Report From OB Town Council’s Forum on the Ocean Beach Pier

by on June 1, 2021 · 1 comment

in Ocean Beach

Did the city ignore issues of “large concentrations of pedestrians” on damaged pier, and risk peoples’ lives?

By Geoff Page

The Ocean Beach Town Council held a meeting Wednesday, May 26 to talk about a single issue, the OB Fishing Pier. There was an informative presentation and a long public discussion.  One surprise for many others was a public opinion that one option to dealing with the pier problem would be to remove it. Period.

The removal opinion was not just one person, although this was a small minority.  But, this is why public forums are so important.  Most folks were looking at the three proposals in the 2019 engineering report on the pier that The OB Rag revealed to the public for the first time. The three were: temporary repairs, a major rehabilitation, or remove and replace.

No one had considered just “remove,” and those who were of that opinion were looking at money spent on the pier, any money, as money that could be better used elsewhere.  Prominent in the ideas of where to better spend the money were ones to help disadvantaged sectors of society, disadvantaged by poverty or color for example.  This is definitely hard to argue with, the intentions are noble and admirable.

In thinking about the removal option, this reporter offers an observation as some information to consider when deciding.  Many, many years of running the pier regularly several times a week has made this reporter as familiar with who uses the pier as anyone you will meet.  It wasn’t clear if the folks talking about who they wanted to help, by using the pier money elsewhere, understood that it was these same people who use and love that pier.

The pier is full of people who clearly didn’t park their Range Rovers on Niagara.  They are regular people who love the pier because it is free and it gives them a chance to come from less scenic neighborhoods to enjoy the ocean.  It is heart-warming.  And there are those among them who seriously fish because what they catch is for their tables. And it is an international crowd of these folks speaking different languages – but all getting along peacefully.

Using money to help these people with housing and education and medical care is important.  But, the escape from their lives that the pier gives many people has to be as important as all the other things that sustain life.  Taking the pier away from these people would be a very serious blow to their spirit.

The meeting was moderated efficiently, effectively, and unfailingly politely, by council president Mark Winkie. Winkie managed the meeting so that everyone on the call who wanted to make a comment had an opportunity to do so.  There were over 80 people on Zoom meeting call, many of whom had something to say.

Mayor Todd Gloria and District 2 councilperson Jennifer Campbell both made an appearance. Winkie, demonstrating true OB friendliness, referred to them as “Todd and Jen.”  Not able to let friendliness get in the way of reporting the story, the impression of their very brief appearances was very similar to watching campaign commercials.  Both effusively praised each other, professed their love of the OB Pier, and both had commitments that limited their appearances to a few minutes.

There was a discussion of the survey the OBTC conducted that garnered 427 responses as seen below.

Throughout all of the discussion that followed, the desire to have the pier repaired immediately was nearly universal. If the pier could be made to last some more years, that time could be used to design, permit, and fund either a major rehabilitation or a new pier.

The highlight of the evening was a presentation by Ralph Teyssier, the son of the contractor who built the pier in the 60s. Teyssier is a structural engineer now, inspired to follow that profession because of seeing the pier construction when he was six years old.

His presentation contained photographs of the pier under construction as he recounted the history. Teyssier related that the winning construction bid was $900,000.  Another $100,000 was added later to add more to the pier.

Teyssier reviewed the September 2019 pier report that was detailed in The OB Rag’s original story on the pier in April.  The Moffatt & Nichol report had three options – the options in the OBTC survey – that included repair, rehabilitation, or replacement.

The estimated cost of the three options was $8 million for repair, $30-$50 million for complete rehabilitation, and $40-$60 million for a new pier.  Teyssier stressed that these costs were just for construction. While he did not provide an estimate of what it would all cost – design, permitting, and management would add many millions more to the total. A figure of $100 million is possible.

Teyssier had some ideas about how to move forward.  He recommended doing the repair option now and planning for a new pier.  He said that improvements in construction technology would make it possible to build a pier with a 125-year life span.  He talked about something the surfers would welcome, a “minimal environmental footprint on the ocean floor.”

Teyssier explained the current pier has piles every 30 feet. A new pier could be designed with that space doubled to 60 feet or even more.  Shooting the pier on that great left would be much less perilous with a bigger opening.

While Teyssier did not use the term “design-build,” he did recommend that project delivery method in his presentation.  Design-build has gained great popularity in recent years because it delivers projects in much less time, and thus for less cost, than the traditional design-then bid then-build method.  Design-build is a collaboration of design and construction, involving all parties in the design.  This minimizes problems and added costs later as well. For a unique project like the pier, this project delivery method would be perfect.

After Teyssier concluded his report, the mayor’s District 2 community representative Kohta Zaiser gave the city’s engineering report on the pier.  This is a very well-spoken and very young man and not an engineer.  The choice of having him present the city’s engineering report instead of one of the 640 engineers that work for the city seemed odd.  While he did a decent job from a script, it was obvious this is not his area of expertise.

The report that Zaiser presented was probably not put together by him so any comments on the presentation are not directed at him.

The city’s report showed pictures of the pier from 2016 and purported to compare those to pictures from 2019.  This part was very poorly done because the first pictures were not labeled for locations.  The pictures from the two years did not even match. Zaiser’s characterization of the differences in the pictures as storm damage was not supported.  The pictures do not show storm damage, they show the deterioration.

