Concerns Over Port’s Plans for Shelter Island Lead to Packed Peninsula Planning Meeting

by on July 25, 2019 · 13 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

The big event room at the Point Loma Library was so packed that some people had to stand for the whole July meeting of the Peninsula Community Planning Board.  This is a good sized room, too. Planning board meetings don’t usually draw large crowds, to understate it a bit, so when the room is as packed as it was, there is something of interest on the agenda.  It was the Port District.

Some information about the Port District’s Master Plan has been in the news recently and some of what seemed to be in store for Shelter Island was what brought out the crowd.

The Port is updating its Master Plan and they have what they call a Discussion Document out for public comment.  The problem for many is that the end of the 90-day public comment period is July 31 and it seems a lot of people are just now hearing about this.  The news in the past couple of weeks seems to have alerted people to what is happening.

This was the same reaction at the Midway-Pacific Planning Group meeting the day before the PCPB meeting.  At the Midway meeting, the Port’s presenters were questioned about how the Port had been letting people know the document was out for a 90-day comment period.  It was clear that this was a surprise to some of them.

To answer the Midway group’s question, the presenter ran down a list of outreach efforts that sounded pretty impressive. The brochure they handed out listed “250 interviews with key stakeholders and partner agencies, 13 open houses and community meetings, 36 public Board workshops, and two online surveys with a combined total of more than 6,300 respondents.” It did not appear that the effort reached the Midway or the PCPB planning groups.

The Port presenters at the PCPB meeting began by explaining some history.

The Port District was established in 1962 and its first master plan was approved in 1972.  The plan was certified by the Coastal Commission in 1981 and has been amended 40 times since then.  So, the Port decided an update was in order.  The effort began in 2013 and has resulted in the current Discussion Draft.

Because of the crowd, it appears that the presenters did not get out some information that they provided at the Midway meeting. The Port’s plan is to review the comments and issue an EIR in the spring of 2020, have it approved in the fall of 2020, and then certified by the Coastal Commission at the end of 2020. Fairly fast tracked it seemed.

The audience was disappointed by the presentation because there was not much detail.  The presenters were just there to explain where the Port was in the process more or less. They did say there were ideas for hotels, retail, and office space on Shelter Island.  They mentioned a confusing increase or decrease in the number of boat slips.  They mentioned water mobility features but did not elaborate. One item was a wide walkway or promenade through the island.

The audience was clearly upset by almost everything it looked like the Port planned to do. A lot of complaints about density on a crowded piece of land that already had traffic problems.  What the Port seemed to be proposing would just bring more people and more traffic.  People were worried about hotels that would be over the 30-foot height limit affecting everyone’s view of the bay. One person questioned the need for retail and office space out on the island that did seem like an odd idea for this location.

Unlike Harbor Island, another person pointed out, Shelter Island is backed up by residential neighborhoods that would be badly affected by more density and by tall hotels. The walkway promenade seemed to be a sore point with a lot of people.  They viewed it as a liability providing much too easy access for people with bad intentions along the waterfront.

The mood in the room was not friendly and the presenters were soon on the defensive. They emphasized that this was just a framework for future development but that there were no specific plans at this time. The said there would be plenty of time for public input during the EIR process, the Coastal approval process, and during any development plans that come in the future.

The message they were clearly hearing was the crowd did not want to see any new major developments of any kind on Shelter Island that would result in an increase of traffic and people.

It was interesting, because this reporter remembers Shelter Island from years ago when it was really funky before they tidied it up with neat sidewalks, benches, and little domed lights.  That seemed to ruin the character of Shelter Island.   But, that was nothing compared to what may be in store for what was once an authentic working community for all manner of boat related businesses.

Board member David Dick expressed what many in the room felt – disappointment with the presentation’s lack of detail.  To see what is in the Master Plan for Shelter Island go here.  Pages 123 to 139 of the document are specifically about Shelter Island, which seems to be where the audience members got the bit of information they had.  This is something Point Lomans should read.

Once the discussion of the Port district ended, the room emptied out and the PCPB carried on with its usual business.

Report from Councilwoman Campbell’s Office

Miller Saltzman, representing District 2 for Dr. Campbell, provided updates on a few things, leading with the striping and paving on West Point Loma.  The road has been drastically changed by eliminating parking, providing new bicycle lanes one either side, putting some parallel parking between the bicycle lane and the traffic lane, and reducing West Point Loma from four lanes to two lanes.

Saltzman also mentioned that:

  • The Point Loma Library was getting energy upgrades;
  • $500,000 was granted to the OB Library;
  • Most of Rosecrans and Nimitz will be repaved;
  • The damage to the safety screen fencing on the Voltaire Bridge was repaired;
  • The request for a four-way stop sign at Point Loma Ave. and Sunset Cliffs is being studied.

