The Saga of the Million Dollar Ocean Beach ‘Walkway to Nowhere’

by on March 25, 2021 · 17 comments

in Ocean Beach

Million dollar ramp ends at the same location as the previous one. All photos by Geoff Page.

By Geoff Page

The project is underway to rebuild what used to be referred to as the handicap ramp at Dog Beach. This is the wide zigzag concrete walkway from the parking lot up to the bike path and down to the sand on the Dog Beach side. The actual work of building the new walkway has been a bumbling continuation of a bad idea.

This is the story of poor design executed poorly. It is about the city of San Diego, not the contractor.

The Project

The new walkway is being placed in the same location as the old one. This design was seen by everyone but the city of San Diego as ridiculously expensive and a wasted opportunity to really improve beach access for the disabled.

The old walkway ended in the sand on the north side of the bike path about 200 yards away from the ocean.  At the terminus were benches that were usually half buried in the sand. But, that did not matter because sand covered the walkway leading to the benches making it impossible for a wheelchair to reach them anyway.

If anyone did make it to the benches, their view would be of a huge expanse of sand and then the waves way off in the distance where everyone else was.  No one, disabled or not, would want to come all the way to the beach only to be told they had to sit that far away from the water.

The new walkway ends in the same location. After spending over one million dollars.

This project was opposed by the OB Planning Board and many others because the design made no sense.  It was dubbed the walkway to nowhere. Some great ideas for alternate designs that would have allowed the disabled population to get close to the water, were offered to District 2 councilmember Jennifer Campbell.

Campbell turned a deaf ear and presented the motion to city council to approve the design as it was.  She erroneously believed, despite being told otherwise, that the settlement agreement, from the lawsuit that caused this project, dictated the walkway be rebuilt in the same place.

Anyone with a sixth-grade education could read the settlement and see it said nothing of the kind. But then, you would have had to actually read the simple settlement to understand.

The city compounded this folly by mishandling both the design and construction.

Going Left …?

Public Access Fiasco

While running down the bike path to the ocean late last year, I was surprised to see a temporary construction fence entirely surrounding the old walkway on both sides of the path and some of the parking lot.  The fence was covered in green cloth.  At that time, it was easy to move the fence and walk through.

No construction had taken place. And they did this on a holiday weekend, blocking the path to the beach for no apparent reason.  The fence was knocked over for a while and people just walked on it.

This went on for some weeks until the first week in January. Running down the path, I found the fence up and secured so it could not be moved at all.  That left only three choices.

The first choice was to go left across the sand, hop over the concrete k-rail onto the sidewalk below.  From there, a person would have to walk in the parking lot travel lane around the fence dodging cars because the fence took up the sidewalk and parking lane.

Or going right?

Choice number two was to go right and walk all the way around the fence in soft sand. And choice number three was to backtrack east 260 feet, to the first opening in the rail, then walk down a soft sand slope to the sidewalk below.

I chose left, going over the rail. Not a good option for many people.  When I came back, I went around in the sand.  Behind the fencing in the sand was a collection of homeless types camping out. The green fence cloth shielded them from view.  Someone standing on the bike path only feet away could not see them.

It was abundantly clear that the city had not given one second of thought about how they could mitigate the major inconvenience they were causing the public. For starters, there was no advance warning along the path that beach access was blocked ahead.

People did not find out until they walked down the path and encountered the fence. They then had to make one of the choices. And, none of the available choices were good for people pushing strollers, people on bicycles, or amazingly, people in wheelchairs.

The easterly wheelchair access to the bike path is at Robb Field.  With no assistance, a person in a wheelchair would have had to turn around and backtrack a half a mile to get off the path.  A person with a stroller would have had to backtrack at least 260 feet and then negotiate an expanse of soft sand down to the sidewalk.

Having spent many years in the San Diego construction industry, I knew that blocking normal pedestrian access required providing an alternative route. I also knew that what the city required of contractors working on city projects was far less than what the city required of contractors on private work. In short, the city cut corners that they did not allow others to cut.

In a January 7, 2021 email this reporter sent the city, the city’s lack of concern for the public was criticized severely. The access issue was first.  A strong suggestion was made to have the contractor make an opening in the concrete rail and build a temporary ramp to the parking lot.  Actually, this was actually more of a demand.

The problem with the fencing providing an unwanted home for the homeless was also part of the email. And the lack of any advance signage warning people well in advance that the path was blocked was pointed out as well.

In order to get some action, the email to the city was not written as a plea to make improvements, it was written more as a threat of legal action.

The city’s engineer responded that day. This person proved to be very helpful and polite all through our correspondence even though the city’s actions were less than satisfactory.

What was accomplished?