Moving on, Zaiser explained that 25% of the piles had vertical cracks after the 2019 storm.  The engineering report that contained that figure was the very detailed 2019 report.  The cracks were not attributed to the storm in 2019.  The 2016 report was a visual inspection made from a small boat and a surfboard.  The 2019 inspection was much more intense.

The big crime concerning the pier has been the total lack of any action since 1987 other than inspections. Pile damage was identified in a 2004 report but the recommended fixes were never done as the 2016 pier report noted. Attributing all of the sorry condition of the pier to storms tends to absolve the city of any blame for the pier’s condition due to inaction.  This may have been either a clumsily put together presentation or a deliberate attempt to rewrite history.

Some of the city’s pictures were identified as Bent 61N and 62S where Zaiser said the pictures showed “expanding the cracks that were already there.”  He also said, “The concrete itself was starting to severely erode and fall off.”  This damage also cannot be attributed to the storm.

As explained in previous pieces about the pier, the problem is cracks and rust.  Concrete cracks from age and movement leaving openings for salt water and air to reach the steel reinforcement bar, or rebar, inside the piles. This causes the rebar to rust.  Rust causes the steel to expand and the pressure causes concrete to crack. The expansion of the cracks was due to the city not making any attempt to seal the cracks when they were discovered.

The concrete did not “severely erode and fall off,” – the rusting rebar cracked the concrete enough that pieces could not hold on.  The storm may have dislodged pieces of concrete that were ready to fall off by themselves.

After this flawed description of the 2019 storm damage, Zaiser described the repairs that took place that year. The list of what was repaired was telling all by itself.  All the repairs were above the deck.  The railing was replaced and damaged utility lines were repaired.  Nothing was done below deck.

One part of the railing replacement work was illustrative of the pier’s condition.  Some of the south rail was move away from the edge about 18 inches because the edge was too rotten for anchoring steel brackets.  In essence, the 18” seaward of that portion of the rail was the first part of the pier to be permanently closed.

Zaiser explained the “operational restrictions” on the pier put in place after the 2019 storm.  As outlined here in The OB Rag, those same recommended operational restrictions were in the city’s 2016 memo, they were not the result of the 2019 storm.  Most of the restrictions, if put in place, would not be noticeable to the general public.  One restriction was noticeable, the much more frequent pier closures in recent years.

Observations of the pier’s conditions during pier runs and noting the much more frequent pier closures are what generated this reporter’s interest in the pier story.  There was no explanation to the public why the pier was closed so much more often.  The city did not willingly release 2019 report, The Rag had to drag it out of the city as a public records request.

One of the operational restrictions that was in the September 2016 memo, the May and September 2019 memos, and the most current memo was:

“Prohibit the use of all vehicles in areas (10 ft x 20 ft) of deficient pile caps. Avoid large concentrations of pedestrians in these areas as well.”

The city left the second sentence out of its report that Zaiser gave, probably intentionally.  This restriction, if properly adhered to would have shown up as some kind of painted indication on the deck showing the deficient areas so they could be avoided.  No such indications exist. Who has been monitoring concentrations of pedestrians?  What is a large concentration? Was the yearly pancake breakfast on the pier set up to avoid these areas?  All indications are this restriction was not followed at all.

Zaiser explained that the city has major concerns about two piles, 62S and 61N west of the Café. The city decided to place a fence across the pier between the Café and where the pier branches north and south. He said that the engineers believe the piles can continue to support the pier, even though damaged, but do not have faith that the piles would survive an earthquake. This means the end of the pier will be closed for a long time, at least.

In speaking about the options going forward, under the heading “Long Term Options,” Zaiser listed repairing the two piles already mentioned and reopening the whole pier with continued restrictions.  He said this repair could extend the life of the pier by 10 years.  It was not clear how this qualified as a long-term solution.

The other option was replacement with a new pier that would have a 50-year to 75-year service life.  Apparently, the city’s engineers did not have the same confidence in construction advances since the mid-1960s that Mr. Teyssier had with his estimate of 125 years.

Certainly, if people need to be persuaded to spend the money to build a new pier, longevity would be an issue.  Devoting the money to a pier that could last 125 years would be much more appealing than one that might only last 50 years.

Once the presentations were concluded, Winkie took public comment.  There was a lot of sincere interest in the pier.  One popular idea was to build an educational component into the pier, if a new one was to be built.  This would provide education about the ocean for the public and for school children.

Another suggestion was to equip the pier with green energy generated by wave action, which would also be educational demonstrating how the power of the ocean could be harnessed.

There were a lot of comments about the atmosphere that surrounds the pier, some going so far to say that the priority should be cleaning the area up.  The discussion veered off into this area for a bit as it seems the problem is connected to the pier only because some of the worst areas are right under the pier.  Very little of this activity actually takes place on the pier itself. These really are two different issues.

There were suggestions about the pier parking lot from making it a paid lot to closing it entirely and doing something else with the space. Some believe this last idea would solve the transient problem and beautify the pier area.

And, as previously mentioned, some advocated for removing it and not replacing it.  The money could be used for a variety of programs to help the disadvantaged.  This point of view should be given some fair thought, $100 million is a lot of money.  This reporter thinks the pier would be worth it.

Anyone with ideas or suggestions about the pier should contact the OB Town Council, the OB Planning Board, or OB Mainstream Association.  Solving the pier problem will be a big group effort and will require constant pressure on politicians to get something done.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Avatar Chris June 2, 2021 at 7:42 pm

It would be very sad to see the pier just cease to exist.

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