The Name ‘Sunset Cliffs Natural Park’ Is Now a Joke

by on November 19, 2019 · 13 comments

in Ocean Beach

Originally posted Nov. 19, 2019

By Geoff Page

In October of last year, I did some checking on why the Sunset Cliffs Park project was not yet finished.  I contacted the city and the emails that follow tell the story.  I’m not using the person’s name because there is no reason to cause him any difficulty as some of his responses might.  This is a really sorry tale.

Oct. 16, 2018 – the response I got to my initial inquiry:

The contractor has been waiting for some materials that required a long lead time to obtain. These materials are scheduled to be delivered on site next week. The contractor intends to resume working full time on site starting this Friday or at the latest on Monday October 22nd.

Planting will begin the first week in November and will be done in two phases. Planting will likely continue through January, weather permitting.

There have been some design changes on this contract that have required significant changes to the project schedule. I believe that now we should be able to proceed and complete this project.

All photos by Geoff Page, except photo of park sign, taken by South OB Girl.

Oct. 17, 2018 – Response to my additional questions after his email:

The City’s design team gave the contractor a few surprises at the pre-construction meeting when the City requested that the contractor spend $800K  of available grant money in the first 60 days of the contract. This completely changed the contractor’s schedule.

I believe that this contract was originally planned to start work in June 2017 but was delayed for some reason. If the project had started then, there would have been no need for the scramble to spend the funds.

The project would have been completed by this summer. Logistically, June would have been a much better time to start. It would have automatically had the planting scheduled at the right time of the year although last winter would have been tough on the plants and the contractor because it was so dry.

There is a pedestrian bridge and two timber crib walls that are to be installed on site. These are the items that require the lead time.

The contractor had to verify the length of the bridge and the location had to be adjusted. The foundations for the bridge and the crib walls had to be redesigned as the proposed foundations were inadequate.

There is also a separate permit that is required for the bridge which involved coordination with Development Services Department.

There were problems with grading some of the trails because the designs were based on an inaccurate topographical map.

The contractor has had to wait for cooler weather to begin planting. Native plants can be tricky.

We, in the construction management team were handed a project that had flaws that we and the contractor are correcting. We want this project to be done right.

Sept. 24, 2019 – After seeing what this bridge consists of, a structure about 35 feet long, I went back to the city with this:

We exchanged emails about the park a year ago.  You mentioned long lead times for the bridge materials.  I’ve seen the staking for the bridge and it looks like it is only about 35 feet from footing to footing.  There is no way a bridge this small should have held this project up for a full year.  Why has there been no visible progress?

Oct. 9, 2019 – Response after a second prompting:

The bridge and the two crib walls were associated with the deferred permit which was required. There were drainage issues with the crib walls that would have required that a storm drain of some sort be installed. The project designer did not want to go that route and ultimately removed the crib walls from the scope of the project. Once the crib walls were removed, the contractor was able to get the permit. This was the primary cause of the delays in the construction of this bridge. There were other design issues that had to be dealt with as well.

The foundation has been excavated. The sub that is doing the concrete neglected to tell the sub that built the steel rebar cages that the steel needed to be epoxy coated. This caused the current delay.

The new cages are scheduled to be delivered this Friday. Work will resume on the foundation next week.

Once the foundation is completed, the work on the rest of the bridge should be completed comparatively quickly.

Recent observations:

A week ago -, last weekend – I saw that the bridge area was being worked on.  Because of how the contractor went about this, it made passing over the old drainage ditch impossible, cutting off access to the back half of the park to everyone.  No accommodation was made for the public to pass through.

This weekend, the “progress” was two large gluelam girders spanning the ditch from one concrete abutment footing to the other that could not have taken two hours to place and a pile of materials untouched in one week.  For those not familiar with the term, “gluelam” is short for glue laminated.  This is a beam consisting of layers of wood bonded together to make a big beam.

One of the gluelam girders is clearly cracked in several places on the sides and the top and should be rejected by the city.  The materials for this tiny bridge are not “long lead” items, it’s all wood.  When I first received that response, I was expecting a pre-fabricated steel bridge of some kind that might take time to fabricate.  Why this has taken a full year can only be attributed to gross incompetence.

This project has been a complete mess from a construction standpoint. We are into the third year on this.  I’ve seen work taking place recently that could have been done long ago.  The silt fences are a mess.  The contractor killed plant life and crushed the top part of the new stairs by the Navy fence by running a too-large machine to the far end of the park to set two benches. The machine ran over a number of the new plants placed in the area.  They spilled dry concrete on the ground and made no effort to clean it up.