The city finally put up a half-dozen advance warning signs starting at the Robb Field path entrance three weeks later.  Three weeks for signs. One sign is now covered in graffiti that has been ineffectively painted over. One is half-obscured by weeds.  Initially placed on folding barricades blown over by the wind, some are now attached to fixed objects. But, they are big enough to get attention and do serve the intended purpose.

Rocky downslope.

One sign on the bike path, by the grass area on the east end of the parking lot, directs people downslope from the bike path to the grass below as the alternate beach access.  This was the city’s answer to the ramp demand.

This slope is strewn with rocks and ends at another patch of soft sand.  No effort at all was made to make this more easily traversed by at least smoothing it out. This would be a difficult path for a bike or a stroller and a wheelchair could not use it.

As for the fencing, the city initially replied that the green cloth was required to “reduce visual pollution and to protect the site.”  You can’t make this stuff up.  The green cloth was gone later mistakenly giving the impression that the city had taken that suggestion also.

The city dispelled that notion by explaining the cloth was only down because the big winds in February blew it down and that it would go back up. Apparently, the city relented and the cloth was not replaced.

The Design Fiasco

While there was some progress on the access and notice issues, there was no progress on the project.  Nothing was occurring inside the fence for weeks and weeks. The answer from the city was, well let the reader be the judge:

“As for the issue of no work has occurred during the last week and this week, during the excavation the project has confirmed specific rip rap location for the Army Corp of Engineer’s Levee. The City does not have jurisdiction to modify the levee, therefore the City is working to provide a new alignment avoiding the levee rip rap.”

Apparently, several hundred thousand dollars spent to design what is essentially a sidewalk somehow missed the Army Corp of Engineers levee that the bike path is on top of. This despite records surely available from the ACOE. Projects that involve excavation include subsurface investigation for the design work.  That step appears to have been missed.

If a subsurface problem is discovered in the design phase and designed around, it prevents a work suspension during the construction phase that is just wasted money. Contractors are entitled to compensation if work is suspended and they are made to tread water while the design problem is remedied.

This suspension went on for another three weeks after the initial two weeks noted in the city’s response.

The original completion date for the work was this month – March.  According to the city’s email, the plan now is to have it open by Memorial Day. There is nothing apparent that could delay the work further but this would still be a risky bet considering it is the city.

The original budget for the whole project, according to the city’s website, was $1,143,306.  The estimate for construction was $442,306.  That means $700,780 of the budget was for a faulty design and mismanagement of the work. And these are not current figures.  The contractor will get a change order and the designer probably will too.

The Old Walkway – Movement and Sand

The old walkway also suffered from poor design.  There were low curbs along the edges of the walkway that had separated from the walking area leaving gaps a wheel chair wheel could have slipped into.

The curbs were not structurally tied to the walkway as they should have been.  Had the walkway and the curbs been poured monolithically – as one concrete pour – this problem would not have developed.

There was also an issue with differential settlement of concrete slabs that were also not tied together.

Another problem was that the curbs were only about six inches high, which allowed sand to blow over and inundate the walkway. That and a complete lack of any city maintenance effort made it impossible for a wheelchair to use the path. None of the  reasonable solutions for this, like a sand fence, were ever attempted.

Repairs of the existing problems could have been done for far less money.  A simple, inexpensive sand fence could have kept the sand off the path.  Of course, the sand the fence caught would have to be shoveled away periodically.  That pesky maintenance problem again.

Double layer

The New Walkway – The Hulk

To say the solution to the old walkway problems was overkill would be an understatement.

The new walkway consists of a double layer of ½” epoxy-coated reinforcement steel. Epoxy helps protect steel in corrosive environments when there are inevitable cracks later in the concrete.  Reinforcement steel must have three inches of concrete between it and the ground and three inches over the top of the steel.

The separation between the two steel layers would be at least three inches but it looked like more.  At a minimum steel separation of three inches, the concrete would then be 10 inches thick. This structure would support a city of San Diego garbage truck – it is ridiculously over-engineered.

Concrete is stronger the thicker it is.  The overkill was using steel at all and using two layers of it.  Concrete will inevitably develop some cracks. When moisture and salt get into the cracks and cause the steel to rust, the rust “grows” and “explodes” concrete causing the cracking to get worse. With no steel, and just very thick concrete, this problem is avoided.

Another view of double layer.

In my years of experience, the only time I saw rebar in sidewalks was around the Navy hospital in Balboa Park.  The reason for this was the Navy wanted the sidewalks to be strong enough to support the movement of large vehicles in the event of conflict. Even that sidewalk did not have two layers of rebar.

Then, there are the walls.

