Mayor Faulconer’s ‘Complete Communities’ Would Bring High-Density and Remove Floor Area Limits to Ocean Beach Housing

by on June 15, 2020 · 13 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

By Kevin Hastings

In the late 1960s, city planners and developers devised a plan to transform Ocean Beach into high-density condos, apartments, and hotels. OBceans organized and fought back, pressuring politicians to drop the plan, and ultimately led to the formation of the Ocean Beach Planning Board and a rewrite of the community plan to preserve the small-scale development model we see to this day.

Fifty years later, history is repeating itself with Mayor Faulconer pushing a proposal called “Complete Communities” to transform housing development in multi-family areas of San Diego, and Ocean Beach in particular.

The current zoning and OB Community Plan limits housing density to four dwellings per 7,000 feet² lot west of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and two dwellings per lot east of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. It also limits the building’s total floor area to 70-75% of the lot area. Planners refer to this as the Floor Area Ratio, or FAR. These limitations have been critical in maintaining the development character of Ocean Beach.

The Complete Communities proposal would allow FAR up to 800% and allow as many units that would fit based on the Building Code minimum of 150 feet² per unit. The only real limitations would be setbacks and the 30-feet coastal height limit. And while the 30-feet height limit has been in place for nearly 50 years, it is no longer sacrosanct.

Councilmembers Jen Campbell and Chris Cate are putting forth a ballot measure to remove it in the Midway area. By my calculations, I could cover the entirety of my residential lot, three or four stories up, with over 100 studio units. And in fact, there is nothing in the ordinance to prevent most of it from being operated as an Airbnb hotel.

One caveat is the proposal appears to require the developer to start with a property that fits five or more units under the current zoning. In OB, this generally means a lot merger has to be done first; a simple process. The proposal would also require that affordable housing make up 15-20% of the units, or be provided within 1-mile. The proposal would also apply elsewhere in the city where multifamily zones coincide with “Transit Priority Areas.” (Transit Priority Areas are generally any area within ½ mile of a major bus stop, existing or planned.)

At their June meeting, the Ocean Beach Planning Board voiced strong opposition to the large increase in Floor Area Ratio and density and opposed the off-site exception for affordable housing. Unfortunately, the Planning Board carries less weight these days with city planners, especially amidst new state-level mandates for more density.

If you have an opinion on this Complete Communities plan, please contact your councilmember, mayor, mayoral candidates, and anyone who will listen. It may go before City Council in July for a vote. 619-236-6622 619-236-6330 619-236-6611 619-645-3090

For more information on the proposed ordinance,

For the proposed density map,

Kevin Hastings is the vice chair of the OB Planning Board. This article is his position and is not intended to represent the position of the board.


{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie June 15, 2020 at 11:57 am

Long-time readers of the OB Rag may recognize the graphic at the top of the post. It was on the cover of the original OB Rag in the early October 1972 issue.


Kevin Hastings June 15, 2020 at 3:23 pm

The city website changed the map link. Go here for a map of where this ordinance would apply:


Kevin Hastings June 15, 2020 at 3:31 pm

Also I noticed this new map now shows OB as 4.0 FAR. Interesting change. Not that it matters. 4.0, 8.0 is all the same if the height limit is still in place.


bobo June 15, 2020 at 5:15 pm

The concept that the coast of California should be accessible to all would effectively be destroyed with this proposal. How? It would incentivize property owners like myself to stuff as many units as possible onto what normally would be a single family lot. A 5,000 sq/ft. lot would go from having 2-4 units up to 20 units! Imagine all of OB with nothing but large apartment buildings on every lot. A sea of cheap Huffman-style buildings. ALSO, only 20% of them would be required to be “affordable”. Meaning that 80% of these would be “un-affordable” for working-class stiffs.

Ever been to Miami Beach? Great place to visit. Horrible place to live if you’re not a billionaire. This proposal would turn OB into Miami Beach – where only the rich and famous can afford to live.


Polecat June 15, 2020 at 6:03 pm

Bobo, Miami Beach rents are substantially lower than OB.

