Some History of the Dirt & Kids at the Famosa Pump Track – With Plenty of Questions Remaining

by on March 19, 2019 · 3 comments

in History, Ocean Beach

By Katie Mae B.

“It’s the dirt!” they both say in unison. “The unique mix of dirt, sand and organic materials – that is what makes it the perfect dirt.”

You can see the little boys shining through the eyes of the men across from me – Jesse and Darren. These two have been active in Famosa Open Space pump track at different points over a few decades and with the same core group.  Now they are a part of the larger group working together to save the whole space.

What I am about to share is a small snapshot in the infinite time span over which Famosa Open Space has existed in its current state.

Who knows what was here before 1909! What we do know is that it’s all about the dirt. I was fortunate enough to run into the environmental engineers hired last summer to do a report for the San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC). They agreed the area was special and said it was the ‘cleanest urban open space they had ever seen’; but since they were ‘not hired to determine that’ it’s not going to be in their report.

The Pump Track has a long and organic history and its evolution has always stemmed from the ingenuity of children.

showing the organic state of the track mounds with flowers growing.

The track back in the 1990s (courtesy of Jesse)

In the 1990s the “bike kids” found asphalt chunks discarded on the side of Nimitz that they could use for a base. The dirt coated them perfectly to make those first mounds for jumping. That small run under the trees evolved into a massive track that took up most of the open space. At its’ height in the late 90s, the pump tracks saw pro-riders perfecting their tricks before their debut at the X Games, just down the street at SeaWorld.

Then one morning it was gone.

In 2012 a group of new and old “bike kids” – now with their own kids – found another organic track opportunity. When the SDHC landscapers came through to chop down all the bamboo in the valley and the dirt covered over the bamboo stumps, another pump track evolved. The kids all enjoyed riding and were thrilled! They loved digging and improving the mounds after the rains. Until they woke up one morning and it was gone.

But this time was different.

Darren and a group of extremely dedicated locals started to work with the City. One of them spent a lot of time downtown talking to City officials.  He prevailed and they were offered the opportunity to rent the space at a rate of $1/month. They were thrilled!

They organized. They had a non-profit to back them. They lined up insurance. They had the pump track plans drawn up. Then the City informed them they needed an Environmental Impact Report and it would cost them $5000. The City hadn’t provided them a rental agreement yet, so what happened once they paid for the EIR? Who did they send it to? No one they talked to in the City offices had any idea what they were talking about. Thus, they found themselves at a dead end.

Darren and author with the bobcat last in 2018.

Thankfully we do have DC Collier’s wishes memorialized in the City’s 1909 Ordinance. It states, in part, that this space should be for the children to use. But for the City’s vote to rezone. But for the SDHC transferring funds to the San Diego Housing Authority so the SDHA could purchase the land using the Gas Tax fund.  Why didn’t the SDHC purchase it themselves?  As the documents show, the City’s Charter banned the SDHC.  But for all these actions decades ago, this land would be exempt from any housing mandates.

So here we are.

A year after the last bobcat was sent to “destroy the pump track” on March 19, 2018. A few upset parents were alerted & showed up in time. If they had to ‘evict’ others to clean up that area of space, then they had to evict us sitting on the track. The crew left. Now, the damage has been repaired and the children are once again thrilled. Thank you to everyone who spent hundred of volunteer hours helping!!

I asked Darren and Jesse if they knew why the SDHC has been so determined to destroy the track. I had personally seen the  work order last year – it said “destroy the pump track” and “take pictures when done”. They both said liability. They had heard, as many of us have, that years ago someone had been badly hurt and their family sued the city for millions. Well, that makes sense right? But it is not true.

The SDHC recently confirmed, via their Public Records response, that that story is urban legend. To be clear – the City has NOT had any injuries reported, lawsuits or other claims of liability over this space to date.  They clarify that they fear the “potential” for liability. Lucky for them, and us, California Government Code Section 831.7 (also known as Recreational Use Law) insulates government agencies from being liable for an individual’s injury during recreational use of open space. The real liability begins when this space is no longer used “as is” or if it ceases to be City owned. Buyer beware!

“No Trespass” sign has wrong number.