The new walkway will have walls instead of curbs. The walls look to be just under four feet tall.  These walls also contain a double layer of epoxy-coated reinforcement steel.  These will be very thick walls. Hopefully, these stout structures will keep the sand out so the inattention to sand maintenance can continue unabated.

What the city is building is a canvas for graffiti.  If sweeping off some sand from the old walkway seemed like too much effort, it will pale in comparison to the constant graffiti removal from the walls that will be required.

In a conversation with workers on the site, one of them said in wonder, “But this thing doesn’t go anywhere. Doesn’t make sense.”

That is the biggest failing of all.  After all this money and inconvenience, folks who must use a wheelchair will have no better experience at the beach when this is finished than they did before.

All this is because a hopefully soon-to-be-recalled city council member would not stand up and support people in her District with better ideas. Had Campbell opposed the design, it would not have passed city council. This is exactly the kind of help a community has a right to expect from the council person.

The ability of the disabled community to really enjoy the beach was apparently of no concern to Campbell. Really shameful.


{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie March 25, 2021 at 11:51 am

Geoff Page has scored another home-run with this expose of the ramp to nowhere.


Tracy March 25, 2021 at 4:16 pm

Great article Geoff.


Geoff Page March 25, 2021 at 6:07 pm

Thank you, Tracy.


Douglas Blackwood March 25, 2021 at 8:03 pm

Jen strikes again; another failure, giant waste of $.
City planners wake up!


Tyler March 26, 2021 at 1:27 pm

Thanks for the write-up, Geoff. Absolutely mind-blowing to watch this project “progress.”

I wonder if we could get some community murals painted on the walls to get ahead of the inevitable graffiti?


Geoff Page March 26, 2021 at 1:56 pm

That’s a nice idea, Tyler. They also need to treat everything with an anti-graffiti coating or the murals would get defaced too.


Frank J March 26, 2021 at 2:41 pm

Great article. Isn’t it about the contractor too when you point out the steel, thickness, and anything else adding more costs to the job?


Geoff Page March 26, 2021 at 3:21 pm

Thank you, Frank. As to your question about the contractor, none of this is due to the contractor. They are hired to execute the design only., the problems were project design issues. The contractor will get, or should get, some compensation for the work suspension, which was also due to a design problem.


Tom Correll March 27, 2021 at 10:23 am

Great article. Can the OB Rag publish the “settlement agreement” that Campbell says the walkway must be in the same location. If not how about sending me the name of the plaintiff so I can look it up?


Geoff Page March 29, 2021 at 11:01 am

Tom, I’ll look for it and I can send it to you if you give me an address.


thomas m correll March 29, 2021 at 12:06 pm

4304 Coronado Ave

Thanks Geoff


Geoff Page March 29, 2021 at 12:51 pm

Tom, if you can give me an email address, I can send it. Send it to


sealintheSelkirks March 28, 2021 at 1:59 pm

This was like reading a script for a record from the old comedy group Firesign Theater…remember that troup? Absurdity ad nauseum! Viewed as satire, this piece of what government so often devolves into behind our backs is priceless. Sorry man, you had me laughing by halfway through this. I didn’t mean to, I tried to be serious-minded but the thought ‘REALLY?, and ‘they/campbell did what?’, and ‘you’re kidding me?’ kept popping into my brain.

And the last picture of the warning sign with the scrawl…whomever should have used a MUCH darker read-able marker and bigger letters. Though obviously not everybody in San Diego is an idiot but everybody paid taxes for this to happen…

Wouldn’t it be amazing if politicians were actually accountable? Is it possible that the worker who said “It doesn’t make sense” actually meant to say ‘whoever authorized this project is a moron and should be fired and fined?’ If only… Taking that a step further; to show her contriteness for this boondoggle added into her ‘bad doggie’ list, I humbly suggest that maybe she should resign and promise (oh right, what are those worth?) to refund the people of San Diego the entire cost but then probably not as this rot is pervasive all the way up through federal level and it sure seems that most just get shuffled under the rug and forgotten due to the new outrage that comes out. There always is another ya notice?

Fight the good fight with detailed information, always! Spreading it through the community and getting everybody to read and act on it is the hard part. You did the leg work and wrote this pretty dang well, dude, and just maybe it’ll motivate more people to get involved.



Geoff Page March 29, 2021 at 10:24 am

“see the line of Indians leaving Rancho Malario to make room for YOU!

Thanks, seal, enjoy your groat clusters, man.


Paul Webb March 30, 2021 at 4:55 pm

Time to lock your wigs, deflate your shoes and follow the moving rubber line.


thomas m correll March 29, 2021 at 1:52 pm
melpomene March 30, 2021 at 11:41 am

Wow. What a fiasco. Thanks for the in-depth info, Geoff.


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