Tom Gawronski Has Retired From the OB Planning Board – Again

by on March 26, 2019 · 2 comments

in Ocean Beach

Tom Gawronski just retired from a lengthy stint on the Ocean Beach Planning Board. He’s been chair of the advisory panel of volunteer community planners twice, he told me at a recent Planning Board meeting, and he’s been on the Board for years – the number is in the double-digits.

And, he mentioned with a twinkle in his eye, he might get back on it after a year. The Board’s Bylaws allow residents to return to the Board after being termed out after a vacation of a year.

So, if there’s anybody who knows the in’s and out’s of community planning, it’s Tom. His wife, Jane, is currently on the Board and has also been a volunteer planner for many a year.

In fact, a few years ago, I wrote a post entitled, “The Dynamic Duo of the OB Planning Board” after I interviewed them both at their house on Coronado Avenue. (See this: OB Rag February 2012)

From my own experience of being a member and chair of the Planning Board, I know it’s really a thankless job. After countless hours of meetings and reviews of projects, there’s no ribbons or accolades at the end of one’s term on the Board. Yet Tom is really someone for whom the community of Ocean Beach needs to thank – for he’s been a watchdog for the village and a guardian against gentrification and over-development.

Back 8 years ago, when Ocean Beach was facing dire threats from over-development and gentrification, particularly on the last block of West Point Loma, Tom lead the OB Planners in a call for a moratorium on variances being granted by the City. Tom and most of the Board viewed these as improper variances granted by the Developmental Services Department to property owners along the 5100 block of West Pt Loma Blvd. in a way to get around the OB Precise Plan and zoning laws.

With the variances tucked neatly in their folder, the owner-developers then proceed with construction, demolishing affordable duplexes and building large, 3-story single-family residences- some at least are used as short-term vacation rentals.

Backing up, we believe Tom – and Jane – know a thing or two about OB; they first moved to the beach in the mid-1970s. Before that, they were living in Minneapolis when … (from my 2012 interview)

OB Gawronskis inside

Jane and Tom Gawronski in their Coronado Avenue house. 2012

Then one day – it was in 1974 as Jane remembers it clearly – “Tom came home,” she said, “and he said ‘it’s too cold here. I got a job for you in San Diego. It would be nice to live there.’ ”  He had found her a job with the San Diego County Office of Education.  She still had to apply – and she did – and she got it. She was to be the curriculum coordinator for the office.

Tom had become familiar with San Diego over the years – by attending conferences here – particularly those memorable periodonology conferences.  They both came out in February so she could do her application. She had never been here.

“Minneapolis was black and white,” Jane explained referring to their barren, winter landscape. “When we came to San Diego and saw all this color, I told Tom, ‘we went from black and white to Technicolor.’ ” They chuckled.

Jane said: “We looked around San Diego, it was clear that we wanted to live at the beach.  Tom grew up in lake country and I grew up close to the ocean.”

So, Tom found them a little house in Ocean Beach. What was the community like? she asked him.  He explained OB this way:

“It looks like where old VW vans go to die.”

The new place was perfect.  They moved into the house – Tom still recalls the address – 5061 Cape May.

OB Gawronski old

Jane, daughter Stacia, and Tom in Ocean Beach on Muir in 1975.

Going back even further …

Tom … grew up in Minneapolis – 3 of his grandparents were born in Poland – near Lublin.  He remembers being told by one of them, “It’s a bad place. Don’t go there.” One of his grandfathers, in order to get out of the Russian army – this was before World War I – split the country and walked all the way to Bremenhaven, Germany, ending up in America.

Tom’s father was a mold maker in a foundry, in a small shop that made metal castings for the military during WWII.  He’d also worked at a tire shop before the war, but when the war came, “there was no gas,” Tom said, “and the tire shop work collapsed.” Tom has one sibling, a sister, who lives in Phoenix.

Apparently, a science geek, Tom won a National Merit Scholarship to MIT in Boston.

It was in Boston where Tom and Jane met.

In 1958, Jane was attending U of Mass in Boston and she had a friend who arranged a blind date with a Catholic boy who was attending MIT, also of course in Boston.  It turned out to be Tom.  They must have hit it off, as they’ve been together ever since.  An Irish girl and a Polish boy.

They’ve now been married 57 years!

They both graduated college in 1962 – JFK was President then –  Jane with a bachelor in Math Education, and Tom with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering.  They both wanted to go on and earn higher degrees.  Tom wanted to get into a masters program in food science, and Jane wanted to further her education in math education.

Tom had a roommate at MIT from Pullman, Washington, and it just so happened that Washington State University in Pullman had a terrific program in food science. And Jane could go to the University of Idaho for her masters program. …

[E]ven though the colleges were in different states, “they were only 8 miles apart.” They both chuckled. “Plus,” Jane added, “the University of Idaho was only $5 a credit.”

“We had no money,” Tom said.  Yet, by the end of two years, Tom had his Masters in Food Science & Technology, and Jane got her Masters in Secondary Education. It was 1964.

“What did you do then?” I asked innocently.