One can’t help but wonder why the City’s “powers that be” do not do more to support the community? Why don’t they act to stop the SDHC’s bullying actions? Why don’t they have the trespassing signs removed, especially considering they have the wrong phone number? Why don’t the children have a right to use this open space while they “explore” their options? There has been no shortage to the amount of questions arising this past year.



{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

micporte March 19, 2019 at 9:35 am

good clean article, facts irrefutable, intentions clear, city bureaucracy as fucked as ever.. now working on the new generation,, ‘no liability’ for your use of YOUR CIVIC LAND… do you feel like the fucked native Americans having the land deals reversed and rescinded thought the centuries? you should, this is your land, not the temporary elected officials, and certainly not the the POLICE inforcers, and certainly not the mafia developers, don’t y’all watch/play these “revolution ” type videos online bullshit? invented by my bullshit drug/coder generation? Well? you wanna keep this land from the mafia/sell out bureaucrat developers with a spin, then protest, youth, protest everybody, dont let them humiliate you no matter what, ye, red eye, pot smoker? look ’em in the eye anyways, no shame, no fear, stand tall you, this is your world, defend it now


Dave March 19, 2019 at 10:00 pm

Great article on the current state of affairs and a solid call to action, Katie (you know I appreciate the work you’re doing to preserve the site), but historically I’m going to beg to differ a bit.

Back in the ’90s, we called the spot “Nimitz Trails.” While the X Games (I think they were still called the Extreme Games then) were held at Mariners’ Point for a couple years (as an East County boy I spent those summers living at my friend Kory’s house in PB), the pump track as we know it today was very different.

It’s actually much better, and more family-friendly, today. 20 years ago we’d get the dirt to build our takeoff lips and landing ramps from a pit dug out smack in the center of the two – try to roll over these jumps and you’re begging for an instant injury. We hurt ourselves a lot back then, but remarkably none of us ever sued anyone for the poor choices we made – I broke my wrist on the last jump of the downhill six-pack (three sets of increasingly larger jumps) headed toward the stand of trees abutting Nimitz where we had a cool sunken living room carved out of the dirt, and the city never found out.

Nimitz was a spot more for racers dabbling in trail riding than hardcore dirt jumpers – the X Games wiki shows TJ Lavin and Brian Foster were the dirt competition winners the two years the show was in town. I’ve met both on road trips to Sheep Hills in Newport Beach, but never saw them in OB. I did meet, on more than one occasion, Adam McGuire and Kevin Royal, both former national #1 amateur racers who coincidentally both had considerably more illustrious careers with the same factory sponsor that unceremoniously dumped me after just three weekends of sporting their colors (I never had much in the way of skill but hanging around as an also-ran for a decade was still a blast).

That photo credited in the post as being from some point in the 90s is, at earliest, from the late 2000s. Every incarnation of the Nimitz trails from the time I was riding there would have legitimately looked like a death trap and a lawsuit waiting to happen. I can probably produce period-specific photos, but I’m not about to dive into a day-long sort through the crap I have in a storage locker, nor do I want you to see my fat face unshielded by a goatee, or my unsightly mullet (East County boy).

What I’m getting at here is that the pump track as it currently exists is a great community asset – I walked by today on the way to my daughter’s high school lacrosse game and saw both adults on mountain bikes and toddlers on balance scooters navigating the whoops side by side. This space is inviting people in to take advantage of unconventional outdoor recreation activities that they literally can’t get anywhere else in the city (aside from a sanctioned race track in Kearny Mesa that’s only open a few days a week and has a relatively steep entry fee), and even if the city doesn’t like it there are children benefiting from that opportunity.

Wasn’t Joe Collier’s one ask, more than a century ago, that his land be used for the benefit of the children?

Baseball, football, soccer, any of the other organized, traditional sports my parents tried to push me into as a kid, didn’t motivate me to be active and live a full, healthy life. Riding bikes in the dirt is what got through to me, along with thousands of other San Diego kids, and I guarantee those kids today are building spots to ride far worse hidden behind the brush than what we’ve got out here in plain sight. Give them a way to do it right, or they’re going to do it however they damn well please.


Dave March 19, 2019 at 10:17 pm

For reference, here are a few shots of Bearcat Canyon and some vacant land adjacent to Cuyamaca College, either of which could’ve been considered my “home trails” in the 90s…consider whether kids are better off here or at Famosa/Nimitz:


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