The Debate Over the Ocean Beach Breweries

by on August 3, 2016 · 11 comments

in Culture, Economy, Environment, History, Life Events, Ocean Beach

beer glasses redA debate has been growing over whether Ocean Beach can handle all the breweries, brewpubs and beer-tasting rooms that have just opened on Newport Avenue or are on their way.

As we have reported, there are or will be 5 beer-tasters or breweries on or next to Newport: Culture Brewing Co. which has been around for a while, Helm’s Brewery, the new OB Brewery, and two that are in the works, Belching Beaver and Kilowatt Brewing Co. just off Newport on Cable.They add to OB’s established award-winning brewery, Pizza Port – a block from Newport – and Hess Brewing Co. over on Voltaire.

The OB Rag jump-started the debate back in mid-March of this year when we asked :

Just how many breweries or beer tasting storefronts can Ocean Beach take? Just how many beer joints can Newport handle? These are the questions that are paramount on the minds of those OBceans who understand what’s happening on Newport Avenue, the main commercial drag in the village.

There was a keen interest in the article, displayed by all the responses. Over 20 comments, 56 “likes”.

There is a lot of interest here at the beach. And the issue of all the alcohol-selling establishments on Newport is not new, of course.  Back in 2009, we asked a similar question when the liquor license was pasted on the front of the future OB Brewery:

With this addition, it appears that the 5000 block of Newport will house a dozen businesses that sell alcohol, including the market at the corner.  Without doing an actual count, this could mean one-third of the businesses on that one block sell the impairing liquidy stuff.

We have to ask: how many alcohol-selling businesses can our community handle on this last block of our mainstreet?

Our curent debate took off in a controversial direction when San Diego Reader writer, Mercy Baron, quoted a San Diego Police lieutenant saying that there was a link between the rise in crime and all the breweries. There was an immediate push-back crystallized by the manager at Helm’s Brewing Company’s tasting room, Matt Johnson, who went on a local TV station to dispute any such connection.

Johnson said:

“We don’t have people coming in here looking for the cheapest shot. It’s amazing, on a Saturday afternoon, especially here by the beach, how many strollers and dogs are in our tasting room; it just really takes over.”

Johnson told the TV station that he wants to assure people so that they are not afraid to come to OB and try his various craft beers.

“People are sipping on their beers and they want to see their flavor. We’re not doing shots; we’re not doing chugging beer contests or anything like that.”

Lt. Carter backtracked, clarified his views and denied the connection all together.

Baron, a resident of OB, retracted most of her story but stands by the accuracy of her original quote from Carter. Carter did clarify the process and the police role:

… when a new off-sale alcohol establishment wants to come into a geographic area within the City of San Diego, or a current business wants to change the conditions of their existing permit, Police Service Area Stations are asked for whether the area station recommends approval or not.

Not all proposed businesses get input from Service Area Stations. The San Diego Police Licensing and Permits Unit is the clearing house for all new and existing permits recommendations, and provide the final input for the department.  … the processes for obtaining alcohol licenses are regulated by ABC, and they are the controlling agency for new and existing license. There are many types of licenses that a business can obtain, and the timeframe for obtaining them varies per type.”

Now this author loves beer – especially dark, imperial stouts – and certainly is not some latter-day prohibitionist. But it’s obvious that OB’s main street is having a make-over, a partial one at least, where beerpubs are taking over the empty storefronts.

This make-over is similar to one that occurred decades ago when it was decided by the local elite, land-owners and major businesses along Newport to make the mainstreet into an antique row, filled with little shops selling ancient furniture and knickknacks. At the time, in a recession, Ocean Beach faced a growing number of empty storefronts with local businesses losing the competition to the malls, and it was thought that the antique stores would “save OB” – or at least its business district.

And the antique stores moved in. There was even “Antique Days” on Newport, and they were all the rage – for awhile. Years later, just about the only survivors are those that could evolve into a mall – where individual stalls were leased out to many antique sellers.

And now it’s the breweries’ turn. Or is it?

It’s within all the comments to the various articles we’ve posted that the debate rages. A couple of weeks ago, we did a status update on the beer-tasting rooms on Newport – and even more issues were raised.

Here, below, I’ve tried to organize the different sides to this debate, all brought out by the various and numerous comments.

Obviously, not everyone was happy about the brewpub developments.  One typical comment was filed by Tyler:

I doubt they all last. Way too over saturated. Not happy with all these breweries. People exclaim they don’t attract the “type” of drinker who causes problems, yet as a resident of Bacon I’ve noticed a sizable uptick in loudness, foot traffic, and drunk driving/fights in the last year. Always around 1-2 AM. I’m all for beer – I just don’t think we need to become PB, as you stated.