“Well, we both wanted our doctorates,” Jane said. “First Tom, then me,” she said. Once again, Tom obtained a type of scholarship, this time it was a National Institute of Health Fellowship and this time it was at Dartmouth. It’s medical school offered a PhD program in molecular biology, Tom’s area.  He went for it.  Meanwhile, Jane started teaching – this was in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

“Jane taught just 2 blocks from the house,” Tom said, and more chuckles. In 1968, Tom got his PhD in molecular biology, and now it was Jane’s turn. She wanted to go to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis because primarily there was a big-time math prof on the faculty who she believed would be wonderful to study with. And in 1971, Jane got her PhD in Math Education.

Meanwhile, Tom was doing post-doc work in the Chemistry Department at the university, and had a series of temporary assistant professor positions over the next few years. …

And that’s when they first moved to San Diego and OB. It was 1974 ..

Tom was doing the cooking and house cleaning, Jane was working, and their daughter Stacia was 2.  Reality must have set in as in September, Jane finally suggested that he get a job.

So, Tom started looking around town, and he did get a job. It was with Beckman Instruments up north in Carlsbad. They make medical and diagnostic equipment. Tom jumped into their R&D department, and stuck.  He stayed with Beckman for 29 years – all total.

In 1977, they left the beach.  They sold their first first house on Muir and bought something larger up in the Fleetridge neighborhood of Point Loma to enable his folks to live with them.

OB Gawronskis Redhouse

Red House on Cape May

Daughter Stacia graduated high school early and with time became an officer in the Navy’s JAG Corps.

Tom and Jane, moved back to the San Diego area in 1990 when Jane got the job of Superintendent of the Escondido High School District that year. They bought a house on 3 acres in Valley Center with 50 macadamia nut trees. “The best thing,” Tom said, “was we raised our own beef. We had a steer in our front yard. We fed  ’em all year, and a guy would come over and give ’em a pop.”

The not so good things about their North County residence was that it was so far from everything, chimed in Jane, and there was so much work to do on the property, said Tom.

OB Gawronskis Redhouse med02When Jane retired from her job in Escondido in 1998, she told Tom, “‘we don’t have to live in Valley Center.’ We wanted to move back to the beach,” Jane said. She had a new position in SDSU’s Center for Research In Mathematics and Scientific Education (CRIMSE) and Tom was working as a director of technical operations, manufacturing and engineering with Beckman.

But where to move?  Which beach to move to? There weren’t a lot of places for sale at the different beaches, Jane remembered.

Luckily they found a 2 bedroom, 2 bath on the last block of Cape May Avenue in OB.

It was 5113 Cape May – and it turned out to be the exact same place as the old “Red House” – an activist-packed house in the 1970’s that was coincidentally painted red, the same color as much of the activists’ alleged politics.

The Gawronskis bought Red House – which was not red then in 1998 – for $275,000 and moved in.  They lived there for 5 years. In 2002 the house was designated an Historic Cottage, part of OB’s Historic Cottage District, that realtor McCoy was instrumental in forming. Today, there’s a plaque on the front of the house – and the house is once again painted red.  The Gawronskis were rather proud in telling me this.

“Did you know,” I asked them, “that for a while, the OB Rag had an office in a shed in the backyard [at Red House]?” Oh yes, they told me. They were quiet aware they assured me of all that old history.

OB Gawronskis closeupIn my interview back in 2012, I asked Tom about some of the good things the Planning Board had accomplished.

Tom commented, “What we did on Abbott and Saratoga – we went to Coastal,” referring to the California Coastal Commission appeal over the fight on the proposed development for the southwest corner of Saratoga and Abbott.

The Board had fought the proposal for a large 12-unit, 3 story condo project, and was able to scale it down, and straighten out some wrinkles.  The Commission had ordered the parties – the developer and the community through its planning board – to resolve differences by compromise.

In negotiations with the developer, the Board was able to “shrink the level of the wall, and had it decreased from12 units to 10, with semi-hid parking,” Tom added.

Such details. You see Tom – and Jane – are into OB for the long haul. They – in their spare time, buy OB cottages and fix them up.

I had asked them at the very end how many properties they owned in OB. They have 5 units on 2 plots on Lotus, just bought a place on the 4900 block of Saratoga, and own 3 on Abbott close to the Abbott Street Grocery. Clearly, they are very committed to the community, as they’ve invested in it with their dollars, but much more than that – their time, their years.

And the rest is history; luckily for the community, Tom and Jane ended up in OB – and in their retirement years, they’ve been very busy. Both are on the OB Historical Society board, she’s on various non-profit boards – and of course, there’s the OB Planning Board.


OB Gawronskis TnJ yard2


For background:

Tour of OB Cottages at Feb 2015 OB Historical Society

How the City Is Gentrifying OB

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

retired botanist March 26, 2019 at 2:26 pm

Great story, delightful couple! And thanks to both of them for all the work and their time in efforts to Keep OB OB :-)


Debbie March 26, 2019 at 5:34 pm

Fantastic story regarding wonderful people! Thank you both for all you. My pleasure to have known you for all these years and hope for many more to come. Also, love how Jane still has her accident :-)



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