Several studios for rent there for under 1000. Cheapest here is $1400.
Several 2-beds for rent there 1400 or less. Cheapest here is $1750 if you consider Mentone St to be OB. Cheapest in OB Proper is $1950.

A better comparison anyway is not Florida, but Mission Beach, which is nearby, has the height limit, but has a higher FAR. I have no problem myself with more Mission Beach style buildings, which are often quite beautiful.

Under the current plan, we are still losing old cottages. Having them replaced with beautiful modern glass LEED buildings instead of ugly tan stucco 4-plexes is fine with me.


kh June 15, 2020 at 7:54 pm

More likely under this policy you’ll see some big ugly stucco 15-plexes with some window dressing on them.

If you think OB is ugly, why did you move here? To change it into something else?


Geoff Page June 16, 2020 at 2:51 pm

Bad comparison, Polecat. The cost of living in Florida is very different than San Diego. What you need to compare is Miami Beach to other parts of Florida to get a perspective on how much higher Miami Beach is than the rest of the state. Then see if that disparity comes close t ours.


Chris June 17, 2020 at 8:54 am

Personally I don’t even think Miami Beach is a great place to visit, let alone live. But that really comes down to personal preference. I know several people who live there and they are hardly billionaires, or millionaires or even in the 6 figures. They are not living in poverty either so despite the income inequality in that city, it’s not cut and dry that everyone is either ultra rich or super poor.


Doug Blackwood June 15, 2020 at 6:44 pm

Greed like rust, never sleeps! I moved to OB from PB in 1968. There have been speculators trying to wreck OB as long as I can remember. We have repelled many of these efforts. VR’s are a cancer that must be stopped: what prevents all those extra units from becoming “Vacation Rentals”?
Thanks Frank for the update!


nostalgic June 16, 2020 at 9:18 am

Please note that the new General Plan removes all reference to dedicated parkland. Our parks are protected in the City Charter if they are dedicated. This reference is removed. All new parks are called “designated” which is not in the City Charter. These parks have no legal protection from sale.


Paul Webb June 16, 2020 at 9:36 am

A couple of thoughts.
First, in response to “nostalgic”, the City has played fast and loose with park lands for decades. This distinction between dedicated and designated is legally allowed but nonsensical. For example, Pueblo Lots intended to be retained for public recreational use were allowed to be used for non-public recreational activities like tennis clubs because they were only designated for park land, not dedicated. This has to stop, particularly given the relative paucity of park lands in our city as a whole and in our community (when compared to accepted standards of park land to population.

Second, I look back to the neighborhood I lived in when I was an undergraduate at UCLA. The neighborhood was in west LA, and consisted mostly of small bungalows, with a scattering of apartments similar in size and design to the Huffman six packs (like the apartment I rented). When I go back to that same neighborhood now, the buildings are all apartment and condo buildings that are very large, combining several of the small single family lots, and are three and four stories. Of course, there have been no improvements in the streets, no additional park lands, etc. Street parking is almost unavailable as there are parking permit districts limiting non resident parking. Traffic is unbearable at most times of the day. What was once a nice and affordable place to live is now out of reach for most, and definitely no longer a pleasant environment. Progress!


Justine Morgan Brown July 16, 2020 at 8:34 am

There wouldn’t be in a housing situation if so much of the housing in San Diego wasn’t being let out as vacation rentals. We have hotels placed in areas designed for vacationers to enjoy. Putting those units back into the pool of rentals by locals would solve the problem. I understand many people feel that it’s your property and you can do whatever you want with it but that isn’t actually the law. Businesses are located in areas zoned for that particular business. How would these people feel if their neighbor starting a music venue in their garage that is open 24 hours a day with a bar and strip club attached? Because that is exactly what it is like to live next door to a vacation rental. We need to stop focusing on creating new problems to fix the obvious problem.


Thomas Rebotier October 20, 2021 at 3:37 pm

With due respect, Justine, you can’t mix the issue of nuisances with that of availability. We’ve all had long term neighbors who party too much, or leave loud music playing late at night even when partying, it has little to do with VRs.


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