But Mike found exception:

The sizable uptick isn’t due to these places since none are open yet. If you think it’s culture, consider they close at midnight on weekends and 10 (if they have customers) on weeknights.

Triggerfinger pushed the debate:

OB has an over-concentration of liquor licenses (1 license per 153 population). State law allows 1 per 2,000. There are more liquor licenses here per capita than in PB.

Restaurant and bar licenses do not require a city Conditional Use Permit and thus do not undergo any city land-use review process and are not reviewed by local planning groups.

In areas that are high crime or over-concentrated, a finding that the license would serve
public convenience or necessity (PCN) must be made in order to grant the license.
– For bars and stores, cities can determine PCN, and ABC must abide by the
city’s decision
– For restaurants, ABC determines PCN
– If a finding is made for PCN, the new license can be granted despite the
existing conditions of high crime or over-concentration

Chris said:

While I love SD’s beer scene and am stoked we have become the craft mecca, I think we are reaching oversaturation. Five tasting rooms on Newport alone? Wow.

But then he admitted that he likes several of the new places. And therein lies part of the dilemma.

Sarita also commented against the beer joints: “Ugh, ugh, and more ugh.

Frida was likewise aligned:

A variety of beer tasting rooms does not variety m a k e. Ocean beach needs to remain it’s vibrancy as a family town, not just be o n e large beer hall.

The comparison with Pacific Beach is inevitably made. Mike said:

Re PB, I’d rather see 1 brewery and 2 tasting rooms open over a single bar that serves beer AND liquor. It’s outside the full bars at 130am that things really get dicey. I’m down to give these beer places a shot. I don’t think a few beer tasting rooms turns into full blown PB mayhem.

Jack also wanted to comment on the Pacific Beach comparison:

There are ZERO tasting rooms in PB so it’s an apples too oranges comparison.

And cc added:

As someone who has lived in OB and PB I still feel like there is a huge difference between the two and their “scenes.”

The tasting rooms are 100x better than a bar opening where they serve liquor. Every time I’ve gone to culture its to have 1-2 beers and that’s it. It always seems to be pretty relaxed in there, it really is a different crowd than going to a bar in PB. There are a couple of tasting rooms in PB now and it doesn’t actually seem like they do as well as the ones in OB.

JWinn agreed:

You cannot compare the breweries moving into Ocean Beach to the bar scene in Pacific Beach. For starters Brew houses and taprooms are pet and child-friendly and usually have a pretty mellow family/friendly vibe to them. Nothing like bars and nightclubs in Pacific Beach.

Breweries sponsor local events and contribute to the community way more than bars and nightclubs. Breweries appeal to a wide demographic of people where bars and nightclubs appeal to a much younger crowd.

I think it’s great that Ocean Beach is becoming craft beer destination in the new capital of craft like hops Highway, Beeramar and 30th Street. I hope to see a few more local craft breweries open tap rooms around the neighborhood. Times are changing for the better.

Part of the debate and discussion centered on who was responsible – and for getting involved. Sarita exclaimed:

What public officials can be held responsible for this illegal alcohol saturation? Whoever they are they need to be. v o t e d out!

Sammy was in agreement:

…if these licenses are so easy to get, do we envision the rest of Newport with only beer and wine tasting places? Ugh. Step up, politicians and do something. And step up, obecians …before it is too late.

Some blamed Councilwoman Lorie Zapf:

Councilwoman Zapf….is this her vision for o b? A big beer hall? Or can she help put a halt to what should be illegal?  Between booze and air b and b, o b is under siege.

Rufus set her right:

Zaph is not a dictator. She has little to no power to affect the planning process as defined in the muni code.  But you do! It takes a long term commitment to the community planning process. YOU have to attend OB Planning Board meetings and YOU have to attend city council meetings. YOU need to make your voice be heard.  Anything less is just howling at the moon.

However, KH came in and pointed out that:

The OBPB has no say over the excess number of licenses, or the encroachments, but they should stick their neck in it anyways. The city council and police chief absolutely DO have a say, in fact it’s their responsibility.

Barb made the point:

Someone told me these tasting rooms are saturating o b by exploiting a loophole. Much “easier” license to get than a full liquor license.

And nostalgic responded:

Please note the type of license [pictured as “23 – Small Beer Manufacturer”]. These licenses are easier to obtain than other types of alcohol licensing. The same is true for vintners. Their requirements were originally designed for the large vineyards in Napa Valley.

