Ocean Beach Gets a Failing Grade for Coastal Access

by on February 1, 2019 · 15 comments

in Ocean Beach

Click on image for a larger version. All images and photos by Kevin Hastings unless otherwise indicated.

By Kevin Hastings

If you haven’t explored our coast south of the OB pier, I recommend you try before they are gone completely.

These cliffs and pocket beaches south of the OB pier have historically served locals and surfers as a refuge from the more touristy beaches to the north.  You’ll find an interesting mix of sand crabs and other wildlife, yogis and homeless, remnants of eroded structures, breathtaking sunsets, litter, and graffiti.

Unfortunately, the constant wave action and sluggish response from the city has left most of the coastline inaccessible.  The map shows the locations, most of which are now closed (in red) or are at risk of closure (yellow).

Most of the locations are somewhere in the city’s to-do list, but the process is frustratingly long and lacks transparency.  Small repairs and maintenance can be performed directly by the various city departments, but larger repairs are processed as Capital Improvement Projects (CIP).

CIP projects along our coast begin pass through the budget process (which is a long list of steps in of itself), then design phase, approval by Development Services, City Council and the Coastal Commission, then bidding and finally construction.

Surprisingly these public projects do not come across the desk of the OB Planning Board. According to City Council Policy 600-24, “Community planning groups may be called upon to advise on, or participate in, additional efforts such as CIP infrastructure needs identification discussed I Council Policy 000-32.”

In practice, the Board creates an annual wish list of projects after meeting with the public and the District 2 council staff.  But the city does not otherwise seek input or share project drawings with the Board or the general public.  This is in sharp contrast to private developments which have less impact on the general public.  In these cases the Board and the public review the drawings and provide a recommendation to the city before they can be permitted.

Tour Your Inaccessible Coast

Starting at Newport Avenue and heading south, here is a summary of all the coastal access points in our community:

OB Pier with corroding supports and recent storm damage (photo credit: Oliver Dillard)

OB Fishing Pier – CLOSED, under repair

The pier is regularly closed during high waves when it often sustains damage to the wood railings, but it did so in more spectacular fashion on the weekend of January 19, 2018.  Several hundred feet of railings were completely wiped out and strewn across the beach and Newport Ave.  The utilities connecting to the café were also damaged.  The railing is actively being repaired, and is estimated to be completed in 2 months.  But the future of the pier altogether is in peril.

The pier is now 53 years old, and the OB Planning Board has asked the city to prioritize funding to address the deteriorating structural conditions. In 2018, $670K was budgeted for CIP project #P18002 “Ocean Beach Pier Condition Assessment”. This is funded by lease and concession revenue on the pier, but it is unclear what work was performed.  For the 2019 budget $3.9M was proposed but it is marked as a low priority and no funds have been allocated.

South Boardwalk Stairs – CLOSED

A wood staircase leads from the street level down to the south end of “the wall” on the boardwalk.  The stairs have been fenced off since approximately 2008, presumably due to unsafe conditions.  The stairs have since become a dumping spot.  In February 2008, the city performed an emergency repair to the sidewalk below after locals discovered it was discovered it was completely eroded underneath, exposing the footing of the building.

Salt Pool – CLOSED

This is the area below Silver Spray Apartments that in a previous lifetime contained a public saltwater pool known as The Plunge. It connects the boardwalk to the tidepools to the south.  The steps to the tidepools had eroded beneath and were in danger of collapsing.

In the fall of 2018, Ramona Paving embarked on a $330K contract to repair the steps and 2 other locations.  The contractor chipped away at the steps, turning them into a ramp, and cut a section out, making it more dangerous than before.

Last week, heavy waves tore the remainder of the steps loose.  The entire salt pool is now gated and locked, presumably to secure their work area which isn’t being worked in and contains only a small pile of water-logged construction materials.  Adventurous types have cut through the gates and locks several times to gain access.

Weathered construction materials at the Salt Pool, why does this need to be secured?

These stairs were identified as an issue back in 2003, and funded in 2013.  The funding source is the San Diego Regional Parks Improvement Fund (RPIF) which collects $3.5M or more in annual lease revenue from Mission Bay Park.  However, in 2016, the funds for it (and the Bermuda stairs) were reallocated to repair beach stairs in La Jolla.

Street closure above Narragansett stairs, with fence blown over. The area is not being utilized. (photo credit: Joshua Sullivan)

Narragansett Stairs – CLOSED

The stairs are well-weathered and the handrails have disintegrated, but the stairs otherwise appear to be safe.  These are sunken into the bluff and due to the privacy has been a haven for drug use, defecating, and homeless camps.  Ramona Paving has fenced off the entire end of the street, blocking parking, and access to the steps since October.  The steps are not in the scope of their project, so it seems unnecessary.  The fenced in area at the end of the street isn’t being utilized for any material storage.