Concerns Re: 4559 – 4565 Niagara 

Action items on the agenda were a companion unit, placement of telecommunications equipment at the Nazarene University, a home remodel, and a plan to build four detached single dwelling units.  The first three were approved unanimously but the last one generated some opposition.

The plan to build the four units at 4559 – 4565 Niagara involved demolishing a single dwelling unit and consolidating some lots resulting in a lot size of a little over 15,000 square feet.  Each home would have a detached garage with a high pitched roof.  The builder explained an interesting concept for the garages.  Knowing that people often store things in their garages and park on the street, the idea was to have large loft areas in the garages for storage encouraging people to use the garages to park cars. But, the image of those lofts being used for companion units or illegal rentals did come to mind.

The development was well under the 30-foot height limit and was well under the floor area ratio for the property.  The developer said he could have put a fifth unit on the lot legally but did not want it that crowded.  The project appeared to be reasonable but it still generated complaints from several neighbors.  The biggest complaint seemed to be the increased traffic in the alley behind the property because the garages exited into the alley.  One lady asked if they could at least make two of the approaches be from the street to lessen the pressure on the alley.  But, the developer explained the city would not allow it and required the alley configuration.

Considering that the design was not a maximum build out, as is often the case with the height being pushed to 29 feet 11.9 inches and the FAR being one foot less than the maximum, the opposition did not garner enough support to stop approval.  The vote was, curiously, 8 to 6 in favor of the project.  What was surprising was the 6 board members voted against a project for which there were no real objections.

Other Matters

In other matters, the PCPB approved a letter protesting the use of pesticides.  The letter can be seen here:

Discussion of the Famosa Canyon site where the San Diego Housing Commission wants to build affordable housing was referred to the PCPB’s Long Range Planning subcommittee.  The meeting is open to the public.  Anyone interested can look for the next meeting time at

The PCPB will not meet in August.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

ZZ July 25, 2019 at 12:49 pm

The reduction of WPL is already a disaster. The street parking is heavily used, and when someone needs to parallel park, they now block ALL TRAFFIC rather than just the right lane.

The design is also quite bad. There are large areas of paved “dead space” that used to be the second lane and eliminated parking spots. No landscaping, no cars, no bikes, nothing permitted there. Just pavement with “no access” striping. I have never in my life seen a street with such a large percentage with such “no access” striping.

Lane reduction transitions are also auto accident hot-spots. Since the 1-lane sections are in the middle of the block, this adds large numbers of additional dangerous areas to the street.

I have also noticed there is an issue with the left turn lane from eastbound WPL to Nimitz. This is now routinely backed up for blocks, and the dozens of backed up cars waiting to turn left now spill out and block all the other lanes.


Richard July 25, 2019 at 6:42 pm

I read some where recently, I don’t recall the publication, maybe the Rag, but the article or comment referred to a state law that prohibits stop signs on state owned roads. That’s why Sunset Cliffs Blvd has no stop signs. A light is required. So why study for a four way stop, when a Light signal is required. Just wondering


Peter from South O July 26, 2019 at 4:39 am

Richard: Could this be the “Raglet” that you remember as a reference?

(under the “Stop Sign at Sunset Cliffs and Point Loma Ave?” section header)


retired botanist July 26, 2019 at 6:06 am

Ugh, San Diego is at it again! Displacing and wiping out blue collar working communities and shops and replacing them with more tourist infrastructure. Its heartbreaking to witness what has happened to Shelter Island over the last 30 years. Its like a tourist and gentrification virus that has relentlessly spread from Shelter Island Drive south all along the waterfront.
My brother had a boat building and woodworking shop in 3 separate locations, first on Shelter Island Drive, then off a corner of Scott Street, and finally at the Driscoll wharf along north Harbor Drive just north of Nimitz. Each time ‘renovations’ occurred, all the working folk: sail makers, woodworkers, mechanics, electricians- all those involved in the very fabric of the marine industry- were displaced and replaced by yacht brokers, restaurants, promenades and so forth. These workers must have their shops and tools near the water, near the boats whose interiors are getting worked on- so where are they supposed to relocate? Imperial Beach?
Its such a shame and so short-sighted; glad my brother doesn’t have to face picking up stakes yet again…


Geoff Page July 26, 2019 at 1:50 pm

Very well said, retired botanist. When they prettied up the island years ago, my opinion of it was that it now looked like Disneyland. What will be the comparison if they do all of what they propose? It’s a shame, it once had real character because it was a working place. It’s like the difference between the Red Sails and the new Ketch restaurant. Red Sails had a unique character. I’ve seen restaurants that look like the Ketch all over this country. Decent food but no soul.