This is one reason that they do not serve food. Then they become a restaurant requiring a license to serve alcohol. There are many types of licensing, and the ones with minimum requirements have become the most popular.

Hunter explained:

The licenses are easier to get – because they only serve beer. The public can protest against any proposed licenses. Let’s remember that these are established Breweries and we are located in the “Craft Beer Capital of the US”. … OB has a very well rounded selection of businesses and these breweries may or may not last but at the very least they are good neighbors and it brings the community together.

Nostalgic came back:

Again, the State of California grants liquor licenses. If you are opposed or have issues, go to the ABC web site, and fill out the appropriate form: This is the only way to take action. Not that I think it should be this way, it just is how it is.

Now, naturally, there’s been full-throated support for the brewpubs. Former City Councilman Byron Wear, for one, has been on their cheer leading team. He said:

Brewery Tasting Rooms in Ocean Beach create an attraction for local Peninsula residents as well as visitors resulting in economic opportunities for nearby “mom and pop” owned businesses to do well.

How many times do we walk down either Newport or Voltaire and make multiple stops for a beer or a glass of wine, dinner at a local eatery, dessert or an ice cream and stopping in to shop. The brewery tasting rooms have an upscale hip vibe vs. a “bar.”

OB Brewery Tasting Rooms are good news for our community.

On another post, Wear added:

The variety of Ocean Beach beer tasting rooms are all good for the long term pedestrian traffic on Newport and Voltaire, attracting customers from throughout the Peninsula community to the adjacent cafes and mom and pop retail shops.

Hunter was on that side:

This is great for OB and great for the Community – better than row after row of Antique stores. Let’s not forget OB has long been a rowdy drinking neighborhood. The times are changing in OB and for the better. These tasting rooms are dog and kid friendly and bring nothing but positive energy to the community. 

And he continued:

OB has always been a bit rowdy and party – always been full of bars. These brew pubs are incredible and give OB a new dynamic. An no people will not confuse it with PB. Half these commentators need tomstepmiut of their house every now and again

Another person agreed:

If you  actually spent time in a brewery tasting room you’d know it’s families with their kids and locals who walked their dogs there… Omg there’s a dog in a concrete box where people drink beer. It’s eating pretzels off out of a toddlers hand.. The anarchy… The community has gone to crap!! Hysterical. No idea where the narrow mindedness comes from…

Rick C exclaimed:

All of the beer tasting rooms feature the products of independent breweries. Support your independent brewers!

That being said, to all the nay-sayers – what would you like to see on newport/voltaire? what new shops/stores/industries would you like to see? OB has it all.

Dave was more pensive:

I haven’t spent a lot of time in these brand-specific brewpubs, to be honest, but I see them as a bit different from typical bars in the type of clientele they’d appeal to. With a concentration of some of the region’s standouts offering tasting rooms within a few blocks of one another (don’t forget Mike Hess in the old dog wash on Voltaire!), OB could be a great draw for “beer tourists,” which are a thing and a thing that is growing.

Then again, they could end up handling bar overflow and filled with some of the same obnoxious, twentysomething crowd that I’m assuming is the undesirable element here…

One tangent of the debate has been to ask what business or enterprise could or would go into the storefronts that now have become beer-tasting rooms.

Tyler asked:

The unfortunate issue is what do you put in these locations instead? More tourist traps?

Mike mulled the alternatives:

Unfortunately, you’re right, what do “we” put in these empty storefronts? It’s obviously not a hookah bar, as that place is now gone. It’s also not humble hippie, a yoga place, or a smoke shop. It’s probably also not a burrito place, a record store, a fancy restaurant, a movie theater, or a surf shop. SD is unique when it comes to beer; maybe OB is the more attractive beer tour than Mira Mesa.

One local answered: Medical marijuana dispensaries.

Andy took a more philosophical and historical look:

I’m all for it, beer attracts wonderful people and is good for the community. Then why did they outlaw drinking on the beach, drunk rowdy people not being able to control themselves in public. Well what is it, a wonderful thing that will bring prosperity or demon juice that will bring about the downfall of society? I guess it all about who’s making money off of it. I personally would like to enjoy a beer at sunset on the beach without being arrested .

Finally, Rufus suggested:

Stop whining and get involved in the planning process if you don’t like what’s going on.

