau’s is today have always viewed that next door parking space as theirs, but it’s public lot;
  • Individual guy with his paintings to sell sets up his little outdoor shop of art right on the OB Pier;
  • Real estate agents set out flags and signs in the public right-of-way at busy intersections;
  • Private rental bike companies like DeccoBikes set up their stands on public sidewalks at beaches and near parks – the City gets almost nothing in return;
  • san diego lifeguard truck toyotaCorporate ads on Life Guard vehicles and facilities;
  • Armed private security guards patrol public sidewalks and gathering areas.

The company DeccoBikes, for instance, as reported by the San Diego U-T  is logging in lower ridership and revenue than the levels they convinced city officials they could meet.  A casual observation by this author of 5 DeccoBike stations last weekend scattered between OB and Mission Beach found fewer than 50% of the bikes being rented. But their stands still take up a lot of sidewalk space. The U-T reported:

Company officials expressed optimism that better community outreach will reduce protests and complaints that have slowed the installation of new stations, especially in the potentially lucrative beach areas.

The OB Rag noted in an earlier article:

Throughout Southern California, from LA to OB, parks and beaches have been experiencing an influx of organized joggers or people exercising. Personal trainers are taking their classes out doors to public beaches and parks, to take advantage of the great weather.  Every public beach has seen its swarm of organized  fitness groups using the public space – at times – for a private profit.

There is a push-back happening. Local residents at different beach cities have taken issue with the group fitness classes.  And they’re complaining about the human traffic jams in parks and on beaches enjoyed and appreciated for their beauty, solitude, nature-setting, etc.

As noted, we in OB have also heard lately complaints about the take over of sand and water by surf camps and schools – and the OBTC once took the issue on.  Safety issues, access and use issues have bubbled up from residents in their complaints of these intrusions.

The OB Rag once opined:

Californians fought long and hard, particularly in the Seventies, for public access to the State’s beaches, cliffs and coastline. Some of the results of those efforts include San Diego’s thirty-foot height limit and the California Coastal Commission.  Access to the beach, to the cliffs is sacrosanct.

There’s other common, every-day type of incursions. For instance, many merchants on Newport put out their wares for the public to view, right there on the sidewalk. Most of us don’t mind. Other merchants put out signs. Nobody seems to care. The dresses and other merchandise are returned to inside the storefront at the end of the business day.

It’s when merchants permanently encroach into the public arena that raises the most eyebrows and complaints. It’s when they install metal fences and gates where the public used to roam, with bolts into the concrete that causes the most outrage in people.

The growing wariness of locals – and residents up and down the coast – to the intrusions and encroachment into the public’s arena has a political side. If voters perceive the city and their representatives selling out our beaches and coasts to the highest bidder, taking away our public space permanently, then there will be a price to pay.

There is truly a deep-seated resentment over the taking of our public space, whether it be in front of restaurants, on the sandy beaches, or on our beautiful cliffs and bluffs and parks. The mantra to privatize everything has been chanted here in San Diego and the beach a little too long. It’s time to take our village back.


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Occupy Sidewalk February 23, 2016 at 11:41 am

I was in South Beach Miami recently, here’s what a sidewalk cafe there looks like. Waiters and pedestrians fighting for space, and vendors heckling you and blocking your path to tell you about their drink specials.

Sadly, this photo COMPLIES with the san diego code (except that if alcohol is consumed there a permanent railing must be installed too.)



tia February 23, 2016 at 12:31 pm

“It’s just too dangerous…” And that is that. I am somewhat annoyed by the encroachment and/or intrusion into public spaces, but I am both truly angry and afraid of what is happening on Newport. This isn’t about enjoying an al fresco meal, it’s about public safety. Each and every time I picture a typical weekend crowd on Newport, I worry about the possibility of serious injury due to the minimal amount of sidewalk remaining. I truly hope I am wrong. I guess only time will tell…


Occupy Sidewalk February 23, 2016 at 1:26 pm

Laila Iskandar is the project manager at the city for this illegal patio. Her contact info is on OBMA’s website.



cg February 24, 2016 at 10:26 am

Unfortunately her contact information is no longer valid. The main email address for Development Services is dsdweb@sandiego.gov


cg February 23, 2016 at 2:17 pm

Great article. Thank you!


tia February 23, 2016 at 3:57 pm

Yes, Frank, it is. Sorry not to mention it earlier. Well done!


Christo February 23, 2016 at 2:29 pm

From the San Diego Municipal Code 141.0621 Sidewalk Cafes.
2 parts to look hard at:
Notice part iii which indicates “3 feet in width that provides a direct
path of travel past the sidewalk cafe”

Is the distance from the fence to the bottom of the light pole 3 feet?


