City to OB Town Council: No Money and No Plans to Prevent Future Flooding

by on March 24, 2016 · 13 comments

in Culture, Economy, Environment, Health, History, Ocean Beach, Politics, San Diego


OB Town Council meeting, 3/23/16

Poor Bill Harris!. He was the guy from the City of San Diego who had to attend the OB Town Council’s meeting last night – March 23rd – and tell the board that their pleas for help to stem future flooding are falling on deaf ears.

Not exactly ‘deaf ears’ – as the city is listening, but Harris, as supervisor of the city’s information services,  is the face that has to stare down community members in their demands that the city do something about problems with the infrastructure.


Bill Harris

So poor Bill Harris was the one who had to confront all those faces of the town council and tell them / us that there is no money and there are no plans to deter or stem future flooding in Ocean Beach. It would take a massive capital improvement project, Harris said, and there aren’t any funds for that. So, no project, no plans, no funds.

The solution from the city: more portable mobile pumps.

The community’s infrastructure needs were on the agenda because OB had suffered major flooding back in December and January, and at the previous month’s meeting, the town council held a forum on infrastructure problems, the flooding mainly. The OBTC had requested community members to bring forth locations and photos of flooding and other infrastructure break-downs. They had invited representatives from the city – including Harris – but none had appeared (which we thought fit into a troubling trend) for that February meeting – a month after severe flooding had inundated OB to a memorable level.

In fact, the OBTC submitted a letter to the City – made public last night – about the flooding and issues with street lights – accompanied by maps of impacted areas –  and ends with the town council calling –

“… upon the City of San Diego to address these major infrastructure issues as it relates to Flooding and Streetlights. We hope to receive from the City, a plan of action that prevents future flooding and illuminates our streets with additional street lights.”

But then Bill Harris had to be a buzz kill at last night’s meeting. After apologizing profusely for missing the previous meeting, he explained that he’s been busy proceeding with emergency projects, mainly those dealing with areas “most likely to flood”. These are drainage channels, he said, that become clogged with sentiment and all other kinds of things that rushing waters bring.

Harris said the city has had to deal with the “most clearing and unclogging from a single storm” in its history, or in a long time.

OB’s flooding problems, Harris showed, are due to the community’s storm drains are “under-sized” and that OB is at the end of the pipeline. The major drains in Ocean Beach, he said are down Newport Avenue and along Abbott Street. Both are undersized. The one down Newport was put in during the 1950’s, he said, and the one on Abbott had an upgrade not too long ago.

The only solution, Harris maintained, was “a massive capital improvement project” to fix it all. But he added, no funding has been identified.

Gretchen Newsom, president of the OBTC, tried to nail Harris down by asking “Where is OB on the list (for improvements), where is OB on the timeline?” And this is why Harris is probably paid a tidy sum. He had to turn to her and say in a convincing manner that there is no time line, there is no list, no specific funding exists to fix these storm water and drain problems.

Someone from the board asked: “Can you give us a roadmap (to get it fixed)?”

Harris quickly came back: Use portable pumps every time there are rain conditions.  He was then asked why he’s doing emergency projects knowing full well that El Nino was coming and knowing OB’s flooding history. He said simply – the bureaucracy.

Harris denied, when questioned, that OB was the most impacted community by the rains. He ticked off La Jolla Shores, somewhere in Clairemont, and a bunch of other sites that no one could refute.

After listening to Harris, people just sat there dumbfounded as his words sank in. No plans, no projects, no funds. Next time it rains big, same old same old.

OBTC flooding map

Street Lights

On the issue of street lights, Harris was more positive, saying he’d take a look at the list and map and get back to the town council.

As part of their forum last month, the town council had solicited problems with street lights. The letter to the City addressed this:

Numerous Street Lights are out along Niagara in-between Bacon & Cable. There were also comments about the need for street lights along Cape May Avenue between Bacon Street and Ebers Street and on Cable Street between Niagara & Orchard.

OBTC street lights map

Here is the full text of the OBTC letter to the City:

At the regular Public Meeting of the Ocean Beach Town Council on February 24, 2016, the OBTC facilitated a community forum on infrastructure needs within Ocean Beach.   The two main topics for this forum were flooding and street lights.  As OB suffered major flooding during this El Niño season, we asked the public to show us records and pictures and to tell us their experience.  Safety is also a major concern in Ocean Beach and individuals were also asked to identify areas where street lights were either broken or non-existent.  The following is the input we received from the community:


As you will see from the following pictures and map, Ocean Beach has suffered major flooding during El Niño 2016.  The area includes, but isn’t limited to, along Bacon Street from Niagara Avenue to Santa Monica Avenue and continuing down to Brighton Ave.  There was also heavy flooding down Newport Avenue, along Abbott to Saratoga Avenue.  Wide spread flooding was also centered just west of Dog Beach along Muir, Brighton, Long Branch & Spray west of Bacon Street. (Please See map Exhibit A and photographs.)

