Update on the Ocean Beach Pier – the West End May Be Permanently Closed Off

by on May 4, 2021 · 7 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

On April 13, The OB Rag published a piece about the OB pier, exposing the existence of a detailed engineering report on the pier’s condition dated September 3, 2019, that the city had been sitting on. Four days later, the city responded by “releasing” the report to the general public using the media.

In the days that followed, the city explained there was an on-going assessment of the pier and a report was expected soon.  A public records request was initiated to obtain information on who was conducting the assessment, and what was being done because the city did not provide those details.

The following is an account of what was provided, a contract with an engineering firm and a two and one quarter page memorandum from that firm. If nothing else, what follows describes either incompetence or an attitude that the pier is a low priority for the city.  This account also further reveals just how damaged some of the pier really is.

Engineering Contract

On March 8, 2021, both the City Attorney and the Mayor signed a $25,000 “Agreement Between The City Of San Diego And Moffatt & Nichol For OB Pier Assessment Improvement Project.” Moffatt & Nichol is the engineering firm that produced the 364-page, September 3, 2019 pier report.  The firm signed the new 40-page contract on February 24, 2021.

According to the Municipal Code, the city’s purchasing officer can award a contract with no advertising or competitive bidding if it is no more than $25,000.

Exhibit A to the contract, “Scope of Services,” detailed what this agreement was for.  It was brief, because $25,000 does not go far when it is for expert professional services. It is reprinted here entirely, in pieces.  The first paragraph was:

“The pier has recently been affected by a significant wave event during an extreme high tide occurring on January 11, 2021. A site visit is required to perform cursory evaluation of the superstructure via the topside to provide guidance on safety of City maintenance staff occupying the structure for repair work. The team will also conduct a visual inspection of the accessible, unsubmerged, above water portion of the pier from a boat. A drone survey will be conducted by the City and the footage will be made available to the inspection team. The inspection will identify any egregious conditions and significant changes since the last inspection. Identification of areas of structural concern and to what extent they appear to have changed since the last visual inspection will be reported to the City.”

The first thing that jumps out at the reader is the 56 days from January 11 to March 8 that it took to get a contract in place for a “cursory evaluation of the superstructure via the topside” to see if it was safe enough for city employees. It took fifty-six days to get an engineer to walk out onto the pier for a, as it turned out, one-day visual inspection.

Exhibit C to the contract was titled “Time Schedule.”  “The recommendations for the repair procedures will be submitted 2 business days after the initial topside inspection.”

The 56 days seem all the more ridiculous when it became clear the inspection, and the time allotted for the recommendations, only amounted to three days.  With only two days to prepare recommendations, visual inspection had to be very “cursory.”

The Time Schedule then stated, “The recommendations for public occupancy and the SOP Memo will be submitted one week after the completion of the second inspection and receipt of the drone footage and SOP Memo.”

The initials SOP stand for “Safe Public Occupancy.”  One week to produce the recommendations and the revised SOP memo is also not a lot of time in the world of professional consultants. This is another indicator of the very limited scope of work in this small contract.

The dates of the “last inspection” and “last visual inspection” in the first paragraph were not provided but it appeared that these referred to separate inspections because of the wording.  That will be asked about.

Pile 61

The second paragraph in the “Scope of Work” was:

“As part of previous investigation, Moffatt & Nichol Engineers conducted an initial visual investigation of the condition of the Ocean Beach Pier between the dates of July 27, 2016 and July 29, 2016 and prepared a draft investigation report recording their findings in this report titled, OCEAN BEACH Fishing Piper Visual Investigation dated August 2, 2016.”

The first thing that jumped out at this reader was the existence of another report in 2016 that the city failed to provide in the Public Records request.  What should jump out to everyone else is the failure to mention the far more detailed, recently exposed Moffatt & Nichol September 2019 report on the pier.  Seems a comparison should be from the September 3, 2019 report to this new one, not one from 2016.