And, beyond that, the creation of a roadway from one end of the park to the other has created a freeway of bicycles, scooters, joggers, baby carriages, and on and on.  There are trash cans now along the way that will require a city worker to drive at truck through the park to empty those new cans.  Some will say this is wonderful because it makes the park more accessible to everyone.  Others, like me, will say the name Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is now a joke.  The word natural has been obliterated.  Even the ridiculous faux stone sign they set is so far from natural it actually now fits in.

This used to be a place where people could enjoy a bit of wild land more or less untouched by humans.  Sure, there was trash to deal with, and the old ballfield, but it felt wild.  Now, it is a flat, expressionless piece of land that suffers all the ills of the streets leading up to it.  It even bores my dogs now.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Parish November 19, 2019 at 11:54 pm

Can always go hang on Newport Ave.


Vern November 20, 2019 at 8:42 am

The new Sunset Cliffs Natural Park signs are anything but natural. Look like poorly poured concrete with a high gloss finish. Even the pick points are still exposed. So rank.


Sharlene Allen November 20, 2019 at 10:02 am

Thanks for that update. Great article explaining waste of time. 3 years is a JOKE. I’m glad your on top of this. I honestly wouldn’t have given this a second thought, but now I’m even more curious.


Doug Blackwood November 21, 2019 at 9:49 pm

Unnaturally wrecked park: this is a clue to City mismanagement wasting taxpayer $$$.
The next fiasco is upcoming “Dog Beach” project!
Where is Jen, our Council rep on this?


OBkid November 22, 2019 at 9:40 am

The City of San Diego has consistently proven themselves to be an absolute Joke. They cannot achieve anything of importance, nor can they achieve results for normal day-to-day city operations.

How this city is not an absolute cesspool – we will never know.


Chris December 27, 2019 at 4:41 pm

Many city employees are the very first to admit that after they either they retire or move on to other endeavors. More than a few I personally know admit they’re amazed the didn’t get fired or wind up in jail. That being said, we are hardly the only city with these kinds of issues.


editordude December 27, 2019 at 1:09 pm

This post by Geoff Page was one of our most important pieces this year. If you live out on the Point or care about parks, please read this.


Paul Webb December 27, 2019 at 4:39 pm

Geoff, as usual, the community is grateful for your watchful eye and knowledge of construction.


Chris December 27, 2019 at 4:43 pm

One of the most spot on articles I’ve read hear in a long time.


Lori Alexnder December 28, 2019 at 10:37 am

This is so heartbreaking. Just like the canyons all over San Diego, “Wild” areas are an important respite from areas of dense housing and too many cars. I have so many fond memories of that area over the years–watching an eclipse with a crowd of people, taking my kids to chase lizards among the rocks and bushes, parking there to watch the planes flying over and guess which one my visitors are on for their flight home or just sitting there eating a burrito and watching the sunset. I really wish they had just left it alone. And I hope that enough people have learned something from this mistake to protect other areas in the future.


Zak Pecan December 29, 2019 at 4:24 pm

This is so far from ok. Watching what they have done (let alone the exhibits for the completed project) is heartbreaking. South cliffs and park has brought generations of my family tremendous joy and to watch it be torn apart, disrespected, and treated like another check box on the city’s ada compliance requirement is unacceptable. Clearly the contractors are negligent amongst other things (spraying roundup and lying about it). Why are the municipality and associates not being held accountable? If the environmental degradation is not enough to prompt action then an audit should be done and hopefully trigger some sort of investigation or explanation at the least. Something needs to be done before it’s to late.


retired botanist December 29, 2019 at 6:13 pm

Oh. My. Gawd. I have only now drilled down on this pig’s breakfast of a project! I’m still back in the concept a few years ago when many Torrey pine trees were supposed to be planted. This is outrageous. Forget the City, its time to get the RWQCB/CDFW and other agencies involved for potential violations to standard, regionally-mandated BMPs for erosion and sediment control, nevermind other potential issues that might involve the Army Corps or other regulatory agencies regarding violations to near shore environments and shoreline habitat wildlife!
Seriously, this is unacceptable. Geoff, thank you for keeping this on the radar, I wish I could do more from afar. But again, nevermind the inexcusable time delays on completion of the project, the violations of standard construction practice are stellar! As if we don’t have enough to worry about with natural disasters and climate crisis, we now have to deal with municipal egregiousness?!


Kevin Key February 14, 2020 at 12:27 am

Thank you for this article. I’m a photographer and have visited Sunset Cliffs quite frequently in the last year or so. I’ve started to wonder why the are seems to be forever “under construction” and the big parking lot is still closed. At least the seaside cliffs themselves still look amazing. Up top and beyond the cliffs, however, is an embarrassment to San Diego.


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