Santa Cruz Stairs – DAMAGED, at risk of collapse

Erosion, and perhaps vandalism has undermined the base of the stairs and the pathway to the south.  I was hesitant to inform the city for risk of them locking it for perpetuity… but I did in hopes it could be repaired before it collapses entirely.  This was their response: “We are aware of the issue and stairs have been placed on a list for repair.”  In 2017, Park and Rec recommended allocating $425K from the RFIP for design and feasibility studies to repair the stairs and walkway.  No repairs have been performed, and the erosion is progressing.

Orchard Stairs – CLOSED

The stairs at Orchard appear to be fully functional and safe.  Unfortunately, they are gated and locked due to repairs on the sidewalk below.  The contractor placed fencing to block off street parking and store materials, but the actual work on the sidewalk stopped after their concrete forms were predictably destroyed by waves in December.   This is part of the previously mentioned $330K Ramona Paving contract and funded via the RPIF.  It’s perplexing why it’s being repaired at all, since the walking path is safe without it and the sidewalk doesn’t really go anywhere.  You cannot access the water here due to the rip rap (boulders) below, and it leads to trail to the north that is far more difficult to traverse.

Orchard “Boat Ramp” – OPEN

This is a steep concrete ramp, technically at the end of Cable Street.  It leads to a small rocky beach below and connects to the Pescadero stairs.  The road signage at the street level is damaged and missing, creating a safety hazard.  In the late hours on New Year’s Eve, a vehicle crashed off the end of the road here.

Pescadero Stairs – CLOSED, technically

The stairs from the street were recently repaired by the adjacent property owner in conjunction with retaining wall repairs to protect their condo building.  The stairs down to the beach were damaged by winter waves and repaired. but quickly damaged and closed again.  The city’s response: “We are aware of the collapse at Pescadero Avenue and are looking into a solution.”  The closure is easily bypassed and the signs have since been removed.  Homeless people have been camping at the base of the cliff.

Bermuda Stairs – CLOSED

The stairs to this popular pocket beach were damaged by a winter storm in early 2016, along with the previously mentioned access stairs in La Jolla on Coast Boulevard.  The city declared the La Jolla stair project an emergency and repaired it in the summer of the following year, using funds originally allocated for Bermuda and other OB projects.  Per the city’s project manager, construction on the Bermuda stairs is currently anticipated in the fall of 2020.  This is identified as CIP #B17110 and has an estimated cost of $200K.  In September, a woman was witnessed falling down to the beach while scaling the damaged stairs.  The next day she was found deceased on the beach but it is unclear if the damaged stairs were a contributing factor.

Closed stairs at Point Loma Ave. Public access may be restored soon as part of a private development.

Point Loma Ave Stairs – CLOSED

These stairs accessed a pocket beach that has since vanished due to the installation of rip rap to prevent erosion of the bluff.  The property owner above is seeking permits to construct a new retaining wall which would include public access stairs.  The work might start in 2019.  This is in-line with Coastal Commission policy for developments to provide public access where it is otherwise not available. Curiously, the city recommended only adding concrete and leaving the rip rap in place.

Ladera Stairs – OPEN, recently repaired

The stairwell was closed in February 2018 following a partial cliff collapse.  This area is south of the OB Community Planning Area, and is in the jurisdiction of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council.  But true to form, the city bypassed them and approved $1.8M for emergency repairs in August.  The repairs ultimately entailed a having worker in a man-lift chip away at the cliff with a shovel.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park – CLOSED, under restoration

The Park is currently closed as part of a long-planned restoration project which includes the removal of non-native trees and a softball field, and the addition of walking paths and native plants.

Kevin Hastings is a member of the OB Planning Board, although he is not writing on its behalf.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Ol OB Hippie February 1, 2019 at 12:02 pm

Thank you Kevin. This is one superb piece. Every OBcean ought to read and then memorize it and be able to spout it off to all politicians and city dept managers.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie February 1, 2019 at 12:05 pm

This is very good. It’s amazing and shocking that we’ve allowed the city to get away with not fixing these important coastal access points.