Pursuant to the initial records request the city provided copies of Moffatt & Nichol invoices, one of which was dated March 10, 2017, for services from July 26, 2016, to February 25, 2017. The Moffatt & Nichol invoice was for “Visual Inspection” totaling $11,728 against an overall contract of $167,162.  Oddly enough, the Purchase Order for the $167,162 was dated February 28, 2017, seven months after this visual inspection was to have taken place.

Did Moffatt & Nichol inspect the pier on July 27, 28, and 29 of 2016, and then wait until March of 2017 to bill for work performed, before a PO was issued? Perhaps the report referenced in that second Scope of Work paragraph will provide an answer.

The final wording in the Scope of Work was:

“The City would like this current Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Memo reviewed and edited if necessary.

A general outline of the scope necessary to accomplish the subject task is as follows:

• Review pertinent structural drawings and previous inspections

• Topside evaluation for repair personnel

• Provide City with a Memo that includes Recommendations for City Staff to safely proceed with the deck repair (Memo #1)

• Review of drone footage

• Provide City with a Memo that includes our Recommendation for safe public occupancy (Memo #2)

• Review and modification of SOP Memo (Memo #3)

• Three meetings with management”

Moffatt & Nichol’s April 23, 2021 Memorandum

The April 23, 2021 memo was titled “Recommendations for City Staff to safely proceed with the railing repair (Memo #1).” This was bullet three above.  The concrete said deck repair but the memo stated railing repair. According to the contract, this information was due within two business days after the visual inspection.

According to the April 23 memo, the one-day visual inspection was “conducted March 12, 2021.”  It took far longer than two days, 41 days in fact, to provide Memo #1.  There does not appear to be a logical reason for how long this took.

The memo noted that the inspection “identified major visible defects and additional damage since the last inspection.”  The memo did not identify if it meant since the 2016 inspection or since the September 2019 report, presumably it was the latter.

The memo stated that the January 2021 storm “did not cause catastrophic damage to the pier.”  Considering that a person would not need an engineering degree to see “catastrophic” damage to a fishing pier, this statement did not provide any value.  However, some specifics of new damage were provided.

“There are some locations where the event removed concrete from existing closed corrosion spalling locations.” Those last four words, “closed corrosion spalling locations,” mean areas where the rebar inside the concrete was already rusted but still covered in concrete. The storm just removed the concrete that had still been covering the rusting steel. The picture tells the story and it illustrates that the insides of lots of the piers look like that with concrete barely clinging to the outer surfaces.

“It is apparent that the spiral reinforcement has been either lost to corrosion or was lost when the concrete was dislodged. This new exposure condition leaves the pile’s prestressing strand steel more vulnerable to corrosion, as the strands are now fully exposed.”

Spiral reinforcement is somewhat self- descriptive, it means the rebar that horizontally circles the vertical steel bars providing more strength.

The pier’s piles, or what most people might call columns or legs, have prestressed steel strands within them from one end to the other. Basically, the steel inside the concrete is stretched very tightly and then anchored at each end to stay that way. This provides the piles with extra strength to help resist bending and movement.  If these strands break, the pile becomes more susceptible to damage from the ocean when it moves the pier.

Then, the April 23 memo continued by stating that the biggest risk of pier failure would be “in a seismic or large storm event.” This seems kind of obvious to anyone but the language was there because of the problem the memo then described.

A picture of the south side of Pile 62 was included in the memo.  The outer layer of concrete is gone and the rusted steel inside is clearly visible. A second picture of Pile 61 was also included.  It showed similar damage at the top of the pile “with significant closed corrosion spalling along the length of the pile.

Pile 62 is on Bent 62 and Pile 61 is on Bent 61. A bent is the collection of two legs, or piles, topped with a large concrete cap that support the pier. The memo then stated, “These two damaged piles are on adjacent bents and will affect the stiffness of the structure in a seismic or storm event.”

It appears there is at least one badly damaged pile on Bent 61 and one on Bent 62. This creates a serious vulnerability in one area because the two weak piles are close to each other. This bad spot appears to be near the end of the pier just before the north and south sections of the tee.