This debate will continue – especially as the new brewpubs open. Check this space.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Frida August 3, 2016 at 3:49 pm

Good summation of the debate thus far.
In speaking with old-timers around town, and reading things here, it’s clear that O B once was more of a family-oriented town, and should be again. A person I spoke with at Shades said a friend of his was trying hard to bring an arcade back here, such as had once existed in the little shops near Yo Mama’s Mug. Others mentioned a bookstore or a small art movie theater. James Gang used to be a mini-bowling alley. Long ago, there was a Merry-Go-Round that ended up, refurbished, up in the Bay Area. And, of course, in the misty long ago, there was Wonderland. Why can’t such businesses thrive again – retro and nostalgia, yes. But also wholesome and engaging for kids and families both? Some have mentioned cost, yet one wonders if the real problem is lack of imagination…


cc August 4, 2016 at 10:32 am

Those businesses don’t thrive because parents don’t take their kids to them anymore. They stick their kid in front of a TV or Ipad and tell them to stay busy, so the parents can play on facebook.

It’s a sad reality but technology and a focus on material possessions has led us down this path.


Dave August 3, 2016 at 10:49 pm

Nice assembly of the varying takes on this issue, Frank.

I’ll stand by the one of several I’ve had that you chose to quote here – beer is all over San Diego in a big way, and capturing a big enough sampling of local offerings within a few blocks could certainly be a boon for beer tourism, an activity that usually occurs during the day. As someone else mentioned above, OB makes for a much more picturesque and appealing location for such practice than the warehouse districts in the city’s northern inland that currently do a brisk business in the same.

Ultimately, the problem is vacant shops – would OBecians as a community rather have a dead main street or a vibrant one in ways they might not prefer? I remember the antique boom, the pot shop boom (more on that later), and maybe the beer boom is just a temporary thing. The issue is that rents are just too damn high for community-supporting businesses to exist, and there are only so many clothing boutiques or shops selling cheap crap to tourists that a few blocks can support – something else (something generating revenues high enough to exist) has to fill the gap, or empty storefronts will begin to blight those that remain.

That said, even though I’m much less likely to burn one than in years past, I also felt the blossoming of Newport as San Diego’s “green light district” in the wild west days of semi-legal pot dealers held a lot of promise. If the pothead vote goes as they hope (I’ll certainly be one non-toker on their side), I could see things quickly ramping up again in that direction. Would the anti-beer crowd rather see a return to the early 2010s when there were at least a dozen dispensaries in town?


Steve A. August 4, 2016 at 8:06 am

Can we trade one of the tasting rooms for a 7 Eleven instead?


Chris August 5, 2016 at 11:46 am



Chris August 5, 2016 at 11:46 am

I mean Touché.


Derek August 6, 2016 at 8:48 am

As someone who has been gone for 24 years and recently just visited I can attest to the changes. When my wife and I moved away 24 years ago, PB was clean, full of young people looking for fun in the sun, and a bit like “LaJolla Light”. At the same time OB was a community looking beach town.

Last week while we were out there, we both looked at each other and said what happened to PB!? Bars, Vape Shops, stained sidewalks every where you walk, and a stench of a college frat house the morning after a Toga party! We both agreed it was ruined and could never imagine living in such a cesspool as it has become. Yet OB still looked like a community beach town.

The point is, while alcohol establishments bring in those looking to drop weekend bucks, it also changes the face of the community when their numbers start to take over. It’s not my fight anymore but take a neutral view of how changes have come and how things look to a casual observer and give pause to development for the sake of development.



kenloc August 12, 2016 at 7:58 am

Hey kids, what do you want to do today?
” Can we go to Helms brewery? Pleeeeeeeeease??” said no kid ever.
Trying to pass off your beer only bar as a good place to take kids is just ridiculous IMO. You don’t see wineries telling people to bring their kids out for some wine tasting. The term” tasting room” makes it sound like people are in there swishing it around in their mouths and spitting it out. They are beer only bars,serving tall pours of strong beer. They have used the tasting room label as a loophole to open their doors and make cash. They do not care about our community…..only taking your money. ” Bring the kids and dogs while you drink too! ”
Take your kids someplace they may enjoy…. I can assure you they don’t want to stand around playing with your phone while you “taste” beer with your friends.
Or hire a local teen to babysit while you go “tasting”.


Debbie September 24, 2016 at 5:58 pm
Frank Gormlie September 26, 2016 at 9:21 am

Yeah, thanks Debbie; we reported this in mid-July.


nostalgic September 26, 2016 at 12:23 pm

When is a brewery not a brewery? The licensing requirements for a brewery come with built-in permission for up to 5 tasting rooms in other areas. It is hard to know exactly which ones are breweries and which ones are tasting rooms. But this is one of the reasons OB is getting so many.


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