(D) Clear Path of Travel
(i) A clear path, free of all obstructions to the flow of
pedestrian traffic, shall be provided in the public rightof-way
and shall be maintained at all times.
Obstructions include traffic signals or signs, light
standards, parking meters, phone booths, bus stops,
trash receptacles, benches, trees, gates that open
outward beyond the perimeter of the sidewalk cafe, and
similar objects.
(ii) The clear path shall be a paved sidewalk that is at least
5 feet wide, the width identified in the applicable
adopted land use plan, or the width required by the
applicable zone or planned district, whichever width is
(iii) The clear path may meander from side to side to avoid
obstructions, but shall maintain a continuous, common
surface at least 3 feet in width that provides a direct
path of travel past the sidewalk cafe.
(iv) The clear path shall be measured from the outermost
point of the sidewalk cafe to the curb or to the nearest
obstruction within the flow of pedestrian traffic,
whichever is shorter;


cg February 23, 2016 at 6:06 pm

It means a 5’+ wide path is required but it can meander. When it meanders a 3′ wide clear path (i.e., line of sight) must be maintained.


rick callejon February 23, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Dangerous? How so?


tia February 24, 2016 at 1:52 pm

Dangerous because there is so little room. Dangerous because Newport sidewalks are so crowded – especially on weekends. Strollers and wheelchairs take a little more space than is afforded here for two-way foot traffic. Dogs on leashes? Yeah, I love dogs, too, but the leashes can be problematic with too little space.

I also notice a whole lot of people don’t pay very much attention to their surroundings. Right or wrong, it is what it is. I just think there will be some nasty little accidents this summer. Hope no one is seriously injured.


tj February 23, 2016 at 10:50 pm

working with businesses is fine, but…

3′ is not nearly enough sidewalk. walk single file / no opposing ped traffic. ridiculous.

5′ is the residential standard & should be considered an absolute minimum / absolute worst case scenario – with 8′ being acceptable, & 12’+ ideal.

ped friendly is good for business.


Dave February 23, 2016 at 11:04 pm

I hate that kindergarten-reading-level smut that came out a few years ago because I can’t describe things like this in shades of grey like I used to quite often without using a cumbersome disclaimer, but it’s really a fitting term here…

Of the restaurants mentioned, really the Newport ones are of greatest concern, because foot traffic on Niagara and Voltaire isn’t nearly what it is on Newport (I’ve lived near all of these streets at one time or another and walked frequently). Of the Newport ones, the new installation at the Joint stands out most to me for putting a permanent burden on an overtaxed sidewalk, though Ortega’s long-standing temporary setups (particularly on Farmer’s Market Wednesdays) can be cumbersome too. The others, with possible exceptions for the OG Noodle House and Hungry Lu’s, are minimal intrusions 90% of the time, and most have existed for years without inconvenience or complaint from locals.

Exercise and surf classes – I’ve never seen the negative impact in OB, though it’s long been a hot-button issue, even more so in other locales. Volleyball is an interesting one, because I’ve seen how those tourneys can dominate the sand, but it’s never occurred to me to be offended by them. Not saying I should or shouldn’t be concerned by this particular private capital intrusion into public space, just that I’ve never considered it.

Small-time artists with little pop-up displays down by the Wall? Doesn’t bother me as long as they’re not being pushy or rude, though I might have a different opinion if I was trying to sling widgets to tourists from a permanent shop on Newport.

Real estate signs in public? I’m guilty – kick mine over if I’m so rude as to place them in an obtrusive place, though I try to get as much visibility as I can without blocking the sidewalk…they’re up for a few hours a week at most anyway.

Corporate sponsors of public entities? Well, I guess it pays for the stuff we need that the city won’t allot money for – I’ll take one Brawndo and a Big Ass Fries, please.

Bike share – I like this idea, and wish it much success – though the pricing and terms of use are too restrictive to buy into the current model, personally. I’ve ridden the bikes and actually written about their implementation on several occasions, though, coming away with a general ‘meh’ impression.

I’m sure everyone else has individual takeaways on each of these items, too…probably so different it’s hard to have a cohesive discussion on all of them at once, I’m guessing.


Pete R February 24, 2016 at 6:14 am

The sidewalk dining issue is happening because the City Council very recently removed the main regulatory hurdle (a Neighborhood Use Permit) that previously made installing sidewalk dining prohibitively expensive for most small businesses. This was part of the 8th Update to the Land Development Code, which was adopted in 2013 and went into effect in the coastal areas in 2014.

At the time, our leaders advertised this as a very good thing. In fact, I recall then-Councilmembers Faulconer, Zapf and Gloria holding a press conference at the OB Noodle House to announce the change:


Beth turner February 24, 2016 at 8:30 am

The OB Brewery’s outside cafe is particularly upsetting because they removed bike racks and a public trash can. It’s one thing to clog the sidewalks, but it is something entirely different when we are losing public amenities because of it.
It should also be noted that the additional occupancy for the restaurants is really quite limited. 2 tables at the Joint, and standing room only for 4 or 5 people at the brewery.


Eric Gerhardt February 25, 2016 at 8:05 am

At the Farmer’s Market, last night, I noticed people leaving their used food containers on the menu podium next to the gate. I thought that was effective communication.


Oh jeez... February 29, 2016 at 11:57 am

As a born and bread native, I am disappointed at the greed from the business owners on Newport. I will NOT give those businesses that are encroaching my money EVER. They need the locals to keep them in business on the off seasons. Shit on us now and we will remember.


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