Moffatt & Nichol then suggested a range of additional investigations and analyses.  The reason for this additional work was “to provide information about how the pile will perform until the repair can be completed.”  Let that sink in, this additional analysis and investigation was just to let the city know how well the damaged piles will hold up, but more importantly, for how long.

The engineers then wrote, “These analysis results could do a better job of assessing the risks so the City could make a more informed decision.”  What the decision would be about was not described but it meant was the city could then decide if they needed to do anything right away, such as close that part of the pier, or if it had a few years before it became critical.

The “Recommendations” section of the memo stated “An expedited repair of Piles 62 South and 61 North should be executed if that portion of the pier is to remain open to the public.” Moffatt & Nichol followed this with very descriptive language about the damage and what will happen if it is not remedied quickly. Sounds like this part of the pier may be closed.

They recommended prohibiting vehicle traffic west of the café too. The memo stated the weight limit of repair vehicles should be no more than five tons.  Any railing repair beyond the café was recommended be accomplished without vehicles.

The “recommendations” that followed were strikingly general:

“The existing timber should not be reused, as there could be damage that is not visible. The exiting anchorages can be reused if undamaged. The existing steel brackets can be reused if in suitable condition.”

“The length of the repair is up to the City. Any damaged railing should be replaced.”

“In order to leverage the efficiency of scale and the mobilization cost, the railing could be replaced from Bent 13 to Bent 54, identifiable by the expansion joint approximately 30 feet west of the restaurant.”

So far, not a whole lot of engineering results provided. The last paragraph did provide an actual recommendation:

“Any railing that is replaced should be moved inboard of the original edge of the deck. The new anchorage point should be placed 15 inches (inside edge of bracket 18 inches) from the original edge. This is consistent with the repair work done in 2019.”

The metal posts that support the wood railing, or stanchions, are bolted to brackets anchored to the pier edge.  Because of the edge degradation, a number of these brackets have torn out of the concrete.  Because the edge is in such bad shape, the engineers recommend moving the railing away from the edge to anchor onto healthier concrete.  This is not as easy as it sounds because the deck panels also have prestressing strands within them.

There will be more to say later after additional Public Records requests are responded to.  For now, what the public will probably see is new railing and a barricade west of the Café closing the end of the pier.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Ken Jones May 5, 2021 at 7:41 am

Mr. Page, Thanks for your update on this issue. I am posting this information to my Pier Fishing In California website (pierfishing.com) and wrote an article on the issue (quoting you) for this month’s Fish Taco Chronicle magazine. Hopefully we can spread the word and gain some support for repair and renovation to the pier. Ken


Geoff Page May 5, 2021 at 9:54 am

Thanks, Ken. I plan to stay on this story until there is some kind of real action, one way or the other. I checked out your site, lots of great history and information there. I just hope the OB pier doesn’t become the subject of one of your “gone but not forgotten” stories.


Pier work May 5, 2021 at 1:48 pm

There are no people out there working on the pier everyday. I have no idea what they’re doing but something is happening.


Ring Guy May 15, 2021 at 3:48 pm

That’s because you must not go out there much… they’ve been working on it for a few weeks now, I see them everyday except weekends.


joe imbriano May 5, 2021 at 4:01 pm

They need to pile drive some wooden pilings under there. Newport and Balboa does it every decade or so. Closing part off will ensure the whole thing failing as when one section does, it will take a whole lot down with it.


Frank Gormlie May 6, 2021 at 10:16 am

Geoff Page called it! The news and Campbell’s office report that the pier west of the cafe will be closed to the public and only emergency vehicles allowed.


Tracy April 16, 2023 at 11:11 pm

My hope is that when they redo the O.B Pier, that they don’t take away from it’s charm. That they don’t make some shiny metal modern looking pier that doesn’t FIT into our lovable and quirky community.
I also think it would be a great idea for them to sell small pieces of the original pier and to put that money towards the new construction. Keep the original gate entrance too!
We all love the O.B Pier, let’s keep it that way!


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