Street Lights:

Numerous Street Lights are out along Niagara in-between Bacon & Cable.  There were also comments about the need for street lights along Cape May Avenue between Bacon Street and Ebers Street and on Cable Street between Niagara & Orchard. (Please see Exhibit B)

These two issues are major concerns to the Ocean Beach community.  The Ocean Beach Town Council calls upon the City of San Diego to address these major infrastructure issues as it relates to Flooding and Streetlights. We hope to receive from the City, a plan of action that prevents future flooding and illuminates our streets with additional street lights. Please feel free to contact us anytime to discuss further.

Giovanni C Ingolia
Vice President


{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

lambo driver March 24, 2016 at 4:28 pm

meanwhile the city was fined about $2M last year by the regional water quality control board for not properly enforcing storm drain filtering requirements. The only thing flowing down san diego’s drains these days is our taxdollars.


Geoff Page March 24, 2016 at 5:15 pm

When your town votes for the mayoral candidate who lost and the City Council candidate who also lost, the winners remember and have no incentive to do anything for you. If Alvarez and Boot had won, it would have been a different story.


Frank Gormlie March 24, 2016 at 6:18 pm

There will be more from the OBTC meeting “when we get back”….


kh March 25, 2016 at 7:58 am

I’m eager to see what he provided to OBTC. Sounds like a lot of BS to me. These were not 500-yr storms. More like a 5-yr storm. The last one flooded newport and abbott after about 20 minutes of rain. The peak rainfall rates have been known for a long time, this is not new science.

When Mr. Harris talked about the storm drain running under Abbott it tells me he didn’t even read the study or look at a map. The main drain runs below Bacon street.

The lowest part of the system is actually at bacon & brighton, about 10-12 feet above mean sea level. Bury a 5ft diameter pipe a few feet below the street, and you’ve got a system that is underwater at the outlet during high tide. Either way, when a peak storm hits, it can drop nearly 1 Million gallons per minute of rain on the slopes up to venice st that goes into our drain. Now not all of this reaches the storm drain, even when the ground is saturated. But A 5′ diameter pipe can only handle a small percentage of this (less than 10%). Pumps of this size, and plumbing for it, will cost far more than adding gravity drains.

Some of the rain has to be intercepted before it reaches the Bacon st drain that is underwater.

He mentioned La Jolla Shores…. Well the city commissioned a study there in 2010 and designed and completed a $5M upgrade on the storm drain below Avenida de la playa within 5 years…. along with $10M of other work. ALL THE WHILE THE BUSINESSES FOUGHT IT! Of course they had a sink hole at the end of the street last rain, so maybe use a different contractor this time.


Geoff Page March 25, 2016 at 9:46 am

Great information for everyone, good to see someone comment with some knowledge. I would only add that the only way to handle the run-off in OB is to build a left station or more than one. The run-off drains into a large concrete tank structure that pumps it up to a level that can then be drained into the ocean.

The problem is, if the city captures storm water in a new storm drain system, I believe it then is responsible for water quality. In Mission Beach, many years ago, I worked on a system that was designed to capture the first 1/2″ of run-off and route it into the sewer system for treatment at the sewage plant that handles raw sewage. The idea is that the first 1/2″ washes the oil and other polluting debris off the streets and after that, the rest of the run-off can go into the ocean. A diversion valve would switch the flow into the sewer system for that 1/2″ and then switch back to the storm drain system after that. Very expensive system requiring lots of maintenance. I’ve often wondered if that system is still working.


kh March 25, 2016 at 12:26 pm

This exact feature was part of the la jolla shores project. I like the concept. It also takes “dry flows” which is usually nasty urban runoff and keeps the storm drains dry.


Geoff Page March 25, 2016 at 1:58 pm

I agree. Part of the problem though, is letting the City do this kind of thing. The reason I got involved in the Mission Beach project was stupidity. The system was built and there was a series of small handholes in the alleys that contained the switching valves. The valves require maintenance and the first time a crew went to work on one, it was discovered that the concrete boxes that contained the valves were so small the crews could not turn the valves on and off. We got a contract to remove every box and replace them with larger ones that would allow actual maintenance. This is why I wonder if the system is still working at all.


kh March 25, 2016 at 8:07 am

oh, and $1.8M in federal grants helped pay for it.


obtracyd March 25, 2016 at 3:04 pm

I guess we can’t expect too much from the city. We are finally getting some road resurfacing and repairs done. I’m grateful for this because I have to drive over our cruddy streets every day in a car that feels every bump. I am in no way trying to diminish the damage and stress from the flooding because we got hit hard this year, but maybe the city is thinking that the roads are an every day annoyance. Flooding rarely occurs. Priority for repair money goes to roads.

If I had a limited pot of money for infrastructure, I would probably spend on the most immediate and long standing need.


Happyinob March 25, 2016 at 3:19 pm

I guess all the money is going to pay for
Filmers law suits & Faulkner’s failed efforts
with the Chargers
That all cost money! Our Money


bob dorn March 28, 2016 at 9:11 am

Didn’t cities used to float bond issues for infrastructure improvements? Maybe our fiscally responsible Republican oligarchs just kinda forgot as they made their way to giving public money to aerial tourist gondolas and a stadium to Dean Spanos.


Colin March 28, 2016 at 1:57 pm



Happyinob March 29, 2016 at 3:17 pm

So True


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