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retired botanist February 1, 2019 at 12:47 pm

Excellent article! When viewed collectively like this, the appalling condition of this entire section of coastline speaks volumes. And what is really clear from the article is that the deplorable state of these shorelines, and their dangerous conditions, is not the result of the original cliff collapses or erosion, but rather the exposed rebar, crumbling cement, abandoned construction materials, broken fencing, broken stairways, rusty signage, trash, and other debris that litters the area. Shame on the City of San Diego for underfunding, dragging their feet, and concentrating on La Jolla’s “emergencies”! I have never seen a municipality take so long to complete what should be straightforward repair… 3 years? 2 years? Seriously?! Its a disgrace and a total bummer for what should be a gorgeous section of SoCal coastline! :(

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Kevin Hastings February 1, 2019 at 1:03 pm

I looked at the emergency location in La Jolla, there appears to be functional access points 600ft to either side of it that all connect.

vs. what we have here that has closed a mile worth of paths by allowing access only at only one point in the middle.

Could be favoritism, or could be that scream louder than we do.

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Kevin Hastings February 1, 2019 at 12:58 pm

Some new info…

Because of the new damage at the Salt Pool steps it has to go back to engineering, which is going to delay them restarting the project.

Also the existing sidewalk at Orchard they were going to tie into was just washed out by the waves.

I’m checking to see what we can do to alleviate the parking situation and closures.

Summer construction moratorium starts 5/27. Tick tock…

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Geoff Page February 1, 2019 at 3:38 pm

Excellent article, Kevin, very well done. I can chime in a little on the pier. The $670k was a second installment from the city to study the pier, the first was $167k. I tried to get the reports these funds produced but the city refused so I did a PRR. All they gave me were the engineering contracts and the invoices but they would not give me the reports. My next step is the city attorney. The pier is in seriously bad shape. I’ve spent my career in construction and I would estimate it needs from $10 to $15 million in repairs. Conrad Wear told the OBPB that the $3 million you mentioned was budgeted for some work but it is not enough. Us long time residents know the pier used to never be closed unless the surf was really big. Now, it is closed with great frequency probably because the city is very worried as a result of the assessment reports.

Thanks again for a great piece.

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charlies February 2, 2019 at 6:14 am

Great Kevin Very good Job thanks For news i will share whit my local community Good stuff kevin im leaning in 2019 To be Ready for My summer time job

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Citizen Cane Larry OB February 3, 2019 at 10:26 am

We lost a wooden stairway at the foot of Del Monte Avenue. I remember carrying my Flexi-Flyer up the stairs to visit my friend.

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Citizen Cane Larry OB February 3, 2019 at 10:54 am

“In 2017, Park and Rec recommended allocating $425K from the RFIP for design and feasibility studies to repair the stairs and walkway.”

Wow! That much just for the planning at Santa Cruz Avenue. Part of the problem at this location, is the failure of Park and Rec to maintain the landscaping and irrigation that was put in when this access point was developed in the early eighties.

The so-called “Sunset Slopes” project, also gave us a raised beach at Coronado Avenue. It washed away twice, and then the city gave up on the raised beach. So we only got a temporary mitigation for the long stretch of rip rap South of Coronado Avenue. Ring that shame bell for Park and Rec. Let the OBPB be a BIG part of the planning process.

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retired botanist February 4, 2019 at 11:01 am

Good point, Larry- I’ve worked with many engineering firms over the years reviewing drainage studies, tentative maps, landscaping, hydrology analyses, etc. and $425K is a RIDICULOUS sum of money for the scope! I get that the Pier is another order of complexity, but all these other repairs? Give me a break!

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Kevin Hastings February 4, 2019 at 12:06 pm

Also, the $330K I referred to for one project was just construction costs. The design costs were an additional $3-400K.

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Kevin Hastings February 4, 2019 at 12:10 pm

You’re not allowed to irrigate the area between your building and the bluff as it contributes to erosion. (You could argue that the plants prevent erosion, but don’t look at me, I didn’t make the rules.) I’m not sure how this applies in the city right-of-way.

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George February 11, 2019 at 8:42 am

I blame a lot of this on the city engineers and maintenance people. You can’t use standard reinforced concrete structures along the ocean. Within five years chlorides leach into the cement, corrode the rebar, and the whole thing starts to fall apart. Additionally a few dollars of maintenance now and then would stop hundreds of thousands of dollars in collapsed infrastructure.

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Doug Blackwood February 3, 2019 at 11:26 am

Excellent update. At least in part, the erosion was accelerated by all the boulders placed to save the structures on the edges of the Cliffs. In the 60’s & early 70’s, activists campaigned against their (apts/condos) building: predicting the current state of the area!
So this is the result!

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GE Sweeney February 4, 2019 at 10:15 am

Is this ongoing lack of repair benefiting a few residents who seem to be able to ignore the California public beach access law. Can it be that the City civil servants are only serving a small number of citizens at the expense of the rest of the taxpayers. SHOCKING!!!

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