retired botanist July 26, 2019 at 2:36 pm

So true. Haha, can’t tell you how many meals I had with my bro at the ‘Snails’…admittedly the food was mediocre, but the staff were wonderful- literally over decades. :-) And when Ron Pearson still owned Pearson’s fuel dock (where my brother moored his sailboat) it was the same across the street. There was a COMMUNITY.
Then in the 90s things started getting more ‘tony’, and all the workers in the boat industry had to disperse and move their businesses, generally farther south along the dock fronts and in the immediate blocks behind. The community began to unravel.
Then came the restaurant and hotel encroachment and, once again, the actual working community was either evicted or had to move out of outrageous lease increases, etc. We’ve seen it all before….
Now instead of being able to actually see and engage with people who have incredibly interesting jobs and skills (such as building the America’s Cup boats), tourists can walk by a myriad of restaurants and hotels, and powerboats. Same thing you can do in Miami, Coney Island, or wherever.
Sadly, this is also the cusp OB is sitting on: A COMMUNITY, slowly being supplanted by big chain corporations, tourist rental dwellings, and tourist recreational gear, like scooter corrals. There is a pattern of “killing the very attraction” that makes space unique, and 99% of the time its big corporate interest.

Shelter Island/ America’s Cup Harbor will always have a place in my heart, but it is a mere vestige of the vibrant community its supposed to be. I hold the Port Authority and the CCC absolutely responsible for this demise, and not preserving the historical nature of these spaces.


Geoff Page July 29, 2019 at 11:15 am

Very well said, retired. I remember it all stated with the free anchorage. I had a boat out there for awhile. The Harbor Police and others hated it because we were living there for, oh my god, free! It was a fascinating collection of funky boats from a two story amazing houseboat called the Ponderosa to a little thing that looked like a floating washing machine with a front door that looked like what you’d open to put clothes in. Moored next to me was a big yellow boat with one outrigger. But, they kicked everyone out, put in mooring buoys – income for the Port – and all the chaos and personality was replaced by neat mooring lines of expensive boats.

It would have been nice if it had been preserved as an historic boat building and working community, it was fascinating. Not much anymore.


retired botanist July 29, 2019 at 12:09 pm

Thx Geoff- I realize that others will view this as whining about “days gone by” but its really not that. I realize we must move forward and that times have changed, and I am all about that, too. My concern is HOW we move forward, and what’s worth retaining. And it just seems that invariably, we select cheap thrills, and same patterns as everywhere else. We end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater!


Geoff Page July 29, 2019 at 3:19 pm

Let ’em whine, they’ll be complaining in 30 or 40 years about the changes to what is being done today.

California has a bad record when it comes to preserving the past. There are communities and neighborhoods back East that look exactly as they have for many, many years and those old neighborhoods have character. The only way to develop character is to have years and years of individual influence on a neighborhood. What we seem to lose all the time is the individuality. There may have been restaurants similar to the Red Sails along a lot of seashore but not one exactly like that. I was in a restaurant in Denver that looked exactly like the Ketch, that’s what’s missing now, individuality that brings character. I find it hard to believe that anyone will look on the Ketch with the same fondness in 50 as we all remember the Red Sails. Hell, the mediocre food was part of that like Nati’s in OB. Let ’em whine, I don’t care.


Vern July 30, 2019 at 5:49 am

There is, of course, a South Park episode that speaks to the San Diego style of development (and thousands of other places for that matter)…

Below is the trailer:


Richard July 26, 2019 at 8:48 am

Thanks Peter

I checked the link you referred Peter , if in fact the city puts up a stop sign on a State Hwy at PtLoma and Sunset Cliffs, then let’s put stop signs at other critical intersections along SSC Blvd. Regardless of study Im pretty sure Jane got it right. Lack of knowledge at city hall is nothing new for this city. Also a stop light is a much better than a stop sign. It keeps traffic flowing. Been down SSC Blvd lately?


Peter from South O July 26, 2019 at 10:57 am

As a matter of factI have! Last Friday I came South to check out the WPL Blvd reconfiguration among other things. I lean towards the stop signs being a ‘legal’ alternative (I spent a whole lot of research time trying to find such a prohibition in the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to no avail) but agree with you that traffic signals (appropriately synched and controlled) are always preferred and much safer for pedestrians.
The reason a 4-way stop is the first choice is merely a matter of money. Four stop signs and restriping of the intersection, “stop ahead” signs, etc. will also be a LOT quicker to install.


Richard July 26, 2019 at 11:13 am

Well Peter if they must, but my experience turning left from PL Ave onto SSC Blvd to go surfing the last 35 years has never been a challenge. After thinking about I guess I’m just against more stop signs ?


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